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[REV 25-NOV-2014]

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Black and White: 1939

Black and White: 1939

July 1939. "Negro drinking at 'colored' water cooler in Oklahoma City streetcar terminal." View full size. 35mm nitrate negative by Russell Lee.

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Jim Crow California

My parents are white Mississippians who grew up in the days when segregation was the norm, so they were quite used to such things as separate facilities everywhere in public buildings.

They were overseas in the Foreign Service during the Chinese revolution, and returned to this country via northern California about 1950. They were startled to notice signs in Oakland proclaiming gas stations to be "whites only" -- not the bathrooms or water coolers, but the whole station. No "colored" customers at all!

The South certainly did not have a monopoly on Jim Crow, and it took a lot to startle a Mississippian in those days.

Caption Terminology

"Negro"? Is that really the best term to use in a caption on a photo that is such a demonstrative comment on racism?

[It's the photographer's caption. Hence the quote marks. And there's nothing racist about the word. - Dave]

Good Ol' Days?

This photo reminds us of one very important fact: Those were the "good ol' days," if you were lucky enough to be one of the "good ol' boys."

Good Ol' Days?


Being a fan of that era, I've asked many people who lived during that era if they were indeed "the good old days." Surprisingly, most of them say that they were indeed better days than modern times. They explained that there was plenty of bad, but the good aspects of life FAR out-weighed the bad aspects.

What are the "good old days" exactly?

Time brings change and often folks look back on any time earlier in life as good ol' days. Perhaps things were simpler, or more clear, or people stayed in their places.

What are the demographics of the many people who lived during that era that you've asked.

What were "the good aspects of life that FAR out-weighed the bad aspects?"

Your thinly described anecdotal evidence seems merely a justification for your own perceptions.

I'm glad those days are over and here, in a moderate slice of the South, I wish for even more equality than exists.


Try asking many of the people on the NEGATIVE side of Jim Crow laws - the ones oppressed by them - if the good far outweighed the bad. I have older family members that still bear the scars - in some cases literal - from the "good" old days.

Searsed Into Memory

I remember being in Sears, Roebuck in Lubbock, Texas, in the very early 50's, when I was a very young child. I was thirsty but my mother wouldn't let me drink from the fountain marked Colored Only. I threw a fit and wanted to see what color the water was that came out of that water fountain. Needless to say, my mom took me home and beat the crap out of me for embarrassing her in public

Yes I'm Really Glad!

I was born in July 1939 and grew up in North Carolina. This sort of thing was still going on when I left at age 18. I have no nostalgia whatsoever for it.

Are You Really Glad Those Days Are Over?

Being a fan of that era, I've asked many people who lived during that era if they were indeed "the good old days." Surprisingly, most of them say that they were indeed better days than modern times. They explained that there was plenty of bad, but the good aspects of life FAR out-weighed the bad aspects.

Geez, even with disposable

Geez, even with disposable paper cups they had to have separate water tanks. I guess just touching the same knob on the tap was too much for people.


At least they get to use the same bathroom, or so it appears.

Oklahoma and the South

I've lived in Oklahoma most of my life, and at times lived in Louisiana, Missouri, and Texas. Oklahoma is probably best considered a "border South" state. There are cultural affinities with the Midwest, but also strong cultural similarities to the traditional South. Not surprisingly, southeastern Oklahoma is more "Southern," culturally, and the northwest panhandle tends to be more "Midwestern." And, in the 1920's era, there was a strong tendency to identify as a Southwestern state. Being sort of in the middle of the US, and joining the Union rather late, there is an amorphous quality to Oklahoma's regional identity.

Oklahoma's not Southern? Right....

It also should be noticed that anyone from outside the US would assume automatically that Oklahoma was without question or discussion a southern state. It's pretty damn far south compared to Alaska or Minnesota.

Oklahoma sort of southern

When you consider the location of Oklahoma - just north of Texas and west of Arkansas - and it's history this photo is less surprising. The Cherokee (most numerous of the "Five Civilized Tribes" who were relocated from the south by Andrew Jackson) owned slaves - black slaves - and there several regiments of Indian soldier from what was then the Indian Territory and is now Oklahoma that served with the Confederacy. One unit was under the command of Brigadier General Stand Watie, himself a successful Cherokee plantation owner. So as I say, this picture is hardly surprising.

Well whaddya know!

Obviously, Jim Crow wasn't just a Southern thang. More than a few non southern rectangular like states had their quirky little practices too. Thank the Lord those days are all gone now, right? It's a sobering service for Shorpy to put the bad out there with the good. No rose colored glasses in a coal mine.

SHORPY OLD PHOTO ARCHIVE | History in HD is a vintage photo archive featuring thousands of high-definition images from the 1850s to 1960s. (Available as fine-art prints from the Shorpy Archive.) The site is named after Shorpy Higginbotham, a teenage coal miner who lived 100 years ago.

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