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Wendell George | Before civil rights, Southern hospitality wasn’t all that civil

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I was pleased to participate in Wenatchee Valley College’s Jan. 21 panel discussion about Martin Luther King Jr. There were many good questions from the students and my panel associates gave excellent answers.

My family’s experience in Alabama was very enlightening. In 1963, just after Gov. George Wallace stood in the school doorway, Boeing transferred me to Huntsville, Ala. During our five-year stay there we noticed:

They had separate public bathrooms for men, women and colored.

We had to pass a literacy test to register to vote. I flunked. I was asked to go into a private room, where they offered me the opportunity to change my answers. I quickly said yes so I passed and paid my $1 poll tax. The black lady next to me was having trouble with the test, but she wasn’t asked to change her answers.

There were only two voting booths, Republican and “White Supremacy,” which we discovered was the Democrat booth.

It seems that only the ruling class was prejudiced, because on a business trip to New Orleans with my coworker from Mississippi we boarded a trolley on Canal Street from the rear entrance. No seats were available in the back of the trolley, so we stood.

A black lady politely said “There are empty seats up front.” That’s when we noticed the front was all white people and the back was all black because they were not allowed up front. We moved up front and later my friend said he moved up front so we wouldn’t embarrass her.

Another time my folks and I were stranded in Cullman coming back from Birmingham because of an unusual snow storm. Cullman is a small town halfway to Huntsville and had only one motel which was full. We sat in the coffee shop wondering where we were going to stay. Our young waitress said we could stay at her folks’ home. We and a bunch of others stayed there and her folks wouldn’t accept pay. Southern hospitality was also demonstrated in many other homes in Cullman.

The Northern version of that was when the only black student in my wife’s high school class at Wenatchee was elected student body president.

And last month the Omak eighth-grade students presented their version of MLK’s “I have a dream” by demonstrating activities of key individuals during the civil rights movement.

They were very insightful and the active participation of the WVC students gives us hope for the future.

Wendell George writes Go-la’-ka Wa-wal-sh (Raven Speaks). He can be reached via email at wvegeorge@charter.net . His books are available at the local book stores, tribal museum and Amazon.

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