This was my first real venture South unless you count the vacation my family took when I was 10. At that time we drove from Maryland to Florida. This was not even 100 years after the Civil War and my father pointed out many of the burnt plantation chimneys - Sherman Monuments he said. It's hard to realize now that he would have had older relatives that may have fought in that was just as he had fought in WWII. The American South had not started much of its recovery in the mid 1950s and I felt like I was seeing a place that I didn't understand.
But this trip to Biloxi was ten years after that 1954 trip. I had just turned 20 and the Civil Rights movement was gaining strength. Martin Luther King had made his "I have a dream..." the previous year and while desegregation had come to Washington DC, the city still had de facto segregation. My friends and I, tired of college, had thought grand thoughts of 'doing something' to ensure voting rights. But in reality, it didn't touch us.
My boyfriend had flunked out of college and (in the early days of the Vietnam war) enlisted in the Air Force. I wanted to see him and so I took a train south to Keesler AFB, accompanied by my future mother-in-law. It just would not have done to go off by myself! We took the train at my future father-in-law's insistence with his belief that airplanes weren't safe.
There I stand, dressed like a proper young lady, clothes well coordinated with purse and heels matching. Ah to be that size again...5'7 and barely a size 8. But I also remember it was my first experience with separate water fountains...white and colored. I remember the bus we took for a day trip into New Orleans and one of the other young men from the base having to go into 'his' (the colored) waiting room. I remember learning to look for the signs showing me which 'whatever' was for me because I was white. Much of what I saw shocked me as it was so blatant and so accepted. I remember realizing that I wasn't as brave about 'doing something' as I thought I was when I was back home. In time I also learned that we had just as much inequality where I lived up North. It might be more subtle but it was real. Sadly, today it's still real - 50 years later.
Footonote: There was an earlier post about this trip and that long train ride. In that I say 1963, which I suspect is correct. Or maybe 1964 is. I'm not even sure my xh would know.
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