My parents lived in the States in the early-to-mid 60s, including a spell in New Orleans
and elsewhere in the south. I was too young to remember this, but at that time segregation
was still a reality, and they have often told me about ‘whites only’ water fountains,
restrooms etc. So, they were interested in our observations on how things have changed in
the south since then.
Race relations have certainly come a long way since my folks lived here in the 60s. I've been
trying to observe the interaction between people of different races. They seem to get on well,
and certainly you see friendly banter between blacks and whites in various public settings.
We even saw a few
mixed-race couples in Mississippi, the state that was the most violently
resistant to desegregation in the 60s. You do also notice groups of young friends out socially
where there is a mixture of races in the group. Narrelle says it is silly of me to notice such
things, and thinks it is only to be expected that things would have become more enlightened
over the years.
At the risk of resorting to stereotypes, the young African-American girls are exuberant and
noisy. Standing in line at an amusement park, you'll often see them spontaneously dancing
and singing. At Memphis we had a large group of teenage black girls staying at our hotel,
aged around 14 to 16. I think they were from a church group. These girls were practicing
gospel songs around the
swimming pool and were amazingly good singers.
Visiting the theme parks in Orlando, I noticed quite a few young couples of mixed race.
Having said all that, I think blacks are still more likely to have the lower paid jobs, although
there is now a large and growing class of black professionals and middle-management types.
We visited the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, which was very moving and
informative. It's still shocking to recall how violently white racists resisted desegregation.
One poster displayed from the early 60s (KKK or a similar group) called for 'Massive
Armed Resistance'. They had Rosa Parks' famous bus there as well as one firebombed by
the Klan etc during the Freedom Rides. The Museum is actually in the old Lorraine Motel
where Martin Luther King was shot. At the end of the tour you find yourself looking into
his motel room, preserved (or re-created?) just as it was the night he was shot. You also
visit the boarding house room from which James Earl Ray is supposed to have fired the fatal
shots at King as he stood on the balcony of the motel.
As mentioned earlier, the large cities like LA, SF, NYC etc are very multicultural these days,
much like Sydney or Melbourne back home.