Within living memory, the practice of segregation prevailed in the states of the former Confederacy (and sometimes even beyond them). That is, the phenotypical distinction between humans of African descent and those of European descent was judged to have moral and legal significance, and the “races” were kept apart from each other in various formal and informal ways. People may prefer to be around other people who “look like them,” but there is a big difference between doing something because you want to, and doing something because you have to. Furthermore, if there was any question about how resources were to be divided, those of European descent got the lion’s share, if not the whole thing. So starting with Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which ruled that “separate but equal” was a contradiction, more and more laws were passed forbidding any racially exclusive membership policies of any public organization, or private business serving the public. It took some effort to overcome initial resistance, but by now the notion that segregation was morally illegitimate has been so thoroughly internalized that most white Americans don’t want to remember that it ever existed.
This is progress, I suppose, but it is important to remember history, even that which makes us uncomfortable. Every now and then in my adopted hometown of Cartersville, Georgia, you get hints about the former dispensation: for instance, the train station, now the tourist office, has two waiting rooms where one should have sufficed. Last summer the kids really wanted to go swimming, but the Dellinger Park swimming pool, where we normally go, was closed. The Cartersville City website said that another facility, the Aubrey Street pool, was open, so we went there; that it was in the historically black Summer Hill neighborhood suggested to me that this was once the “black” pool for the city.
I was pleased, therefore, to read in the Cartersville Daily Tribune news of the following initiative – and of the participation of Reinhardt communications professor Pam Wilson in it:
Cartersville walking tour highlights historic African-American businesses
Calling it an “absolute honor and privilege,” Alexis Carter-Callahan is delighted to help showcase the history of African-American businesses in the heart of Cartersville. Titled the Walking Tour of African-American History in Downtown Cartersville: 1870-1940, the effort is a self-guided stroll highlighting eight sites and a pair of historic business districts.
“I wanted to be a part of this project because my family has always had a strong tradition of sharing oral history,” said Carter-Callahan, who assisted the walking tour committee with its family history nights and setting up a Facebook page. “My elders have often shared stories of my great-great grandmother, Mary Eliza Young, who owned a restaurant in the [downtown Cartersville] West End district [in 1910]. A black, female entrepreneur who was one generation removed from slavery. Imagine that! To help with telling the story of other prominent black business owners and entrepreneurs in the community has been an absolute honor and privilege.
“When I joined this project, I was blown away by the amount of research that the team compiled to put this project together. Dr. Pam Wilson [from Reinhardt University] has been a phenomenal asset to the project by adding a level of depth to the stories that we are able to tell about Cartersville’s black business owners through documents like census records, Sanborn maps, wills, deeds and Reconstruction-era documents. These documents proved that Cartersville has long served as a hub of black excellence. One of the facts that I found most intriguing about this project was the rise of black female entrepreneurs during this time period — 1870-1940. They were able to mobilize their resources, work in conjunction with their husbands, work without their husbands, work out of their homes, own property and leave legacies for their future generations.”
To learn more about the walking tour and its historic African-American businesses, Cartersville Downtown Development Authority Director Lillie Read encourages individuals to attend a complimentary presentation Saturday from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Bartow History Museum, 4 E. Church St. Along with sharing the committee’s findings, the event will feature a guided tour, if time and weather conditions allow.
More at the link.