Last week we wrote about Samuel Adams, a St. Petersburg Times race reporter who spent two weeks traveling the South with his wife Elenora just months after the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964. Adams documented the 4,300-mile journey in a seven-part series, “Highways to Hope."
Since we wrote about Adams online and in print, we’ve received many comments and messages from readers who wanted to read his original series. Here is the entire series from our archives.
Editor’s note: During this period, the Times used language to describe black people that is now outdated or, in certain cases, offensive.
Introduction: Highways of Hope
Published November 8, 1964
"Four months after passage of the Civil Rights Act color bars are toppling in the South. But they haven’t fallen.
In some areas, there is open defiance, with violence just beneath the surface. In others there is evasion and subterfuge. But almost everywhere there are heartening signs of progress.
Times staff writer Samuel Adams, 38, and his wife Elenora spent 15 days driving 4,300 miles through 12 southern states last month. Their Times assignment was to see for themselves what had happened in the South during the four months following passage of the Civil Rights Act. They did not test compliance with the law, merely reporting what they saw and heard as they drove through Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, Virginia and West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama.
The seven-part series which starts today makes exciting reading. It takes real courage for a Negro couple to drive through Mississippi and Louisiana, as their reports from those states will show. But the winds of change are blowing through the South, and this is the big story the real story, on Civil Rights Day plus four months."
Part one: Florida and Georgia
Published November 8, 1964
By Samuel Adams
If you’re a Negro, and if you’re a tourist in the South, things are better these days.
They aren’t good yet. But four months after passage of the Civil Rights Act there have been some real and meaningful changes. The old ways are dying.
Food and lodging can be found at a price in un-segregated facilities on main highways through much of the South. But the Negro tourist who strays from the busy thoroughfares almost anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon line may have trouble spending his money except in segregated restaurants and motels.
- Four months after Congress said Negroes could not be denied public accommodations, we found that businessmen everywhere were acutely aware of the law, but:
- “Reserved” signs on every table in many restaurants are there solely to deny service to Negroes.
- Some businesses close automatically when Negroes seek service.
- Motels, restaurants and other businesses covered by the law frequently claim falsely that they are unable to provide the services they advertise.
- On occasion Negroes are shunted into segregated facilities which are not labeled, but which are obviously for “colored only.”
- In some areas where segregation was an unadvertised but accepted fact three months ago, newly-painted “White Only” signs are now commonplace.
It was a chilly, bright October morning as Elenora and I drove out of St. Petersburg on Interstate 4. We were to forget, if we could, our color. We were to report what happened to us, but to precipitate no trouble. Just 50 miles from home, we turned our leased compact car into Hillsborough River State Park. We would be on the road more than two weeks and drive through a dozen states before ending our odyssey. Our assignment:
Take a trip a long trip through the South. We were middle class tourists with no serious money problems who normally would stop at top quality motels and seek out fine restaurants. We were to forget, if we could, our color. We were to report what happened to us, but to precipitate no trouble.
Just 50 miles form home, we turned our leased compact car into Hillsborough River State Park. Running from his cubicle, a park attendant waved for us to halt.
“We’re traveling and thought we’d like to see what the park has to offer.” Elenora used the well-modulated voice she reserves for strangers.
“I can tell you about the park, but I don’t think I can let you in. These are my instructions. It’s my understanding I’m not to admit colored. I’m sorry.”
(A spokesman for the Hillsborough State Park yesterday said the Adams should not have been turned away. He said all Florida state parks are desegregated. He said he would not have turned the Adams or any Negroes away and did not know who the gatekeeper was the day the Adams were told they could not enter.)
This was our first rebuff. We were to face many more sometimes bold, sometimes subtle:
- Rest rooms in Belleview, Florida bear signs, “Ladies,” “Gentlemen,” and “Colored.”
- Billboards with short order menus at a Belleview drive-in proclaim: “We reserve the right to change prices without notice.” (Prices do double suddenly for Negro patrons.)
But there was a bright side, too. We were not turned away at two traditionally segregated towns in Georgia, and in other communities throughout the South we found surprising acceptance of the civil rights law.
We made the first overnight stop of our 15-day tour in Georgia.
When we walked into the Ware Hotel in my native Waycross, Georgia, the head bellman recognized me instantly. He had known me and my family since I was a child. Others also knew me, and I was given a room without question. I suspect that I was the first Negro guest ever registered at the Ware. Whites watched curiously, Negro employes with quiet pride and jubilance as we were shown to our room.
Our first outright denial of service in southeast Georgia came at the Chuck Wagon Drive-In on U.S. 82 near Hinesville. There, the blonde waitress conferred with her boss as we parked. She met us at the door as we sought to enter, declaring, “We’re closing.”
It was 3:30 p.m. Thursday. The drive-in did not close and the five customers inside were served.
At Liberty County Truck Center we were led from the large restaurant and offered service in a dingy cubbyhole near the “colored” rest rooms at the rear of the building.
Savannah was different. Wracked by racial troubles, a year ago, Savannah now is well on its way to becoming a model city in the South. Our discovery of the Johnny Harris Restaurant there enhanced this impression. We found good food and service, a pleasant atmosphere and reasonable prices.
We skipped north from Savannah to the Carolinas, but returned to the Peach Tree State near the end of our journey. As we swung into Monroe on our way home we missed a turn and a block later noticed that we were being trailed by two young men in a car.
When we turned, they turned. If I slowed to a crawl, so did they. I drove faster, and they did too. Elenora and I had planned to stop for coffee, but she was frightened now and we kept moving. The car finally turned around after trailing us well out of town.
The next day we drove South to Jackson, Georgia, where I had been menaced with a pistol five years ago when our daughter had used a rest room. I had asked the attendant to pump no more gasoline in my car after he had run into the rest room behind Carol. In 1959 he ordered us to leave at gunpoint. In October, 1964, another attendant at the same Jackson station treated us with respect and let us use the station rest room.
We ignored the sign for “Colored Parking” at Big John’s Drive-In Dairy Bar in Newman, Georgia. We were served without trouble.
NEAR THE END OF the tour, we entered southwest Georgia from Dothan, Alabama, where we had been unable to find a hotel room. We found housing at Merry Acres Motel in Albany, Georgia. We ate at Albany’s Davis Cafeteria.
Two years ago, Albany was the scene of massive jail-ins stemming from attempts to desegregate public accommodations. Five Negro girls this year attend the formerly all-white high school under a four-year phased court order to desegregate two low grades and one high grade each year.
Samuel Adams: A Remarkable Of Remarkables
This column ran in the November 8, 1964 newspaper alongside the first installment of ‘Highways to Hope’
Samuel Adams is a remarkable member of a rather remarkable family.
He’s a 38-year-old Georgia Negro with three college degrees, including a master’s degree from the University of Minnesota. After 10 years as a working reporter he’s been around, and he knows his job. Other newsmen rate him a real pro.
Adams is one of six children born to Mr. and Mrs, J. N. Adams of Waycross, Georgia.
The elder Adams operates a shoe repair-pawn shop and Mrs. Adams Is a housewife, although she ran a dry cleaning business when five of her children were in college simultaneously.
Samuel Adams older sister, Ola, was a Fulbrlght Scholar, holds advanced degrees in French, and now teaches In New York City.
His older brother, James, is a graduate of Tuskegee Institute, and is employed in Atlanta by the post office department.
His younger brother, Carlton, is a surgeon in Sacramento, California.
His younger sister, Dorothy, is a former college instructor, is the wife of a Bartow, Florida, minister, [and] has a master’s degree in psychiatric social work and now teaches in Bartow.
His youngest brother, Curtis, is a dentist who lives in Washington, D.C., and practices In Baltimore, Maryland.
Samuel Adams has been with The St. Petersburg Times five years and has covered a number of top stories. These include racial disturbances at Albany, Georgia; Birmingham, Alabama; Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and St. Augustine. He also has worked on the Des Moines Register and for the Atlanta Daily World.
His wife, Elenora, 35, attended schools in Atlanta and went to Spelman College, Atlanta, and Los Angeles City College.
She is the mother of two children, is assistant projects director of the Community Service Foundation and is active in social work in the St Petersburg area.
Part two: The Carolinas
Published November 9, 1964
By Samuel Adams
It was dusk as we drove across the Savannah River which marks the Georgia-South Carolina border. Soon we would need a place to sleep, and while we were on U.S. 17, cities in this area are small and we worried.
Our first stop was at Ridgeland where the service station attendant was busy pumping gasoline. As I entered the rest room through the station office, a teen-age boy yelled to the attendant: “That colored man is using the rest room.”
I honestly had not noticed a “White Only” sign. We left without speaking to the attendant and drove on to Waterboro, South Carolina, about 70 miles north of Savannah and 50 miles west of Charleston, South Carolina.
Our car was in full view of the office as we pulled up to Lane’s Motel in Waterboro.
Before I opened the door of the car a man stepped out of the office, walked briskly over to the car and peered in.
“Gee, only two of you? ... I’m waiting for a big family. Only thing I got left is family units with four beds.”
I indicated that we might take his large unit and asked what the price was.
“Twenty-eight,” he replied, adding, “I’d better wait for a big family. There are some more motels right up the road.”
At El Rancho Motel, the vacancy sign was up. It was not far up the street from Lane’s. The clerk greeted me with a refrain like the one I had heard at Lane’s. His vacancies were for bigger families than mine. He told me there were many more motels further up the road, as he pointed to a map on the wall.
The woman whom we encountered at Travelers Motel a few blocks away said she had only a family suite available. After I suggested that I might take it for $16 a night, the rate she had quoted, she said a new wing had been completed and the owner might permit me to stay there. He rented us a unit for 512.
The woman had said the wing had not been opened to guests, but others were housed there.
You won’t have any trouble here. We are law-abiding people," the owner explained in an Eastern accent. “Where are you people from?”
The following morning as we were leaving, a Negro maid spotted us and ran to another room to point us out to another maid. We left them gazing and talking excitedly.
For breakfast we stopped at Green’s Restaurant in St. George, South Carolina. The menu I got turned out to have different prices from the one my wife got. Eggs costing 50 cents on hers cost $1 on mine. A special item advertised on signs outside and on the road for 85 cents was listed for $1.70 on my menu. We both were charged the higher prices.
We were seated near a front window eating when a middle-aged couple with Pennsylvania license plates on the car drove up, but backed out and pulled away after the woman pointed to us.
Mrs. Green, a woman in her 50s, saw them leave, and whispered to her husband, a gaunt wrinkled man.
Before we finished eating, he walked from around the counter and said: “Y’all see what integration’s doing to us.”
“No, do you mind telling us?” I asked.
“Didn’t you see that car drive away,” his accent was thickly southern. “And they were northern people too.”
He didn’t sound angry, so I kept him talking. “That’s funny,” I said, “northerners and southerners eat in restaurants where Negroes are served in the North.”
“We’re here to serve the public . . . your dollar is as good as anybody’s. It’s not us management what’s squawk- tag, it’s the public. When they are in the North they accept It Down here, they won’t It looks like they throw a rock and —”
He made a sweeping motion simulating tossing a rock and hiding his hand under the counter.
“I believe 90 percent of the local people will accept it. But it’s the northern politicians,” he added.
Mrs. Green said desegregation would have come much easier if the politicians in Washington “hadn’t made such a big to-do about it.”
We left thinking we had paid enough to compensate for what the northern couple would have spent had they come in.
We stopped just south of Santee to talk with a group of cotton pickers and were introduced later to the Negro owner of the farm, Ralph Hilliard. He and his brother, John, both prosperous farmers, drove up in a late model pickup truck.
“A few years ago, the Negroes in Santee were blind, but now they see.”
He was referring to desegregation efforts and voters registration. He talked of one Negro during an earlier election being afraid to put a sticker on his car when a Orangeburg Negro was running for public office.
“I signed a petition in 1955 for Negro children to attend school with whites, and after that I couldn’t get credit to harvest my crops,” said John.
This was our third day on the road. We had lunch at Fayetteville, South Carolina, at Shamrock Diner. Our presence didn’t seem to please the waiter, but there was no unpleasantness.
We switched routes at Fayetteville from U.S. 301 to a state route which took us through Sanford, Chapel Hill and Yanceyville near the North Carolina-Virginia border.
Our last North Carolina coffee break was at Sanford where we stopped at Be Bee’s Diner. We found rest rooms available in Chapel Hill and other towns.
Our general impression was that most South Carolina business men are swallowing the public accommodations law. They don’t like it But they seemed ready to live with it In a law-abiding manner.
Part three: Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee and West Virginia
Published November 10, 1964
By Samuel Adams
We took the slow, scenic route through Virginia and the mountain border states. Our road wound its leisurely way through the’ Blue Ridge, Smoky, Cumberland and great Alegheny Mountains, some of America’s most spectacularly beautiful country.
The once violent city of Danville, Virginia, was quiet during the past summer, but segregation still is the way of life for many businessmen.
When we stopped at C & E Grill in Danville, neither Elenora nor I knew we were entering a honky tonk. She froze as we walked into the crowded noisy bar. The juke box was blaring a hillbilly tune. Four men near the one empty table were playing table shuffleboard. The long bar was full of beer drinkers, all white. It was about 6 p.m. Friday, and the patrons were spending as if this was their last pay day.
Fresh in Elenora’s memory was the Danville violence of some months earlier. The driver of the bus on which she rode to Washington for the Freedom March had been arrested here, and a policeman had boarded the bus to warn that no singing of Freedom Songs would be allowed while they were driving through Danville.
We decided against ordering anything other than coffee, While we were waiting, a burly shuffleboard player leaned over to say something. We thought we were in for trouble.
“Can I rest my beer glass on your table?" He asked politely."
We were glad he asked. It made us feel better.
At Hotel Leland, we were told, “The Bears are in town and we are loaded.”
We telephoned the Hotel Danville and were told they had room for us, but three college students going to Martinsville for the weekend encouraged us to drive to Roanoke, much closer to the mountains. We had introduced ourselves to the trio after noticing that one of them wore a sweater indicating membership in my college fraternity.
Elenora thought the accommodations at Roanoke’s Downtowner Motel were the best of our entire trip.
We got an early start the next day. We spent some time in Blacksburg, Virginia, driving through the campus of Virginia Tech University, and stopping at Pembroke, Virginia for breakfast at Hagy’s Farm Restaurant.
Hagy and his wife, both in their early 30s, were warm and genuinely glad to serve us. He said he probably is the only person in that limestone and textile community who has two college degrees but chooses to be a short order cook.
The drive through the mountains made Elenora slightly carsick, so from Princeton, West Virginia, we took the West Virginia Turnpike, which was straighter and less hilly.
The St. Louis Cardinals and the New York Yankees were scheduled to play that day, so I pulled a Princeton station attendant and the driver of a Kwick Kafe Vending Machine truck into baseball talk.
“I hope St. Louis tears 'em up. I can’t stand a damn Yankee. I don’t care if he plays football, baseball or sells shoes,” the driver said with real emotion.
We made the drive to Charleston in record time, checked into the Holiday Inn, and then drove to West Virginia State College at Institute, West Virginia, where I earned my first college degree.
The former all-Negro college was desegregated following the Supreme Court school decision of 1954. Now 70 percent of the students are white, and the college has won recognition as a laboratory for human relations. We remained over the weekend to see this In action.
Then we drove to Huntington where we were refused service at the White Pantry, a small downtown restaurant. As I walked into White Pantry, the door was locked and a small man was stationed at the door. The waitress nearest me sneered at me and then grinned. A man In chef’s whites then came over to me and said, “I’m sorry.”
“Am I too early for lunch?” I inquired.
“Sorry, no colored. We don’t serve colored,” he said, then moved quickly toward the back of the place as I got up slowly.
Some other Huntington eating establishments now call themselves private clubs, we learned, but most businesses have no racial barriers.
Our record of acceptance and rejection in every state we visited was kept intact in Kentucky.
Unlike Florida, we were admitted to a Kentucky State Park (Jenny Wilder Park). And we were able to buy lunch at a formerly all white restaurant in Louisa, Kentucky.
On the other hand, we were denied service at a Harlan drive-in cafe and at two Middlesboro hotels.
The embarrassed waitress, told by the manager to get us out of Jay’s Drive-In at the intersection of U.S. 119 and U.S. 421, said, “We don’t serve colored In here.”
It appeared that if we had ordered and remained in our car we would have been served before our turn and dismissed.
The clerk at the Cumberland Hotel told me: “We don’t have a thing for you. This here is a club.”
At Middlesboro Hotel, the clerk made a special telephone call to report he had a Negro couple. He offered ante-room type service. Instead of accepting, we drove on to Knoxville, Tennessee, where we were housed at Gaither-Dogan Motel, a new Negro motel owned by the brother of Florida A & M football Coach Jake Gaither.
At Spike’s Simple Simon Restaurant on U.S. 129, some 20 miles south of Knoxville, we were met at the door and ushered to a rear dining room. The folding doors were not closed, but we were kept separated from other noontime diners.
A coffee stop later at Andrews, Tennessee, provided a warm and friendly welcome at Scotty’s, a small restaurant. The friendly “come back when you all are traveling this way” was repeated at a Western Auto Store where we went to buy batteries for our radio.
Our reception in Memphis was mixed. Memphis generally is cited as the most progressive city in the region. Negroes are well organized, but It seemed obvious that desegregation is not as general as reported elsewhere.
While a good many business firms now are open to all races, there are many holdouts and some have become “private clubs.”
Part Four: Alabama
Published November 11, 1964
By Samuel Adams
A tourist driving into Alabama on almost any major highway is likely to see first a huge billboard. A Confederate flag is draped across the far right side and a picture of Gov. George Wallace dominates the remainder.
If you’re a Negro, you’ll probably spot another sign a few miles up the road. This one reads: “Whites Only.”
Both signs greeted me and my wife, Elenora, as we drove into Alabama on our 15-day, 4,300-mile tour of the South to report on civil rights progress.
But there was still another sign, beside a vast U.S. highway construction project: “Your Tax Dollars at Work,” it read.
And even in tightly-segregated Alabama there were sure signs of change. At Miller’s Standard Service in Oxford, Elenora and I were away from the car using the rest rooms. One, which we did not use, was marked “colored.”
One of the station’s two attendants had his head under our hood and did not see Elenora return to the car.
“We got to put those signs up. They’re in the wrong rest rooms.” he yelled to his co-worker.
He looked embarrassed when he discovered Elenora was in the car, but he went on with his work and was polite in accepting his money.
Vulcan’s fair weather light atop a nearby mountain was aglow as we arrived in the Magic City. The changes in Birmingham were obvious. Changes yet to be made were equally obvious. Many service stations provide three rest rooms, one for “colored.” Some larger hotels and motels accept Negroes, but with obvious reluctance.
Huntsville is an oasis in northern Alabama. Spearheaded by a white native of rigidly segregated Gadsden, AHAC (the Association of Huntsville Area Contractors) is moving economic mountains that have barred Negro employment in the missile and space industry.
As an impacted area with sharp growing pains, Huntsville hopes to attract talented Negro scientists. And AHAC leaders have borrowed from St. Petersburg’s Continuing Academic-Cultural Enrichment Program (CACEP) to upgrade educational and cultural achievements of local Negroes.
But we had non-racial troubles in Huntsville. While eating filet mignon at King’s Inn Restaurant, I somehow got a sharp object lodged in my throat. I waited three and a half hours in an integrated emergency room at the city’s lone hospital for a specialist to treat me.
Florence and the Tri-Cities (Muscle Shoals, Tuscumbia and Sheffield) benefit economically from the Tennessee Valley Authority’s soil research and electric generating plants but maintain a taste for states rights. We stopped in Tuscumbia en route to northern Mississippi, Arkansas, and Louisiana.
It was on our return to Florida that we visited Mobile and Dothan. Along the Gulf Coast tourist route through cities dependent on tourist trade, the dollar spoke. But it didn’t speak very loudly for a couple of Negroes seeking to spend money in Mobile and other Alabama cities.
Elenora and I managed to find overnight accommodations in Mobile on the 13th night of our tour, but not without difficulty. A Negro voter education leader furnished us with a list of different hotels, motels and eating places that had served Negroes since passage of the Civil Rights Law in July. He said we had a wide choice of places to spend the night, but he was wrong.
Sheraton Battle House had been accepting Negroes prior to the rights law, but we had been told to try first at the Admiral Semmes Motel. It had no vacancies. The Admiral Semmes Hotel, across the street, wondered how long I would stay, and finally decided it too had no vacancy.
The host at TraveLodge Motel said he had only large family accommodations. He permitted me to use a pay telephone to see if I could find more satisfactory quarters.
While I was looking up numbers of other motels, Elenora noticed that the TraveLodge clerk was making suspicious-looking calls at the switchboard. She came in from the car and stood nearby, whereupon he stopped dialing.
While standing there, she noticed a printed message pasted at eye-level on the clerk’s cage. It read:
“Sign of the times: Numerous restaurant and motel establishments are displaying these signs in prominent places to fight the civil rights bill that was forced upon us. Every penny of Negro trade forced on this establishment will be donated to the White Citizens Council. If you want Negroes in the next door flat, vote Democrat.”
Town House Motel reserved us a room by telephone without knowing we were Negroes. We were rented a unit adjacent to the heating-cooling system and an elevator shaft where squeaky and grinding noises awakened us at intervals during the night.
The next morning, a porter confided: “I don’t see why you got 231 when there were other rooms available. We get complaints about that room all the time.”
The following night in Dothan, Alabama, the matronly clerk at the Houston Hotel was polite in refusing to register us. “It’s Peanut Festival time,” she said. She helped me telephone a Negro motel, but we hit the road for Albany, Georgia, where we spent the night.
Other Newspapers Publishing Series
A number of other newspapers throughout the United States are publishing or plan to publish soon Samuel Adams’ series on his trip through the South. The newspapers include the New York Herald-Tribune, the Denver Post, the Rochester, N.Y., Times-Union and Democrat & Chronicle, the Chicago Daily News, Dayton Daily News, Washington Post and Miami Herald.
Part Five: Arkansas and Louisiana
Published November 12, 1964
By Samuel Adams
Negroes have their place in Arkansas. But it’s not In "White Only “ restaurants, hotels or rest rooms.
Even so, a Negro tourist probably encounters less trouble in Arkansas than in much of Louisiana.
A warm October sun made driving a pleasure as we headed across the Mississippi river into Arkansas from Memphis, Tennessee.
Acres of white cotton bolls popping from sear brown plants provided our only view.
At West Memphis, Arkansas, we created quite a stir but no trouble at a restaurant where we stopped for coffee. We were served without incident.
Ww were allowed to use rest rooms marked “White Only” at Forest City and Mariana, Arkansas.
On the outskirts of West Helena, a town of about 12,000, a sign called for the election of John Kasper as president of the United States. Kasper gained some renown a decade ago when he helped fan racial violence at Clinton, Tennessee.
We were careful to stay well within the posted speed limit as we rolled through hilly Helena. We crossed the Mississippi again en route south to Jackson, Mississippi, on a swing which would bring us back into Louisiana from Vicksburg, Mississippi.
For a Negro tourist in the South, if he has money, New Orleans is an oasis. We lived fabulously in that wonderful city, and raised some eyebrows in the process.
We slept until 10 o’clock at the Hilton Motor Hotel. We had breakfast at world famous Brennan’s. We dined royally at Antoine’s. We shopped in the French Quarter.
What is just a special treat for the typical white tourist in New Orleans was a fabulous wonderland for us.
Our visit to Brennan’s stopped traffic. A male host met us in the foyer to ask what we wanted. As several other couples waited behind us, the host picked up a telephone and said in French, "J’ai deux Noirs (I have two Negroes). He then sent us upstairs where for most of our meal we had a private room all to ourselves. The service was special and Elenora asked for the recipe for the Eggs Nouvelle Orleans we both consumed.
Four hours later, we caught Antoine’s by surprise by directly entering the dining area from the street. Four young waiters were seated near the kitchen entrance. No one came to greet us and it was obvious they did not know what to do. They all looked toward a middle aged man in the cashier’s booth for their cue.
He too hesitated, then made a decision as we gravitated toward the left side of the room where I was about to seat Elenora.
Motioning for one of the waiters to seat us, he pointed to a table at the right near where they were sitting. That table was littered with dirty dishes left by another party. We stood uncomfortably at the table as the bus boy removed the dishes and changed the table cloth.
We were eating too early for Elenora. She wasted good food but enjoyed going through the motions. By 8 pm. we’d be in a more segregated area and she would be wishing for the food. But there were no “doggie bags” in which to carry it out.
New Orleans provides a sharp contrast to other areas of Louisiana. We had stopped a day or so earlier in Monroe, a city of about 60,000, of which some 15,000 are Negroes. Just inside the city limits we pulled into the Siesta Boat Dock Drive-in and went inside for a carry-out order.
The woman behind the counter and a man who appeared to be an owner seemed embarrassed by the loud remarks of one of the three white men in the place.
“That’s a Korean gal with that nigger,” he said referring to us. “If she ain’t a Korean, I’m a nigger,” he added.
“Will you answer this one question for me?” he turned to my wife, who made an elaborate pretense of ignoring him.
“I know damn well you’re a Korean,” he said. We left the drive-in quickly and drove to the nearby Holiday Inn where we had advance reservation.
The young woman behind the counter furrowed her brow and examined a card file where she finally found our reservation.
“The reservation’s here, all right, but we didn’t know you was colored when we took it,” she said. “I could give you a room here but it wouldn’t be safe. For your safety and mine, I shouldn’t.”
Altogether we had more than 3,000 miles behind us at this point and until now I had turned on my heel when confronted with evasiveness or rejection. But we had no alternative. On our proposed route, I knew of no place we could stay within hundreds of miles.
“If I am not safe in my motel room, I don’t know where I will be safe,” I told her. “Don’t worry about us. My wife is sleepy and I promised —”
“But I wouldn’t like to have it on my conscience,” she interrupted. “It’s for your safety.”
Becoming more serious, I said: “You forget, this is America where we have freedom from fear. If it eases your conscience, let me say this — I’ll be safer here than on the highway driving sleepily. That way I might kill myself and somebody else. We’ll take our chances in the room.”
She went to the telephone and contacted someone who identified himself as Arthur Grant. He asked to speak to me over the house telephone.
“There must be some mistake,” Grant said. “We don’t have any rooms available.”
“The woman at the desk said she has rooms,” I countered. “She is registering a woman and a child right now and they don’t have reservations.”
“Well, I’m looking out for you,” Grant added. “The police would come and put you in jail.”
“The police won’t even know I’m here unless you tell them.” I retorted.
Finally he offered to pay my bill if I would go to another motel.
“I’m top dog here and they’re shooting at me,” he said.
“Who are THEY,” I asked. "
“The mayor doesn’t like this desegregation mess,” he said as he ended the conversation. That was that. No room.
As we started out car to leave, two Negro porters gave us directions to a honky-tonk Negro drive-in with seven motel units. We spent more than an hour finding the place. It was noisy and small. But it was clean and adequate. The food was superb.
Sunday morning dawned bright and clear. We left early.
There would be no early church for us that morning, we agreed. By church time, we would be farther into the heart of Louisiana, perhaps at Grayson, Tullos or Jena.
We had plans to buy coffee and breakfast before reaching Natchez on our circular swing through Louisiana, but we met rebuff after rebuff. Elenora became depressed, and I developed a splitting headache for want of food.
I tried place after place. Once, when I reached for the handle of a restaurant door at a truck stop near Tollos a loud voice startled me. “Upps!! Upps!! Hold it!” A chubby man from the service station area was approaching and people inside were watching.
Excitedly, he told me, “You will have to come ‘round the back.”
Then in a pleasanter mood, he led me, stepping over car Jacks and tires as we moved around the south side of the building.
I followed him into a small storeroom where there were several freezers, a table and a door opening into the kitchen, but no windows.
“He wants coffee” the man yelled into the kitchen door and began removing extraneous objects from the table.
I left, ostensibly to pick up Elenora, and we drove away as he straightened the place for us.
At Jena, “White Only” signs gave a quick Indication that there would be little service available for Negroes there. We drove on, my head aching so fiercely that Elenora took over the wheel.
Not far from Jonesville, we saw a Negro couple sitting on the front porch of a roadside bungalow.
Charlie and Irma Lee Tanner greeted us warmly, at first thinking we were their daughter and son-in-law who earlier this year left the farm for California.
I hesitated about drinking the water she offered, although the well was located a good distance from their outhouse. I took only enough to swallow the aspirins she handed me.
The Tanners’ supply of bottled gas was gone, so she made coffee in a wood stove used as a heater. I drank two cups without cream or sugar. There was none in the house.
Mrs. Tanner said, 'Yestiddy (sic), there was two spiders. One swung down here and the other one there."
She pointed to the rafter of the porch, adding, “I wouldn’t knock 'em down, 'cause I knew it was a sign I’d have company, and I wanted to see who it was. It was brown spiders.”
“That’s sho the truth,” Tanner said. “Brown skin company. Y’all sho look nice.”
Part Six: Mississippi
Published November 13, 1964
By Samuel Adams
A police car drove slowly down the street, stopped, turned around and headed back toward us in the dusty, midday sunlight.
“No need to fear anybody now,” explained Mrs. Aaron Henry, our hostess. “They do their dirt at night.”
We were sitting in the Fourth Street Drug Store in Clarksdale, Mississippi. A ragged rectangular hole in the ceiling over our heads had been ripped by an explosion a few weeks earlier.
The store is owned by Dr. Aaron Henry, head of Mississippi’s Freedom Democratic Party and president of the State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
This was the second time police had passed the store since our arrival. The officers peered into the store as the car crept past. Mrs. Henry and a woman working with her had told us that visitors with out-of-town license tags often are arrested after they leave.
Spurning Mrs. Henry’s offer to house us, we went to Holiday Inn. We circled to keep from being followed. But a short time later we were back at Mrs. Henry’s, and we slept that night in the Henry home under the shotgun protection of the Rev. Willie Goodlow, who had guard duty that night.
We accepted Mrs. Henry’s hospitality after being permitted to register at the Holiday Inn.
Even as I started to register a slightly-built, dark-haired man had pointed out our car to a burly individual wearing a plaid shirt. They had talked briefly in full view of my wife, and she was frightened.
The matronly desk clerk gave me a registration card after a lengthy telephone conversation with someone about me. The telephone rang again before I finished registering.
The clerk said, apparently to someone on an extension: “Yes, I’ve got to take him. That’s what the boss said.”
Back at the car, Elenora told me we were being watched from a window over the club lounge by a man and a woman. I drove to Room 31 with my lights off, making it more difficult for them to see my tag or car from their lighted room. I backed in, obscuring my license tag against a low hedge. The car was left loaded and facing out.
The room was next to the end of a wing, at the rear of the complex a stone’s throw from a road. A fence about three-feet high separated the motel property and the public roadway.
Soon after we were settled in the room, the click of leather heels on the paved walk claimed our full attention. The sound stopped at our door. I opened the door and faked conversation with my wife: “Are you sure we have everything you want out of the car?” Outside was a Negro restaurant porter writing on a pad and trying to appear interested in something other than our car or room. He left, but we heard the similar sounds of heels clicking our way 15 minutes later. We suspected he was getting our car tag number. Just as Elenora was beginning to feel more secure, she discovered an inside door leading to the room adjacent to ours. It was locked from the other side. I tried but couldn’t lock it from our’s.
“That does it. It’s better to be a live coward than a dead hero. Please take me back to Mrs. Henry’s and let’s accept the room she offered us,” said my wife pleadingly. On the way out, I went into the motel office for my receipt and told the clerk we thought we’d look for a restaurant away from the motel.
Seconds after we left, Elenora told me a policeman was behind me. We stopped at a gasoline station, and he made a U-turn and drove past the other side of the station behind me. We stopped at a gasoline station, and he made a U-turn and drove past the other side of the station.
Early Saturday, we took Mrs. Henry’s advice. We mailed the motel key rather than returning it — one of several precautions taken to avoid being followed. We headed our compact car south into the cradle of the racist White Citizens Council — Sunflower County, home of James Eastland and of Fannie Lou Hamer, the rotund Negro whose story of her arrest and flogging for registering to vote shook the National Democratic convention in Atlantic City.
I stopped to photograph a trio of cotton pickers harnessed in bags six feet long. It was then we discovered the car that had been trailing us was being driven by policeman. We were between Parchman State Prison and Drew, Mississippi. The unmarked police car kept moving.
At Drew, the police car was waiting. We stopped at a gasoline station as he pulled out and headed into town.
No rest rooms were open to us at most places we stopped. It was no better in Ruleville and in Tallahatchie County.
At a large Gulf station in Greenwood, the rest rooms were locked and the attendant said he didn’t have the key. At other stations, the rest rooms were “Out of Order," or "Not for y’all.”
Denials of rest room use caused Elenora to become ill before we reached Jackson. Yazoo had offered no relief. An American oil attendant there simply said, “No.” At Jackson, we stopped at a large Sinclair station with four rest rooms — two for both races.
Jackson also offers some limited restaurant and motel service, according to Negro businesswoman Mrs. Thelma Sanders, whose home was bombed earlier this year.
While we were downtown looking for a place to eat, the white storekeeper at Winnie’s Corset shop, seeing we were lost, volunteered the suggestion that we eat at Morrison’s, "right up the street.”
She said, “Some of the crazy people might get up and go out. But it won’t matter. I have been there, and they do serve Negroes.”
It was mid-afternoon and we found Morrison’s closed, a common practice between lunch and dinner. We ate at a Negro restaurant.
The first time we had tried to use a white restaurant In Mississippi was at Corinth. This was before we reached the Henry’s home in Clarksdale.
It was a Piccadilly drive-in restaurant and two red-faced men were seated at a semi-circular bar. I perched on a stool, ordered coffee and asked for change to buy a newspaper.
The waitress gave me change and went to the kitchen, from where a man emerged and snorted. “Whatcha want?”
“You —,” he stormed back into the kitchen without completing his remark.
The waitress came back to the serving area and stood mute for seconds trying to compose herself. Looking down at a glass she held, she said, “We ain’t 'loud to serve you at the counter.”
The man who had gone into the kitchen came around the outside from the rear of the building, got a look at my car and walked back into the serving area as I was leaving by another door.
Up to this point our experiences in Mississippi had indicated no hope. Now, suddenly, we found tiny islands of hope in Jackson, the state capital. A pleasant white woman volunteered to send us to a white cafeteria and we learned later that Negroes also are served at one other white restaurant.
The sun was setting when we reached Vicksburg’s Holiday Inn.
“I’m sorry. We got tours coming in,” the woman said, rejecting me.
We suspected there actually was room at the inn and telephoned back after driving two miles.
“I am about to be 30 miles away,” said Elenora, telling a little white lie. “Can you house us when we get there?”
“Sure we can.” was the reply.
She neglected to say we were Negroes.
We also telephoned Vicksburg’s Magnolia Motel and were offered a room. The offer was withdrawn and we were referred to a Negro hotel when they learned our racial identity. We spent the night in Louisiana, and it was the next afternoon when we returned to Mississippi at Natchez.
Some Natchez service stations offered a “colored” rest room while others refused us altogether.
Where U.S. 98 splits off from U.S. 84 west of Budef, we ordered gasoline from a slightly built white boy who directed me to the rear of the station. I went in a door marked “Men.” I The boy, aged about 17, met me coming out.
“Didn’t I tell you the nigger room was round back?” he said.
I smiled as if I didn’t hear, and asked a question of my own.
Summit, McComb and Magnolia are three unyielding segregationist strongholds famous for violence against Negroes. They are in a cluster midway between Jackson and New Orleans, Louisiana. Nearby is Philadelphia, where three civil I tights workers were murdered this summer.
Also nearby is the murky Pearl River, like the Tallahatchie, famous as a watery grave of Negroes who “forget their place.” "
We found the McComb Freedom House where COFO (Council of Federated Organizations) conducts Negro voter education and other civil rights activities. It had a gaping bomb hole big enough to drive a truck through.
To mislead the police car which trailed us, we stopped a few doors down the street and drove to Freedom House after the officers left.
It was late Sunday afternoon and Freedom House was I buzzing. A citizenship class was being carried on in the back. Two college students who were to share nightwatch duty Sunday night were asleep in a front bedroom.
A late-arriving doctor-nurse team from New York drove up just as a search team was being organized to look for them. They go into jails, examine civil rights workers and, in effect, say to law enforcement authorities: “This prisoner is now in good shape. We will be back. If he is Injured, you will have to answer for it.”
We were told, “Nothing in McComb is desegregated.” The rights workers said unless we were prepared to submit to arrest, search and seizure we should not attempt to use public accommodations in Southeast Mississippi.
We asked to use their pay telephone and were warned to talk in coded language because “the telephone is bugged.” Handwritten lettering on the instrument read, "This telephone is STILL bugged.”
I picked up the receiver and after a few clicks got my party in St. Petersburg. Our carefully planned departure for New Orleans brought no unpleasantness.
We finally obtained service without regard for race in Mississippi while en route from New Orleans back to Florida. In the Gulf Coast resort town of Biloxi, Mississippi, we used rest rooms which had no racial makings. Many Biloxi service stations, however, have segregated rest rooms.
Part Seven: Some conclusions
Published November 14, 1964
By Samuel Adams
Fear rides with Negroes who drive through the South. We were frightened — my wife Elenora and I — as we drove for 15 days through 12 southern states.
I have lived with fear so long I am hardly aware it’s there. But Elenora couldn’t hide her fears as we drove north from St Petersburg in late October on our 4,300 mile journey.
There is far less reason for a Negro to be afraid now. Yet fear remains, and some of our northern friends refuse to drive through the South to visit us.
Take Warren Fowler, a Negro, an electrical contractor and city commissioner of Pontiac, Mich. He and his family want badly to come to St. Petersburg for a vacation. But they fear every gasoline stop, every restaurant, every motel.
The slaying last summer of Washington, D.C. educator and Army colonel Lemuel Tenn as he and two other Negroes drove through Georgia en route home made most Negroes more fearful.
Actually, fear of slipping “out of a nigger’s place” and meeting violence dominated Negro thinking long before the Penn murder.
Time was when the wrong license plate, especially one from up North, or a car too new or too long would mean automatic arrest for Negroes driving through southern communities. Pistol whipping was the vogue for teaching Negroes in custody how to say “sir” and “mister.”
Past experiences gave us reason to worry.
I was asleep five years ago when my wife drove into a Jackson, Ga., service station and my daughter used the rest room marked “Ladies.” Fear cleared my eyes of sleep instantly when I discovered the gasoline station operator waving a pistol in my face because Carol had forgotten her place.
Our assignment was to report, but inevitably we were involved in testing compliance with the new civil rights law. Just as inevitably we drew some rather general conclusions about the South:
- There is increasingly less reason for Negro tourists to fear for their safety.
- Operators of public accommodations axe beginning to treat the Negro dollar with greater respect.
- As a result, Negro frustration is less likely to build to violence.
The Civil Rights Act has given the Negro new status. Now he has codified federal law, not merely an interpretation of the Constitution, which says he has a right to equal use of public accommodations.
The meager power of the Negro — sometimes penniless and voteless — was pitted in past years against the overwhelming force of the white power structure.
Mayor Allen Thompson of Jackson, Miss., minced no words last year in communicating this fact of life to Negroes. “We’ve (the whites have) got the guns, we’ve got the force.”
The white man also had the law, but not any more In law-abiding states of the South. Federal laws for civil rights are controvening an array of state laws that formerly regulated businesses and men, and limited racial interaction.
Many of these laws are still on the books of some southern states. But they probably won’t stand up under court test They prohibit service to Negroes In certain places where whites are served, require employers to have separate Negro-white rest rooms, and, among other things, subject Negroes to arrest on trespassing charges in public accommodations.
The Civil Rights Act has shifted the arena of confrontation from the street to the court rooms. It was with this coded legal security that we sought service at businesses which previously had never served Negroes.
Even with the law on our side, we were apprehensive in states where there was a record of violence against Negroes.
Knowing that Mississippi, Alabama and Louisiana were among states we were to visit, several of our friends offered to lend us weapons for protecting ourselves in the event of trouble.
I turned them down. I was an expert shot during my Army hitch, but I’ve never owned a gun. My father has sold hundreds of weapons but never had one for his own use.
Elenora was not completely convinced by my argument that weapons can only breed trouble. She had listened to one of her white friends and was all set to accept a tear gas pistol recommended for women to explode in the faces of would-be attackers.
I vetoed this. The fact that we carried nothing made Elenora all the more frightened.
On several occasions we encountered what could have become serious trouble. But we completed the trip without violence or major incident, a feat which probably would not have been possible six months ago.
That’s the big story — Change: The increasing use of apologetic evasion rather than open defiance and increasing tolerance of black faces in places where none have been seen before — except as servants.
Who, for example, would, have guessed a year ago that a white man in a Danville, Va., honky tonk would politely ask a Negro couple if he could put his beer glass on their table while he played shuffleboard. Or who’d have thought a Jackson, Miss., storekeeper would volunteer to send a lost Negro couple to a white cafeteria.
We do not mean to suggest that Mississippi has made great strides toward Negro civil rights. Any change in this direction indeed has been, minute.
It is still a brutal state — hardly a member of the union where church burnings, bombings and murders are commonplace. It is the state where, according to Tuskegee Institute reports, 539 lynchings and untold other violence look place during the 81 years between 1882 and 1963.
The South we saw was contradictory. Indeed it was many Souths. Acceptance and defiance — tolerance and intolerance — sometimes existed a few feet apart. But geographical patterns developed.
If we were to list the states we visited on a scale, rating them on the basis of progress toward equal rights for all, Mississippi, as might be expected, would be at the bottom. But a bit of Mississippi can be found beyond the state’s borders. I’ve heard racists “prove” they are not anti-Negro by saying, “some of my best friends are Negroes.” Likewise some of my best friends are Mississippians. A difference lies in the fact they are not in the Mississippi atmosphere, which would have blocked or stifled the growth of our friendship.
Racial prejudice isn’t going to evaporate because Congress passed a law. It will be many, many years before a Negro driving through the South can forget his fear.
But the Negro has hope now. The law is important to him. And steadily increasing acceptance of the law throughout the South can only ease tensions. Frustrations Negroes encounter daily in their drive to enter the mainstream of American life are less likely now to erupt into violence. The future is brighter. For some, at least, hope has replaced hopelessness.