The Signs Were Not There

“We used to say this was ‘up South,’ and, you know, the other places were ‘down South.'”

Transcript for The Signs Were Not There

All of my folks—my father and my mother’s side, they were all from Florida. Gainesville, Alachua, Florida, and all down there. Every summer, my mother packed us all up, you know, trunk, lunch, you know, the shoeboxes with the sandwiches, and the fried chicken, and the cake, and everything, put us on a train, and we went to Florida every summer. We spent the summer in Florida. She never, until the day my mom died, she never got used to the winters in Gary. She hated it.

I never wanted to go. Well, I shouldn’t say I never wanted to go; that’s not true. As I started to get older, I didn’t want to go because all my friends were here. But in Florida, you know, as I said, it was always summertime so my folks, you know, they had the fig trees and the things that you do when you’re in a warm climate. But in Gary, you know, I mean, when I first moved there, we didn’t even have grass in our yard. The front yard was dirt. And we used to dig that dirt, and put it in buckets, and do all kinds of crazy things with it. But in Florida, I mean, you know, there was grass and there were fruit trees…

One year, I went to Gainesville to see my grandmother, and I went by myself. When I got ready to get off the bus one night, the bus stopped somewhere, and I got ready to get off the bus to go to the washroom and there was this big sign, you know: “Colored.” I’m like, “What?” There was something about seeing an actual sign telling you, “No, you cannot.” There was a different feeling when I saw that sign. Here in Gary we knew that the racism was existent because we knew the restaurant right down the corner from the school we couldn’t go to, it wasn’t as…you know, overt, you know? The signs were not there. But this, when I saw this sign that said, “Colored,” I was like, “Oh, my God.” And as a matter of fact, I wanted a sandwich—I was told by other people on the bus that, “If you want a sandwich, you got to go around the back.” And so I went around the back out of curiosity and it was dark, the front of the—where, you know, where the whites went, it was lit up, you know, really nice. And you went around the back, it was really dark, and then I’m like, “I don’t want anything.” You know? So I got back on the bus.

The Civil Rights Movement was not as big in Gary as it was in some—in cities in the South. We knew that, you know, certain things were happening. Changes were happening, but there was not the movement here in Gary that there was in some of the other—other cities in the South. You know, the lunchroom counter demonstrations and those kinds of things. We used to say this was “up South,” and, you know, the other places were “down South.”

I was involved with Rudolph Clay’s—he had an organization called the Claymates. I was beyond excited to see, you know, these congressmen and all these other people come to Gary for that Black National Convention. And Rudy had a booth, and we—my girlfriends and I, I don’t even remember what we were selling. We were just there, and so glad to be there, and have an opportunity… like I remember Conyers from Michigan—I don’t know how to explain it to you. But it was—it was really a big deal. We were so excited, yes.

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