‘Separate but Equal’ Winston-Salem recalled
(pictured above: Dr. English Bradshaw speaks during the recent discussion as Linda Dark sits by his side.)
Though it is largely viewed as an era of separate and unequal treatment, some blacks recall Jim Crow with a degree of fondness.
“Segregation kept us from going to the businesses that we wanted to go to. What that did in turn was make us more self-sufficient,” said Jerry Lee Hanes, who joined Dr. English Bradshaw and Linda Dark for a Jan. 23 panel discussion – “A Community Within a Community: The African American Experience in Winston-Salem Before Integration” –at the New Winston Museum.
Hanes, a city native and visual artist, has created more than 50 paintings depicting the city’s history, particularly its black history, during the 1950s and ’60s. His exhibit, “Winston-Salem’s Legacy, from My Perspective,” is currently on view at the New Winston, which is dedicated to promoting and preserving local history.
Dark, a former nurse and active member of Friends of the Oddfellows Cemetery Restoration Project and the Society for the Study of African American History, which shares the facility on South Marshall Street with the museum, says segregation often bred ingenuity among citizens of East Winston.
“People did whatever they had to,” she recalled. “They hustled to be a part of the citizenship and the economic vitality of the city.”
Although students in African American schools were often subjected to sub-par facilties that lacked the tools and resources of their mainstream peers, the quality of their educators was second to none, the panelists said.
“We had some of the best, best teachers I’ve ever had,” commented Bradshaw, who holds two master’s degrees from Harvard University.
“The Big Four” historically black high schools at the time – Anderson, Atkins, Carver and Paisley – were home to a host of highly qualified educators whose dedication and concern for their pupils more than made up for the lack of resources at the schools, Hanes said.
“We were taught by highly educated teachers during that time that had an interest in us,” he noted. “That’s one of the things that’s missing (in education) now.”
Bradshaw spent his formative years at the Memorial Industrial School, an orphanage for children of color that was situated on a swath of land that is now Horizons Park. His book, “Suffer the Little Children,” details the history of the facility, which was founded near the turn of the century. The story represents an important piece of local black history that Bradshaw believes is dangerously close to being lost.
“This is our history and it’s vanished,” he declared. “We need to recapture this.”
Dark, an alumna of Atkins High School and UNC Greensboro, said she was among a small group of African Americans who were sent to white schools to take advanced placement courses. Being the only African American and the only female in her class was not an experience Dark relished. In those days, she said she felt much safer in her own community.
“Being in Winston-Salem during segregation, I felt very protected,” she recalled. “You didn’t need to go outside (the community).”
Hanes, a graduate of Winston-Salem State University, says people in the black community were firm believers in the adage that it takes a village to raise a child.
“I had to go at least 15 blocks from my neighborhood if I was going to do anything out the way,” he said with a chuckle. “You had discipline. You had respect for one another, and if you were hungry, you were fed. It was just a pleasant time, and a lot of us didn’t really realize we was poor. We don’t have that now.”
More than two dozen attended the program; many of them showed their fervor for topic by sharing their own stories and memories of days gone by and offering suggestions for helping the black community recapture some of the positive attributes it possessed decades ago.
“We need to return to love,” advised audience member Judy Willis, a consultant and life coach. “…If we begin to really unconditionally love ourselves and each other, we would see some reflections of communities of the past.”
Being involved with the community and building relationships across racial lines are also important components in building a better tomorrow, Dark believes.
“When you fully become comfortable with a person – even if they don’t look like you, even if they don’t act like you, even if they have a different culture – you can actually start talking about the important stuff,” she said. “And that’s got to come from a place of love.”
Executive Director Katherine Foster said the panel discussion, which was moderated by UNC School of Arts African American literature professor Dr. Rosemary Millar, was the museum’s most well attended program to date. She said a follow-up program will be scheduled.
For more information about the New Winston Museum, visit http://www.newwinston.org or call 336-724-2842.