Just what was integration?

Guest Editorial

By Jimmy G Taylor

Being a young boy growing up in the remote areas of Oconee County near Oconee Station and Pickett Post, us kids hardly ever saw a black person — maybe once a month or so when we got to go to Walhalla for something. Also, there weren’t many blacks in Walhalla in the late 1940s.

We moved to Pickens County in ’49 and later ended up near the town of Norris.

Being raised on a farm, I went to work at the age of 14 helping Mr. Cook on his farm. He was also in the business of moving families; Sometimes we moved them downstate, out of state or just across the street. There were two or three others that helped on the farm as well, but there was one black man, a Mr. Chapman, that helped, and he and I did every thing together — plowing, planting, hoeing, cutting wood or anything that needed to be done. I liked Mr. Chapman; he always called me Cheyenne because of the black cowboy hat I wore.

One day we were moving a family downstate and stopped at a restarunt in Piedmont for dinner.

Mr. Cook and I got out to go in, but Mr. Chapman told us to just bring him something back; I tried to get him to come on, but he wouldn’t. As we crossed the street I asked Mr. Cook why he wouldn’t come on, and he said a black person couldn’t come in the front. They had to go in the back.

I didn’t understand why but I soon forgot and didn’t think any more about it then. This was in the mid-1950s.

As we rode down those long, straight, hot roads, the humming and singing of those truck tires against the pavement began to get the best of me — I just wanted to go, and on the weekends I thumbed and hitchhiked every chance I got.

One evening I was down at the neighbors’ house sitting on the porch and listening to those 18-wheelers as they made their way through Norris down Highway 123. I couldn’t stand it any longer so I asked the neighbors’ boy how much he would charge to take me to the bus station in Liberty. He said a dollar, so I ran home and got my little satchel and hurried back. I gave him a dollar and I was on my way.

We met the Greyhound coming out of Liberty, so I jumped out and flagged it down. Soon I was at the bus station in Atlanta, the biggest, noisest place I had ever seen.  After a long layover we headed for Birmingham, Ala., where things began to change. We left Birmingham and instead of going through Mississippi, we went up to Tupelo and on into Memphis.

After awhile we left Memphis and headed toward Greenville, Miss. On our right was the river and on our left was cotton fields. The sky was the prettiest, darkest blue I had ever seen, and the big fluffy white thunderheads were out of this world to me.

All along the road at the edge of the fields were little rundown shacks where the black families lived, and you could see them lined up side by side for a quarter mile it seemed, hoeing cotton, and as long as the rows looked, it took till dinner to go from one end to the other.

All along the road from Birmingham to Memphis to Greenville and all the way back through the heart of Mississippi, the black people would flag the bus down, and when they got on they always went to the back of the bus. I thought that was where they wanted to ride, besides, the bathroom was in the back.

We went across the Mississippi River at Greenville into Lake Village, Ark. The town was about the size of Main Street in Easley, and there were horses, horses everywhere; I thought it was because it was out west, then someone told me they were having their centennial. After a while, we headed on down to Eudora, a town about like Central, where I got myself a room for a dollar and a half a night and I ate at the little town café, a hamburger for breakfast and a hot dog for dinner and supper.

After about a week I was ready to head home — here I was a thousand miles from home and no one knew where I was, not even my parents. As the bus pulled out from the station and across the railroad tracks, the driver turned to me and said, “What does the people out there think about integration? It will never work out here.”

I didn’t even know what integration was, but by the time he was finished, then I knew why Mr. Chapman wouldn’t come in the café and I knew why the black people went to the back of the bus.

The rundown shacks and long lines in the fields now had a whole new meaning. After I got home, I never told anyone about my trip or what I learned, but it still lingers in my mind more than 50 years later. Soon, President Eisenhower sent federal troops into Little Rock.

Mr. Chapman passed away in the summer of 2012 in a nursing home, his breathing difficult and his eyes dimmed by the passing years. I won’t ever forget him. I know now why Dr. Martin Luther King had a dream.