In every generation and in every society there are those who make a difference without recognition or fame. Mostly, they are just plain folks leading ordinary lives who find themselves thrust into a situation that demands courage, integrity and solid common sense. At that crucial moment these average citizens rise to the occasion. They do what needs to be done then fade back into ordinary lives. These special people deserve our thanks and respect. Here is one of their stories.
KATE HOWARD RAINER
In the fall of 1948 the Mississippi Delta was beginning to feel the effects of the post war economic boom that was transforming the Western world. In my home town of Ruleville the new sense of plenty prompted a series of public works projects including street paving, sewer work and school construction. The city father’s decided that in addition to infrastructure improvements it would be nice to have a modern public swimming pool.
It was decided that the City would sponsor and build the pool if the necessary funding could be raised from private sources. The merchants, bankers, farmers and professional people in the community rose to the occasion and funds were provided and construction began. The new pool was built adjacent to the new gym on City school property and was scheduled to open in June of 1949.
The social and political make up of Ruleville in 1949 could be divided along racial lines. 75% of the population was black and the remaining 25% were primarily of European descent. Less than 1% of the folks in town were Asian. There was never any discussion of blacks being allowed to use the new pool; it was just assumed that they would be barred. The few Chinese families in town all owned small stores catering to the black trade but their kids attended the white schools.
The week before the pool was to open the rules and regulations were finally published and to everyone’s surprise the Chinese kids would not be allowed to use it. I came home and told my grandmother about the City Councils decision and she was incensed. She had become friends with the wife of the owner of one of the Chinese stores and she knew that I was friends with their kids.
She stewed and fussed all during lunch and finally my grandfather said,
“Kate, if it’s bothering you so much, why don’t you do something about it?”
As soon as we finished lunch she took me by the hand and we marched the three blocks to the mayor’s home, climbed the front stairs and knocked on the door. Mayor Fitzy Dorrough came to the door and said,
“Well, hello Kate, good to see you. Come on in.”
“I’ll not enter the home of a man who would bar innocent children from a public swimming pool.” She replied with some passion.
“What are you talking about, Kate; I haven’t barred any children from our pool.”
“Am I to understand that the Chinese children will be allowed to use it?”
“Well, now that’s not my decision, Lawyer Everett felt very strongly that he didn’t want his daughter to share a pool with Orientals. It was his decision.
“Fitzy Dorrough, you’re the mayor and I don’t give a happy hoot what lawyer Everett wants, if you bar these children I’ll get every woman in this town to work against your next election. You can tell Everett to keep his precious daughter home.”
“Well, all right Kate, don’t get riled up. I’ll see what we can do.”
“You better or I’ll be back with a delegation of mothers.”
Thus ended the first civil rights rally to be held in Ruleville since reconstruction. The Chinese kids were allowed to swim and my grandmother settled back into her daily life.
Your grandmother’s confrontation with the Mayor reminds me of one my grandmother has with the city fathers in Poplarville in the 1930s At issue there was a proposed fence to divide the town cemetery. She won too.
Were the black children allowed to use the Ruleville pool?
Of course not, in 1949?
I didn’t realize the Lawrences were on the cutting edge of the civil rights movement in the deep south. Very impressive.
Bravo! Red Sent from my iPad