8. The Structure of White Supremacy in Alabama in the Era of World War II
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8 The Structure of White Supremacy in Ala­ bama in the Era of World War II On Sep­ tem­ ber 6, 1944, Walton H. Craft, a sixty-­ five-­ year-­ old white resident of Mobile, dispatched a letter of complaint to Ala­ bama’s governor, Chauncey Sparks. Craft had come to Mobile in early 1942 to take a job at the city’s booming Brookley Air Force Base,and each day he rode a city bus from his home to the field. He had become increasingly concerned about the pattern of racial segregation on the Mobile buses, under which there was no fixed racial dividing line. Whites filled from the front and blacks from the back, and the dividing line was wherever they met. On this particular morning, as of­ ten happened, the driver “allowed the Negroes to fill [the] rear and continue up the aisle two thirds of the way . . . hanging over the white women and girls. Frankly, it is not pleasant, not to mention the fact you have paid your fare to be transported to work, only to have some Negro hanging over you or his body touching you from time to time, the ‘Negro Odor’sometimes almost more than a person can stand.” That morning Craft had left the bus in disgust before reaching his destination. “I would suggest that a start be made in our own state to correct these practices that have grown to the extent they have, and I am of the opinion there is a State Law which requires the segregation of races, which is not being followed by the present bus company.The excuse some drivers give is,‘The orders are to bring a full load.’ That may be an instruction; however, it does not give the Bus Company or the driver the right to disregard a State Law that is on the State’s Book, as to the separation of the races. I called the Driver’s attention to this matter as I left the Bus,” but he seemed wholly uninterested. The obviously deeply agitated Mr. Craft must have been astonished at the reply he received from Governor Sparks, to whom he had so confidently appealed. “If you will investigate the matter you will find, I think, that there is no law requiring the segregation of races in busses. . . . Our segregation laws are few, and apply to such matters as schools, asylums, penitentiaries and things directly under the control of the state. Of course,” the governor added, “we have what is known as the Jim Crow, or segrega- White Supremacy in Alabama in the Era of World War II / 165 tion law on railroads. This has been in existence for many years.” But he concluded, “You can readily see, therefore, there are few segregation laws to be enforced.”1 Many accounts of the Jim Crow South share Mr. Craft’s misconceptions , unthinkingly depicting segregation in the region as a universal and uniform system. This error has distorted explanations of segregation’s origins and of the course of events by which it eventually was overcome. But Governor Sparks, an attorney who practiced law in the small Black Belt county seat of Eufaula,knew what he was talking about.In fact,in the summer of 1942, assistant Ala­ bama attorney general Walter W. Flowers had undertaken a thorough survey of all state statutes and regulations bearing on racial segregation. State law required racial segregation in most institutions directly funded by the state, though not in all of them; the segregation of the state universities and of the state mental hospitals was merely a policy of their administrations, for instance. But beyond the state’s own institutions, state statutes required racial segregation only in county jails (where sexual segregation was also required), railroad passenger cars and stations (a regulation that specifically exempted municipal trolley lines), and poor houses and tuberculosis sanitariums. State law criminalized miscegenation and interracial sexual relations and forbade white female nurses to nurse black men. The voter qualification provisions of the state constitution , though they did not mention race, had of course been adopted with conscious discriminatory intent, and the law did require that poll tax receipts be recorded separately by race. But that was the extent of state legislation on the subject of segregation.2 The laws were exactly as Governor Sparks had said: few indeed. Other facially nonracial provisions of the state constitution also had important implications for the structure of race relations, as did disfranchisement .White hostility to the...


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Subject Headings

  • Reconstruction (U.S. history, 1865-1877).
  • Civil rights -- United States -- History.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1865-1951.
  • Southern States -- History -- 1951-.
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