Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow in Amite, Louisiana During the 60's

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Amite,LA--All over the United States people are preparing to celebrate the life works of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., by hosting a weekend of services and events on Monday; January 20th. For some who fought, protest and march for social change, it's about remembrance. In 1968, I was living in Amite, Louisiana when Dr. King was assassinated. I remember my grandmother Josephine crying when she got word that Dr. King was assassinated, she turned on the television and we watched the news. At that time we had what you called a party phone line, which meant that you could easily pick up the phone to make a call and someone was on the lines. The phone lines were tied up with people talking about Dr. King being assassinated. 

During that time in Amite, Louisiana, Jim Crow was live and well. I hated going to town with my grandmother because she was made to say "yes mam", and "no sir" to white people and sometimes to young white people younger than herself. We were not allowed to go in certain places and had to wait  until all the white people was served first.

I remember the older people talking about the KKK and how they were burning crosses in the yards of African American people in Amite, La and surrounding areas. Up to this day people in Amite, Louisiana doesn't like to talk about the racism that they experienced. Places like "Nigger Alley" the "Nigger Window" and the Jim Crow Theater.
Mrs. Alma Harrison Vernon at a School Board Meeting
My brothers and I was part of the first integration of the schools in Amite, La.,  all four of us was retained that first year like so many other African American students in 1969. I can speak first hand of the mistreatment that I received from my white teacher. Like so many other African American students we had no one to tell or talk too. 

Although my uncles and cousins were fighting in Vietnam, we were fighting back home for equality and our civil rights. As a child I never visit the public library, movie theaters and other public places that was segregated by the Jim Crow laws. I remember my mother coming home from work  very angry and upset that she was called a "nigger" by a man named Mr. Cobb who owned a second hand store. My great uncle Alex Richardson came out to my mother's home to help address that matter.  
Protest and March in Washington, D.C.

My cousin Adam and his friends were walking home from a football game and when a car with young white men came along and tried to run over them. They had to hide out in the ditch to keep from being attacked or run over by them. 

Several people in my family organized to protest for jobs at several of the local stores, Jo-Ann Frazier, Deloris Harrell-Washington, and Adam and Glyniss Gordon protest for jobs at some of the local stores in Amite, La.  During a conversation with my childhood friend Doris Lloyd she shared with me some of the racist acts that took place in Holden, LA.  She said that one of her friend's Mrs. Albin who lived in Holden, LA told her that when African Americans marched and protest in Holden, white men would lay down on the  buildings in town with assaults weapons ready to  shoot the protestors.

The civil rights movement was the first of the 1960s-era social movement produced one of the most important American social activists of the 20th century. African Americans had to sit on the back of the public buses, they were refused services in hotel and restaurants, and still went to racially segregated schools. Even in the segregated schools we got the hand me down books from the Tangipahoa Parish School Board.

I still get the feeling that both African Americans and white people people in Tangipahoa Parish don't want to embrace a conversation, lectures or discussion on this topic. To this very day this conversation is avoided even in our own homes. 

Many of our parents was working as house maids, nannies, and handy men, drivers and gardeners in many of the white homes in Amite, LA., Life was difficult in many of the rural towns in the 50s and 60s. Up until now, many things still haven't changed. 

After returning home in 2005, although somethings has changes, there is still a lot of things that remains the same. There is a social and economic segregation in Tangipahoa Parish. Although we have several African American elected officials, African American working in clerical positions on a local level. We are still social and economically disfranchised. There are a very few black owned businesses in the entire parish from the south to north end of the parish.

The Northshore Black Elected Officials Coalition and Association of St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, and Washington Parishes, had taken on the task of identifying and addressing critical needs including, economic development, criminal and civil justice, education, youth leadership, transportation and faith-based outreach.