Jim Crow Guide: The Way it Was

by Stetson Kennedy 1959


Chapter XII - Who May Travel Where


Official U.S. manuals boast that the Supreme Court ruled against race segregation on interstate trains in 1944, interstate buses in 1946, dining cars in 195o, and local and intrastate common carriers in 1956. But don't let that mislead you.

The laws which in fourteen states have required segregation in transportation ever since 1888 may now technically be dead letters, but practically there is just enough life left in them to get you killed.

Consequently, they are included in this Guide under the heading of Vital Information rather than Historical Curiosities. This is not to suggest that you ought to abide by them, but simply to apprise you of the hazards involved in not abiding by them.

The plain truth is that the great majority of conductors, policemen, judges, and white passengers in that part of the country go right on acting as though the Supreme Court has no jurisdiction over them.

Arrests and/or mob violence as punishment for violation of segregation in transportation laws continue so common as to scarcely rate Press notice.

In a typical 1958 case, Mrs. Fannye Casanave, a 55 year old Negro schoolteacher of South Clairborne, South Carolina, was bodily lifted from an autobus by several policemen when she refused to move to the lit, rear, and carted off to jail in a patrol wagon. Actually, she had been sitting in the section reserved for Negroes, but the driver moved the segregation sign to the seat behind her in order to provide more space for white passengers.

"You're in the white section now. You're violating the law; so move, nigger!" he ordered her.
Segregation in transportation was one of the many innovations ushered in by Emancipation. The first "Jim Crow" car for Negroes made its appearance on the end of a train at Jackson, Mississippi, in 1888, and in 1896 the Supreme Court gave its approval to segregation in all things, provided only that the "separate but equal" fiction was invoked to simulate compliance with the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.

In short order, the fourteen states of Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Oklahoma adopted laws requiring all sorts of common carriers to segregate. In parts of Delaware and Missouri, too, segregation was accomplished by local option or company regulation. These laws are most comprehensive, requiring segregated seating, eating, sleeping, rest-rooms, baggage rooms, ticket windows, waiting rooms, and sometimes entrances to terminals.

Needless to say, such duplication costs money. The Wall Street journal, quoting Vance Greenslit President of South-eastern Greyhound Bus Lines, upon completion of a new segregated bus station at Jacksonville, Florida, in 1958, has him saying: "It frequently costs so per cent more to build a terminal with segregated facilities." (Many people, apparently, are quite willing to pay to pamper their prejudices. The Union of South Africa, that same year, was boasting of having spent $150,000,000 dollars building separate railways for the transportation of Negroes.)

Far from being mitigated by the passage of time, the American laws have been repeatedly tightened imposing segregation in transportation For instance, when during World War 11 non Southern soldiers showed some disposition to ignore segregation laws, Mississippi altered her law to provide for larger segregation signs on buses-two feet wide and extending from seat to ceiling.

Since airplanes were not anticipated by the framers of the segregation laws, you are free to sit where you like in a passenger plane flying through Southern skies, but the moment the plane touches the ground you are apt to come up against segregated waiting-rooms, restaurants, and rest-rooms in Southern airports.

The National Airport at Washington, D.C., was no exception. When Mrs. Helen Nash sought to collect damages after being barred from the airport restaurant because of her race, U.S. District Judge Albert Bryan in 1949 rejected her claim and affirmed that such segregation was not in conflict with the Constitution, Interstate Commerce Act, or any other Federal law.

Another problem arose about 1952 when long-distance buses began to come equipped with a toilet. Since the segregation laws had not anticipated toilets on buses, it remained for Southern bus-drivers to hit upon a scheme to discourage Negro passengers from making use of the toilet: whenever one enters it, the driver turns the bus off the traffic lane on to the rough shoulder, thus jostling and terrorizing the toilet occupant until he emerges to see what has happened.


Continue on to Chapter 13