Interview with Rev. Ralph Abernathy

OK. I want you to give me a brief word-picture of what life was like in the South in the mid-fifties, especially in terms of race relations. And I wonder if you might remember some anecdote or incident that occurred to you which might illustrate what life was really like then?

Rev. Ralph Abernathy:

In the mid-fifties, life was most difficult for black people and all poor people. It was much better for poor white people than for black people in the South during the fifties, the mid-fifties. There was segregation. All of the restaurants were segregated. The hotels and motels were segregated. Meaning the fact that black people were not permitted to live in these hotels. And even in the public courthouse blacks could not drink water except from the fountain labeled "Colored." You could not use the filling stations that was not designated with a restroom for colored. You had a restroom for white males and a restroom for white women. And you had a restroom for colored, meaning that colored people had to use the same restroom, male and female. But the woman's restrooms were for white women even though there was no sign saying, "Except Women and Men." And the janitor never would visit, a pay [sic] cleanup the restroom for the colored people. And this was an undisturbed fact. It was segregation on the jobs. We could not hold certain jobs. We were the last to be hired and the first to be fired. And, I guess, the only professional jobs—[siren in background]