By Dr. Kathleen Thompson
This article is the sixth in a series devoted to the history of the Black residents of Pickens County. Dr. Kathleen Thompson has completed extensive research including; archives and library investigation, interviews of local residents and searches of early newspapers. This project has and continues to be made possible by the Pickens Arts and Cultural Alliance, and grants from the Georgia Humanities Council, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
(Author’s note: During this series I have used the term Black for people of color. Additionally, I have avoided African-American as many local Black residents are not partial to the term. Today colored or Negro is often perceived as racist. While visiting a Black cemetery in Blue Ridge a reporter was offended that a new plaque said Padgett Chapel Colored School. We explained that this was the actual legal name of the school. Because this article involves the segregation years I will use the descriptors, colored and Negro, as these terms are accurate to the era.)
Racial segregation is characterized by separation of people of different races in daily life when both are doing equal tasks. Segregation may be de jure (Latin, meaning “by law”) - mandated by law - or de facto (also Latin, meaning “in fact”). De facto segregation can occur when members of different races strongly prefer to associate and do business with members of their own race. - New World Encyclopedia
Jim Crow Laws in the South: The Jim Crow laws were state and local laws in the United States enacted between 1876 and 1965. They mandated de jure racial segregation in all public facilities, with a supposedly “separate but equal” status for black Americans. De jure mainly applied to the Southern United States. Northern segregation was generally de facto, from blacks predominately living in urban ghettos. - Wikipedia
The name “Jim Crow” refers to a minstrel character popular in the 1820s and 1830s, but it is unknown how the term came to describe the form of racial segregation and discrimination that prevailed in the American South during the first half of the twentieth century. New Georgia Encyclopedia
North vs. South
I grew up in the mountains of New York State where there were no Jim Crow laws. In reality segregation was practiced, but in less obvious ways. My family and I lived in a small town ten miles from the city of Utica, New York. We had no Black residents, nor did any other surrounding town. All of the Black people lived in one large ghetto in the city and we never saw them, except from a speeding car.
I was a junior in high school in 1960 when a professional social worker, Mr. Richardson, moved his family from Detroit, Mi., to our part of New York and attempted to purchase a home in Whitesboro. He held a master’s degree and directed a settlement house in the nearby city of Utica. We lived in the village of Whitesboro where blue collar workers had homes. On the hill, above town, was a subdivision populated by those whose dads were professionals. Mr. Richardson made an offer on a home up on the hill. There were no Jim Crow laws to prevent this occurrence. Most of the subdivision dads put up $1,000 a piece and brought the house for slightly more than Mr. Richardson’s offer. All quite legal, all quite racist. In the end Mr. Richardson bought a home for his family further out of town. Seems farmers as neighbors were less racist. Or maybe they had less money. Of course there were no other houses close by the Richardson’s home.
The high school students from up on the hill and in town found out by overhearing adult conversations. Students from all income brackets were informed and were outraged. The Richardsons had a daughter my age. The girls in the junior class made a point of welcoming Fern more warmly than that usually accorded for new students. Her younger brother was a freshman, a good-looking boy who played football. He was eventually elected president of his class. The first moral of this story is that generations can change. The second is this: if anyone tells you the North was less racist than the South, send them to me.
Segregation in Georgia
In the 1890s, Georgia and other southern states passed a wide variety of Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation or separation in public facilities and effectively codified the region’s tradition of white supremacy. - New Georgia Encyclopedia
In fact such restrictions were written into the Georgia statutes by legislators on multiple occasions as seen below.
School segregation: 1872, 1877, 1895, 1845, 1957
Transportation, trains, buses etc: 1870, 1891, 1895, 1931, 1935 and 1858
Interracial marriage was strictly forbidden: 1865, 1926
Separate prisons: 1865, 1908
Separate mental institutions: 1935
The Pickens County Courthouse and other public government facilities had separate bathrooms and water fountains for Black and White residents. At the train depot and bus station races sat in divided waiting areas, and once on the train or bus Black travelers were aware of where they should sit. A local Black man recalled, “At the train depot we mostly stood outside the station. Once on the train there was a ‘colored car’ that we were required to sit in when we rode.” Willie Mae Weaver remembers that before integration Black residents did not serve on juries.
Private facilities, such as restaurants, usually had signs identifying divided facilities. In the case of food, Black residents were expected to pick up their food orders from the back door of Jasper restaurants. “Most of the time we didn’t eat out,” a long-time Jasper woman explained to me. There was one restaurant in Jasper where the sympathetic owner felt the need to create a dining area for Black residents. Champion’s Cafe had an area in the back with two or three tables for “colored” diners.
Movie theaters were very popular to both Black and White citizens, especially children and teens. Black people sat in what was referred to as the “colored balcony.” The movie theater on Main Street in Jasper had a colored balcony. In Tate the stage was converted to a movie theater on Friday and Saturday nights and in the summers movies also ran on Monday and Tuesday nights. The movie theater at Tate School existed from the late 1920s to 1951. There was a colored balcony for kids and adults alike. In fact, the balcony at Tate School still exists, as well as the steps going to the balcony. White churches in Tate, Talking Rock, Jasper and other communities also had colored balconies. This was most common in the era of slavery, before Black citizens were able to build their own churches.
As I write I suspect I have made this system of restriction in Pickens County appear to be very harsh and rigid, a system to be resented. But based on my interviews with Black residents, the opposite is true. No one, Black or White, questioned the legality of such laws. Over and over I was told that segregation was just the way things were. “We knew our place and really no one felt a need to challenge the rules. It was just the way things were. When I was raised you did what you were told, what was expected. That was true for both Black and White people.” Emma Julia Washington explained. During the 1940s and 50s people in general were more accepting of race restrictions and seldom thought about it, much less questioned these practices. “It wasn’t an issue,” explained a Preston Roach Senior, now in his 80s. “You had no choice, and you took a lot of things in stride,” wife Mary Ann Roach added. “That was all we knew, it didn’t bother me.” Their son, now in his 50s further explained, “We played together and fished and hunted with our White friends. We had White friends before integration.” Another Black resident told me, “We played with White kids at our house and we played at their homes.” According to those that lived here at that time of segregation violence towards colored residents was rare, and both races treated each other with mutual respect.
As a former Yankee, and a person who participated in protests of racism while I lived in Atlanta (1966-1970), I find such an attitude almost incomprehensible. For those with the same reaction, I would point you out two possible explanations. A description of segregation in the New Georgia Encyclopedia seems to fit Pickens County. “While the experience of Jim Crow was no less harsh in rural areas, it did lack the rigidity that characterized urban segregation. “Rural Georgia remained a largely pre-modern society, making many features of segregation unnecessary or even problematic.”
In Pickens County, especially in Tate, there was another, possibly more significant, influence. Colonel Sam Tate was known to treat the Black community with care and concerns, making sure all were provided for. “He was stern, but he cared for Blacks just like the Whites,” Willie Mae Weaver explained. “Colonel Sam had a lot to do with how people were treated here.” The view that Sam’s attitudes toward Black residents influenced the behaviors of others was something that I was told by several lifetime residents of Tate. “He set a standard and we followed his example in our own behavior,” a White resident stated.
Nephew Steven Tate was also known for his respectful treatment of Black residents and employees. Preston Roach, Sr., who worked for Steve Tate, remembers that, “He was caring toward his Black employees and neighbors. Steve Tate bought a car for my family and treated all of us well. When Preston Jr. was born in the hospital, Mr. Tate came by, visited, and paid the bill.”
The Impact of Segregation on Black Residents
It would be easy to assume, and correct for some places and individuals, that segregation made Negroes feel inferior. But Emma Julia Washington and Willie Mae Weaver were quick to rid me of that view about Pickens’s County’s Black residents who lived and worked during segregation. Emma Julia explained, “We were raised to obey, but we were also raised to believe we were as good as Whites. Our parents taught us self respect and that we were as good as anybody. They also taught us to respect others as the Bible teaches.” “There was a sense of harmony here, of mutual respect between Black and White citizens,” Willie Mae Weaver declared softly.
The Civil Rights Movement
The Civil Rights movement passed over Pickens County. There were no protests or sit-ins, no NAACP or CORE meetings. Fred Anderson remembered when Reverend Martin Luther King was assassinated. “A mean kid on the bus said to me “Well, your king is dead.” Fred stopped to laugh then explained, “We knew more about President Kennedy than Martin Luther King. The grown-ups really admired President Kennedy.” Fred was not disrespecting King’s contributions but acknowledging that the racial battles were fought in other places. The events seemed to take place a long way from Pickens County, despite the fact that Atlanta isn’t so far removed physically. “This was a more naive place,” Fred concluded. The conflicts and triumphs of the Civil Rights Movement and Dr. Martin Luther King would impact Pickens County residents, Black and White. Transformation happened as the country changed its’ laws and beliefs about the rights of Black and minority citizens.
Changes in the Laws
1963: The city of Atlanta passed an ordinance which repealed all city ordinances “which required the separation of persons because of race, color or creed in public transportation, recreation, entertainment and other facilities.”
The Civil Rights Act of 1964: The Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Pub. L. No. 88-352, 78 Stat. 241, enacted July 2, 1964) was a landmark piece of legislation in the United States that outlawed major forms of discrimination against blacks and women, including racial segregation. It ended unequal application of voter registration requirements and racial segregation in schools, at the workplace and by facilities that served the general public. - Wikipedia
Pickens County, Georgia, Heritage, 1853-1995
Fred Anderson, interview, 2010, April
Preston Roach, Sr., Mary Ann Roach and Preston Roach Jr. interview, 2011, May
Willie May Weaver, interview, 2011
Kathy Thompson will be traveling to New York City next week. As a result the next article will appear Nov. 2. The topic is Integration in the Schools and Community.