Today we stopped in Rock Hill, South Carolina, where I was born on Dec 1st, 1955, the day Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama. My parents moved there for my father’s first teaching position at Winthrop College in August of 1954. They hated it here due to Jim Crow laws that were strictly enforced. They were told the rules explicitly and were chastised when they did not follow them.
To give a little background, on May 17, 1954 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional.
According to an article called The Great White Heist in Yes! magazine, “Even though South Carolina was 40% Black in 1948, statewide, Black schools were worth $12.9 million while white schools were worth $68.4 million. If those white students succeeded in their resource-filled schools, they could go on to one of more than a dozen public institutions of higher learning in South Carolina. However, if the Black graduates wanted to attend a state college, because of state segregation laws there was only one choice—South Carolina State College—the only public Black college in the state. This detail wouldn’t be important except for three important facts about the taxpayers whose money actually funded South Carolina’s whites-only state post-secondary schools and the one historically Black college, post emancipation: 1.) South Carolina taxpayers paid for seven whites-only colleges. 2.) South Carolina taxpayers paid for zero Black colleges. (South Carolina State University was a land-grant college, which meant it was founded with federal money after the Civil War) and 3.) the majority of South Carolina taxpayers were Black.
Black parents in towns all over South Carolina immediately petitioned to desegregate schools. As a response, White Citizens’ Councils and new chapters of the Klu Klux Klan were formed in many towns. Petitioners and NAACP folks were often given 30 days to move away and threatened with violence. On August 27 a newly organized Klan met midway between Summerton and Manning, South Carolina on U.S. 301, where the rally couldn’t be missed. Speaker Bryant Bowles, of the National Association for the Advancement of White People, drew 1,000 in robes. (storiesofstruggle.com).
I was born at York County Hospital in Rock Hill, which was built in 1940. It actually served both Black and White patients, which was unusual at the time. In many towns, Black folks had to travel many miles to find a hospital that would serve them. My mother, with two babies under two years old and pregnant with a third, hired a Black woman to help her. She was explicitly told she should not sit down and eat lunch with her, give her a ride home or “overpay” her. My mother defied this “advice” and I really don’t know whether it was their choice or not, but my parents moved back to New York State after two years in Rock Hill. I suspect that their refusal to follow Jim Crow laws may have resulted in my father losing his job. I am proud of the courage my parents showed, standing up for what they thought was right, even if they did not put their lives on the line for the cause. My parents have passed now. I find myself once again wishing I asked more questions to know more about their lives, especially their time in the South. There is no one left to ask now.
1955 was several years before the lunch counter sit-ins, Freedom Summer Voter Registration Drive, the formation of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and other well known civil rights actions. It was the year Emmett Til was killed in Mississippi, which sparked the public outrage that led to the civil rights movement. Stay tuned for other post while we are here.
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