A number of readers may not remember the overall living conditions of “colored” (not Black yet) people who resided in Pittsburgh in 1948, but those of our generation do.
I was a youngster, 16 years of age, and like most of my friends, associates, neighbors, etc., always connected racism, bigotry, and discrimination with the Southern states. It was our belief that prejudice only ran rampant in Alabama, Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Tennessee, etc. However, as I began to mature and analyzed our overall living conditions, it became apparent to me that overwhelmingly too many of us had blinders on. As I reflect on 1948, when a local daily newspaper was doing a series of columns about the conditions of colored persons in the South, the column could have been written about…Pittsburgh.
I remember my years in the public school system; I never saw a colored teacher, janitor or cafeteria worker. We as a people could not stay at Downtown hotels, were denied access to swimming pools that belonged to the City of Pittsburgh, could not eat at many restaurants across the city…
You could count the colored police in the city, county, state or federal government prohibited from driving public transportation and private-owned buses, and only one colored elected Allegheny County Court of Common Pleas Judge. In the lower Hill there were 64 elected city and county committee persons and only one was a colored male. Pittsburgh’s highway and sewers division forbid colored workers from driving the vehicles—they could only clean the sewer systems. There were restaurants located on the Hill that would not allow colored customers any service, you had to take your food out. There was discrimination in the steel mills; colored could only work on certain positions, the unions were white as snow, colored could not be clerks or truck drivers for the department stores…
I remember as if it were yesterday, reading the columns in the daily paper about Ray Sprigle living in the South for 30 days, and at that time there were three daily newspapers in the city. There was the Sun-Telegraph, Post-Gazette, and Pittsburgh Press, and none of them hired colored truck drivers to deliver newspapers (which were excellent jobs) and definitely would not hire colored reporters. A multitude of the above problems mentioned were not addressed until the 1960s. Now we are no longer colored, we are Black. But when I remind some persons of our history, they get upset and say, “That is history, things have changed, we have come a long way since those years.”
My response is, you must take your head out of the sand and understand that “we have a long way to go.” It is greatly disturbing to me that too many of us refuse to understand that positive changes will not occur without some gigantic efforts driving the changes.
(Louis “Hop” Kendrick is a contributor to the New Pittsburgh Courier.)
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