Monday, August 25, 2014

Evelyn Knight Remembers Jim Crow Signs


African American Women Fleeing Jim Crow South Sought Refuge in Long Beach, California.



Evelyn Knight, one woman in the study, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way
Evelyn Knight
Born: Africa Town, Alabama
Evelyn Knight, one Legend in the study, BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way, marched with Dr. Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery because she saw the national news coverage and could not be deterred by friends and family from the significant stance against Jim Crow in Alabama where she had been born and raised. So, she took a leave from her job, packed a bag and boarded a bus headed for Alabama. 

Evelyn was born in African Town, Alabama. She is the descendant of a long line of protesters. Now, that is another story you will be fascinated to learn. And you can learn her story directly from her when the BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way Exhibition has its Grand Opening on September 29, 2015. Keep watch, here, for the details as the date approaches. 

"In 1965, I was looking at television one afternoon and I saw the brutality being heaped upon my people in my home state of Alabama. I knew what it was like because I had experienced the racism. Later, Martin Luther King pleaded for anyone around the country to come down and help to protest the dastardly acts in Alabama," Knight said, repeating King's words, "Please come and help us." And she was compelled to go and help.

Evelyn is back from the 50th anniversary Selma march. She went for the original march with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., after hearing his call to action. "Alabama is where I was born," she said. "I had to go then. And I had to go back!" Hats off the Evelyn, a living Long Beach Legend. 

Bloody Sunday Selma to Montgomery, Alabama
Bloody Sunday
Selma to Montgomery, Alabama
BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way will allow audiences of all ages and races to learn from these women and to experience through primary accounts what life in America was about in the days of Jim Crow, and the struggles of African Americans and, particularly, African American women. 

Evelyn Knight and many of the other women in the study, BREAKING THROUGH lighting the Way, upon their arrivals in Long Beach, had left behind them the signs that most dressed them.



Segregated Women's Restroom Sign  Deep South into the 1960s
Segregated Women's Restroom Sign 
Deep South into the 1960s
"The signs were not posted, but as a black person, you knew where you were not welcome," one black woman reported about her early experience in Long Beach into the 1960s. "The signs were on the faces of those around you or serving you in a restaurant."

But remember, white southern Jim Crow enthusiasts had also migrated to California during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl seeking opportunities a,d, regardless of their poverty, brought racism with them and perpetuated oppression of people of color. 


The Federal Fair Housing Act of 1968 set up protections for certain populations against Jim Crow housing. 



Deep South Housing Restrictions, 1960s
Deep South Housing Restrictions, 1960s
Black women relate their own experiences with racial conditions in the Deep South states of their births and former southern homes, as well as Long Beach, where many fled in hopes of finding better racial treatment. In many instances, better conditions were to be found. However, there was racial strife even in Southern California, including lack of employment opportunities, segregated housing, deeded restrictions, inferior schools and other Jim Crow treatment. 

"There were no signs saying where you could go or where you couldn't go like in the south," one woman said. "But you learned pretty quickly how rental housing went. And then if you wanted to buy a house, your choices were limited to certain neighborhoods because of deed restrictions. White homeowners were legally restricted from selling their homes to buyers who were not white. It took an act of Congress to change all that, even in Long Beach" 

Segregated Laundry
"It was common to be ignored when others were being served," one woman said. "Some services were reserved for white customers when sometimes the services were being delivered by black workers. There were signs in some businesses saying your business is not welcome here or if there wasn't a sign saying you can't come in, the poor service made you not want to come back."

"It did not matter how well you dressed you were or how nice your shoes matched your suit," one woman said.



BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way

BREAKING THROUGH Lighting the Way
Edited by Sunny Nash
Foreword by Carolyn Smith Watts

Bobbie SmithAlta Cooke, Carrie Bryant
Dale Clinton & Lillie Mae Wesley (not present) 
"If you were colored, that's what they called us back then, you were not going to be considered for professional positions. No matter how smart you were or how much education you had back then, you would not be hired to sit in an office to greet the general public. And it took a long time for that to change."

Racism existed in Long Beach and Southern California.


Employment opportunities, college education and equal housing required changes in racial attitudes and these black women helped to bring about those changes in Long Beach. 

"For many years after laws were written," one woman said. "Employers had their ways of getting around them."






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Breaking Through Lighting the Way
Breaking Through Lighting the Way

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