Jewish Women's Archive - Living the Legacyhttp://jwa.org/LivingtheLegacy
Moments of Personal Resistance
Vertical Seating at a Lunch Counter
Eli Evans grew up in Durham, NC, where his father owned Evans United, a dry goods store that served whites and blacks alike. One of the services provided by the store was a lunch counter where shoppers could get a bite to eat. In The Provincials, Evans tells the following story.
Ours was a poor people’s store and we catered to the Negro trade. In the strange contorted world of what passed for Southern liberalism just after the war, Evans United was the first store on Main Street to have restrooms for blacks; we were the only Main Street store with an integrated lunch counter, though it hadn’t been easy. When Bus Borland, the county judge, sent word that North Carolina law prohibited feeding blacks and whites together unless a wall separated them, my father told him, “Bus, you’ll have to close the store if you want me to do that.” Gene Brooks, our lawyer, called a meeting at the courthouse to point out, after exhaustive research, that the legal precedents all involved seated counters, and Bus agreed that it was so, not wanting to make a whole lot of trouble. So my father agreed to remove all the stools at the counter and instructed the carpenters to raise the counter top to elbow-leaning height so that United could proudly retain the only integrated lunch counter in downtown Durham.
I Have Taken Stands
During World War II, there were a lot of black servicemen who were at the U.S. Naval Hospital where we worked every week. And they’d play music and there were no black girls with whom they would dance. So I would dance with the boys that didn’t have anybody to dance with and so would some of the other women who were with me. And so at the next meeting of the Gray Ladies the head stood up and said, “We do not wish you to dance with the fellows, with the servicemen.” I stood up. I said, “Are you going to have young black girls to dance with the servicemen? No! Well, then we will continue to dance with them. I object strenuously to your using these boys to fight our battle with us and for us but not have girls for them to dance with.” And the head of the Gray Ladies said, “We are not going to permit that.” I said, “Well, then I am resigning as a Gray Lady.” A few others did but not many. I have taken stands on organizations like that.