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Remembering Discrimination of the Past

African American Remember Discrimination of the Past
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African American Remember Discrimination of the Past

Five decades ago, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. fought for racial equality in the United States. The landscape of the region was drastically different than today, as African Americans, especially in the south, were denied basic human rights and freedoms because of discriminatory local and state laws designed to keep black and whites separated.

Jeff Drew's family wasn't welcomed in an all-white neighborhood in Birmingham, Ala. Determined to stay, his father took action to protect his family from hate groups, fortifying the home to resist bullets and the dynamite that was thrown at the house.

Drew recalled one of those dynamite attacks.

"I was laying on the floor watching the TV and the next moment, me and the TV are at the ceiling,” Drew said. “It had literally blown us both off the floor and I had my first taste of what a dynamite blast felt like."

Birmingham was known as the most segregated city in the south. At the Lyric Theatre, white customers entered through the front door while black customers had to go around the corner to a back alley and enter through an entrance marked “Colored only.”

"Whites were privileged, blacks were the unprivileged, and we lived with signs and symbols of segregation: whites here, blacks here," said Frankye Adams Johnson, who grew up in Mississippi surrounded by symbols of racial segregation.

Many southern communities passed laws to separate blacks and whites in schools, restaurants and other public places. Congressman John Lewis, who grew up in rural Alabama, said he tasted the bitter fruits of racism.

"I didn't like it. I saw those signs that said white men, colored men, white women, colored women, white waiting, colored waiting."

Hollis Watkins from Mississippi remembers some of the unwritten rules.

"If you are walking down the sidewalk and you meet white people, you step off the sidewalk and bow your head until they pass,” he said. “If you didn't, it could be considered as disrespectful and they might kick you, beat you or put you in jail."

In June 1963 Alabama Governor George Wallace blocked two African Americans from enrolling of at the all-white University of Alabama. After federal marshals and the National Guard stepped in, Wallace stepped aside.

For his daughter, Peggy Wallace Kennedy, that’s a painful memory.

"It stained Alabama, of course, but it stained him for the rest of his life even though he changed, later on in his years, his feelings about racial issues," she said.

The symbols of racial segregation in the South started disappearing after the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, giving millions of African Americas the same freedom and liberties enjoyed by the country's white population.