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The Joyners: 1956

The Joyners: 1956

July 1956. Greenville, North Carolina. "Segregationist tobacco sharecropper Marshall Joyner and family bowing heads in prayer before dinner." Color transparency by Margaret Bourke-White, Life photo archive. View full size.


I'm sure at that time, there was segregation on everyones mind everywhere in the US.

Yes we did live a simple life then, before media became dominate in our lives.

I was stationed at Gunter AFB, Montgomery, Ala for 3 mos in the summer of 1955 and back to Maxwell AFB, Montgomery in 1958. Blacks and whites did not mingle then, segregation was in full swing. I had a friend of a different color then myself and we wouldn't dare drive off base together.

I like things the way they are today, we could have shared downtown Montgomery or even the Mardi Gras together. My wife and I were married on base, he came to the wedding but could not visit us off base.

Justin Time

That's Justin Timberlake's dad at the end of the table, on the verge of tears, praying for a talented son, to take him away from all of this.

Eat up before the bombs fall

It is easy to view the family scene here as representative of good times long gone -- the family gathered around the dinner table saying grace at a table heaped with home-cooked food, rather than a present-day scene of Mom and Dad sitting down to microwave dinners while the kids head out the door to do whatever they do when they're out of sight of mom and dad. Let us bear in mind that behind the Ozzie and Harriet scenes like these, the 1950s (as I saw them as a kid about the age of the boy in the photo) were an era of stress and uncertainty - changing racial attitudes and aspirations that would have been unsettling for this Southern family of the mid-fifties, and the omnipresent fear that the evident prosperity of the time would vanish in multiple atomic fireballs resulting from nuclear war with the Soviet Union. I know that thought was eating at my consciousness each time I sat down to a hot, home-cooked meal. The past is not a paradise folks - it's just another imperfect world with different imperfections.

Why was " segregationist" needed

Why was "segregationist" needed in the picture? These types of words are usually added to cause and stir debate and alot of anger. We really know nothing about this family, at least I do not. What facts do we know about them that would make them any different then any other white middle class family living during that time in that part of the nation? I feel the word is used to demonize these people, when in truth, have they committed a proven crime? Can they defend themselves against your accusations? It also allows atheists another reason to mock God. These sort of debates usually turn into God bashing and hatred towards those who choose to pray and beleive in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Plenty of people of all races could be called segregationists, then and today.

[The caption dates from 1956. The word was used because the photo was taken to illustrate a magazine article on segregation. Hello? - Dave]

A Different Time

The segregationist context aside - and it was indefensible - this photo shows what I miss about this time, when I was 4. These people are not wealthy, not even really middle-class, yet their house has been upgraded as much as possible, given its cheap construction (evidenced by the matchboard walls). A carpenter has built kitchen cabinets that emulate the expensive ones seen in magazines of the time, and a Formica countertop and a drop-in sink add sanitary features the house wouldn't have had when new. The table setting is modest, with oilcloth for a tablecloth, but the dishes are 1956-fashionable, with all the silverware matching and laid according to Emily Post. Mrs. Joyner has raided the nearest Woolworth's to add fashion to her kitchen with her red Lustro-Ware canisters and some curtains she probably made herself, considering how well they fit the window. The women have permanents that were very possibly done at home; everyone is clean and pressed. We are well rid of segregation, but I wish we could get the simple dignity of homes like this back.

Re: The Way We Were

I guess I'm too simplistic, but when I looked at that picture, I did not see anything negative, though I'm sure that just as any other time in our history there is much to be mentioned about the period that can be seen as negative.

What I saw was much of what was mentioned in The Way We Were post. I saw a family sitting together for dinner, praying (even in their own imperfection -- just like us! hey!) and this all brought back many wonderful memories of times such as these.

Were we perfect? Was the world perfect? Heck no! But, compared to the way things are today, it makes me long for a time such as this again. Family. Where did it go?

I love seeing your pictures! Takes me back to some better days, as far as I'm concerned.

I Didn't Think This Way

You are wrong, Dave. Not everybody thought the way this man did, in that place, at that time.

[I didn't say everyone thought that way. I said the odds are that if you were white, you'd be a segregationist. - Dave]

And they thought Blacks were inhuman

There is no amount of white-washing you can do to present people like this as anything other than ignorant, insufferable humans. Just because they are praying does not absolve them from the misery and suffering they propagated. I love the South dearly, but there are still a lot of people down there just like this.

[If you were a white person in South Carolina in 1956, you'd probably think just like these people did. This is generally the kind of comment I zap right away. Moral judgment, retroactive righteous indignation -- so tedious. And if you really were around back then fighting the good fight down South, I congratulate you on your superior moral virtue. But you've already done that. - Dave]

Segregation is the context.

Segregation is the theme of the article for which this picture was originally taken - its context. If the article had been about Catholicism or Socialism, the title would have been "Catholic family" or "Socialist family."

Margaret's Little Joke?

What a great name for segregationists - the Joyners!

Surely Margaret and her team had a jolly sense of humour...


The term is indeed derogatory. It connotes a decidedly low view of fellow mankind while self-aggrandizing his own superiority.

I doubt I'd want to break bread with any segregationist. I prefer not to tolerate the intolerant. Takes too much energy best devoted to other endeavors.

[You're confusing "derogatory" with "condemnable" or "something we disapprove of." Derogatory would be something like "redneck cracker." - Dave]

I spy something red.

Can anybody guess what Ma's favorite color might be? Red countertops, red dress, red seat backs, red canisters, red salt and pepper shakers, red over the paper towel holder, red accents on the curtains, red stripes on Junior (which I bet Ma picked out the fabric that she then sewed up into that shirt) and I think something's red in the sink.

Segregate the Condiments!

They've got the salt and pepper cozied right up to the sugar bowl and the A-1 and Worcestershire sauce.

Greenville is the seat of Pitt County, which voted 54% to 46% to integrate the White House a couple of weeks ago. Wonder how the Joyner kids (now in their 60's) voted?

My grandadparents' house.

I'm only 31 years old. But this was the way I grew up in rural Tennessee. Both grandparents had smallish houses in a semi-rural area. The kitchens was where you ate, the walls and trim were coated with extremely shiny, oil-based paint, and all the appliances were of the chrome and white porcelain enamel variety, complete with 1950's emblems. One was a scary looking roaster device. The cabinets were all honey colored plywood.

To this day, I haven't had Southern food done right compared to Grandmother's. I live in California now and there's a few places that claim to have "true Southern cooking." Not so. Typical meals at Grandmother's included various overcooked vegetables soaked in butter. Carrots, green beans cooked with bacon bits and onions, extremely tender roast beef cooked with potatoes and broth, as well as large quantities of canned things like homemade pickles, beets, and jelly. For dessert it was banana ("nanner") pudding.

The yard was similar: little concrete critters like a donkey pulling a cart as well as several whitewashed tractor tires for planters. Pretty cool idea as they were indestructible and could be hit by the 60's era Sears riding mower that I still actually have.

I agree, sitting down at the table is something you don't see a lot anymore. I'm not sure if children were necessarily happier though. My grandparents were strict people. Stern might be a better word. No work on Sundays since it was the Sabbath. That, and if I cussed (which was hard to avoid since Granddad cussed profusely), I got a nice "whuppin."

Re: 1956

They're obviously praying for the missing buttermilk.

Also, I'm pretty sure that people who worship a god still acknowledge that god even as we speak.

1956 Redux

Actually Truman ordered the desgregation of the armed forces in 1948, with the last "colored" unit being ended in 1951 or 1952. Brown v. Board of Education was 1954, but Little Rock didn't happen until 1957. The Montgomery Bus Boycott began in December 1955 and didn't end officially until December 1956. The writing may have been on the wall, but the struggle was only just beginning, and people like Marshall Joyner probably still thought they could win.

The Way We Were

This amazing photo pretty much captures the essence of an American family in the 50's, regardless of their geographic locale or politics. Most middle class families were very much united in this way, eating meals together, praying together, sharing jobs -- as obviously Dad worked hard, Mom took care of all the domestic chores, the kids were good students, clean-cut and had chores, and God was acknowledged, regardless of which God they worshiped. Aside from the derogatory word "segregationist" every creed, race or religion definitely had prejudices, it was a factor just evolving into integration. If we throw out the label, this depicted an idyllic family scene. If only families could have preserved this "all for one, one for all" togetherness, most youngsters would be so much happier today. I am amazed at how so many of our current generation's kids really feel as though nobody cares about them and feel they don't fit in anywhere. We are all products of the values instilled in us while we were kids. These kids had security. They also had good healthy food, lots of vegetables and accountability.

[There's nothing necessarily derogatory about the word "segregationist." It describes people who favor segregation of the races. - Dave]


The armed services were desegregated in 1952 and then the major struggle for integration really begun. In 1956, the writing was on the wall. What exactly were they praying for?

[The usual things, I'd imagine. - Dave]

On the Table

Do my eyes deceive me, or is that pickled okra and hush puppies? And bacon? But who ever heard of eating greens without buttermilk?

The good side

Well this is not the norm today. Most families never eat together at the same time. There was a study done that showed that families that ate together were much stronger, and the kids are less likely to do drugs and get into trouble. My family (wife and four children) still eat together and (gasp) pray before our meals.

Almost All the Colors of the Rainbow

Goodness, the colors just ...shriek at you. The sky and fields outside the window even are so bright. It's like a Technicolor life. (As long as the colors aren't too brown.)

Curtains With Nostalgia

I summered many many times in the early 1960's in Craven County and know this scene well. I *was* that kid with the thought balloon mentioned below. Anyone notice the vaguely nostalgic room and interior pastiches done in 50's cartoon style on the cloth for the window curtains? Odd retro yet non-retro approach to nostalgia. Mom's control of the scene is very evident. She even matches the canister set.

The label

I wonder what the context was that the "segregationist" label was significant. It's as if some rare species has been captured on film.

[Margaret Bourke-White took hundreds of photos contrasting the lives of what seem to be two white families and their black counterparts for this 1956 assignment on segregation in the South. Probably just about any white family she picked would have fit the bill. I don't imagine there were many pro-integration white North Carolina tobacco farmers in 1956. - Dave]

Margaret Bourke-White

I've been lost in Bourke-White's photographs since the Life archive went up four days ago. Her images on Google present a staggering, sprawling document of the Depression, WWII, and the birth of the Post-War era, not just in the US but around the globe. I do believe you have found the only assignment on which she used color.

[She took some color photos in South Africa. It's hard to say without a bit of digging. The number of results returned for any query seems to be limited to 200. In any case we'll be seeing more of her work from this assignment. - Dave]

Life in the South

If one examines the Life editorials, articles and irate letters from the magazine's Southern readers during that era it's easy to conclude that its reporters and photographers were very often strongly resented whenever they appeared in that region. More than once they were accused of posing as doing a "sympathetic" story only to have it appear in print as quite otherwise.

THAT'S where I got it from!!

I guess this is where my North Carolina-bred dad got the idea that EVERYTHING needed to have A-1 Sauce slathered over it. I had to leave home to get away from THAT notion. Did you folks konw that steaks actually had a flavor of their own?? Weird, huh? Sorry, family flashbacks today.

Product Placement

A-1 steak sauce and French's Worcestershire sauce still readily recognizable.


Mmm, turnip greens. Potato salad. And I bet anything that's some good sweet tea by god. I'd love to share dinner with these folks but I'm black so...I guess not.

Kids' thought balloon

Escape. Escape. ESCAAAPE.

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