Living in a segregated society – my reflections

MOLLIE F. BELT | 2/23/2015, 2:53 a.m.
This month I have spent more time than usual reflecting on my life in a segregated society. Seeing the movie ...
Mollie Finch Belt, publisher of The Dallas Examiner

The Dallas Examiner

This month I have spent more time than usual reflecting on my life in a segregated society. Seeing the movie Selma and events leading up to the march on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Alabama and looking at the movie Court Martial of Jackie Robinson made me remember my own experiences during segregation.

On Aug. 7, 1943, I was born at Pinkston Clinic in North Dallas, a hospital that provided medical services to Negroes. Negro doctors were not allowed to practice at White hospitals in Dallas.

My family moved to Tuskegee, Alabama, during my early childhood. It was a very segregated city in the 40’s and 50’s. My father was in the Air Force stationed at the base in Tuskegee. At the end of the war, he was hired as personnel director at the Veterans Administration Hospital, the hospital for Negro veterans. My mother taught mathematics at Tuskegee Institute, a college founded by Booker T. Washington for Negro students.

For the first and second grade I attended a Catholic school for Negroes in Tuskegee. After I completed the second grade, we moved from Tuskegee. However, had we remained, I would have gone to high school at a private boarding school in Massachusetts, like my friends did – this was the custom for Negro families who financially could afford to send their children away from Tuskegee for high school because the quality of the public high school in Tuskegee was poor.

I remember we didn’t associate with any White people in Tuskegee. Once a month, my father drove to Columbus, Georgia, to buy groceries. Twice a year we went to Atlanta, Georgia, to buy clothing.

My mother’s best friend was the librarian at Tuskegee Institute. Her son and I would play in the stacks in the library for hours. I loved playing with books in the stacks.

During the summers when we came to Texas to visit relatives, my father had to drive without stopping. He kept a pistol under his seat in case we had trouble. He never stopped at a gas station that did not have a restroom for us to use. We couldn’t stop for anything else.

After the second grade, we moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts, so my father could attend law school.

The three years I lived in Cambridge were not in a segregated society – it was not a Black only environment. There was one Negro girl in my class – the rest of the students were White. However, our social life was with other Negro families where one of the parents was attending graduate school at Harvard. We could go where we wanted in Cambridge and Boston.

Returning to Texas from Massachusetts, I re-entered a segregated society; segregated schools, sitting in the back of the city bus, etc. My father tried to keep this segregated world from me as much as possible, as did many other parents with their children at that time. He didn’t allow me to go to the Majestic Theatre and sit in the balcony; he didn’t buy my clothes at the stores downtown that didn’t allow me to try them on before purchasing them. He and my friends’ parents drove us most of the time so we didn’t have to ride the city buses. However, there were times when we did ride the buses. At this age, I didn’t realize the dangers.