Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Uglier Side of Wallace

In some ways, Wallace in the late fifties and early sixties was no different than another Wallace of that era, George Wallace. Let's put it this way, African-Americans were more than welcome to come and entertain us, but they were not welcome to sleep there. A list of confirmed and "possible" sundown towns in the United States lists the following cities
GeneralBonners Ferry
Clark Fork
Hoodoo
Moscow
Twin Falls
Wallace

Wallace is listed as a probable.

http://sundown.afro.illinois.edu/sundowntownsshow.php?state=ID

To my personal knowledge, Wallace did not have sign and formal declarations like some towns had in those days, but there was certainly cause to believe that an unofficial policy existed.



The Harlem Globetrotters used to come to the Civic Auditorium, and the first time that my dad took us to see them was about 1958  They were led that appearance by the great Meadow Lark Lemon, the Clown Prince of Basketball. The Auditorium was packed with families, and we laughed cheered, applauded and were entertained for two hours by this great show.



After the game, it was certainly a different matter. There was no room in the inn for people of color, no  matter who they were. Several years earlier, Nat King Cole, the great singer, came through Wallace and had to sleep in the Grand Theater because again, there was no room in the inn.



I remember well right before the Civil Rights Act was passed. I was sitting over at the 'old' high school on the steps that lead to the "Little Gym"  Several of us were chatting about world events, and I spoke favorably about the Civil Rights Act, and I stated that I hoped it would pass. One of the guys sitting there looked me straight in the eye and said, " would you really want to sit on the same toilet seat that a N----- sat on?" That attitude, I am sorry to say was very prominent in Wallace in those days.



Looking back, I think that our attitudes came mostly from being socially isolated from any other people who were not just like we were. A lot of us had never lived anyplace other than Wallace, and most of us and certainly never been exposed to ethnic diversity. The first time that I was really around any African-Americans happened when I was a freshman in college.


Have attitudes changed much? I really don't know, but I am guessing that things probably have changed a little.

I know that I have changed, and hopefully, will continue to change. 

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