Documenting the American South Logo
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Segregation is a recent phenomenon

Henry reminds the interviewer that segregation is a relatively recent phenomenon that arose at the turn of the twentieth century. He describes the pre-segregation, post-Civil War South as "the freest period which blacks have ever witnessed in America."

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Aaron Henry, April 2, 1974. Interview A-0107. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

Well, that mankind is placed on this earth by a diety that we all are bound to respect. And that although we find ourselves to be the grandsons of former slaves and the grandsons of former slave owners, but neither of us had, really, anything to do with that period of our nation's history. And it is our responsibility, because those scars still remain, to bind up the wounds of that era. And that's what I think I'm about every day and that's what I'd like to see everybody about everyday, to help erase the years of unknown dehumanization that has taken place in America for some time. But you see, where some of us get lost in chronology. . . . Many of us think that segregation has been with us for a long, long time. Well, Mississippi didn't have segregation until 1890. From 1865 to 1876 was the free-est period which blacks have ever witnessed in America and particularly in Mississippi. It was after the Tilden-Hayes compromise, the presidential race of 1876 where Rutherford Hayes told the southerners that "If you'll make me president I'll remove the troops from the South and turn the blacks back over into the hands of the white landowners." Now between 1865 and 1876 Mississippi sent two blacks to the Senate of the United States—Bruce and Revals. The fact that the constitutional convention in Mississippi did not meet until 1890 and it was in 1890 that the Jim Crow laws were written into our structure. From 1865 until 1890— unknown —you had black and white kids going to school together, you had no segregation. Because the 13th, 14th and 15th Amendments had just passed and all of these were about black rights in the black community. And it was really 1890, when we finally got around to making segregation legal. It was really 1896 before the Supreme Court took a position on separate and equal. That was in the Plussy vs Ferguson case that grew out of Louisiana in regard to a dining room car on a train where a black refused to sit behind a curtain. And this case came before the United States Supreme Court and it there ruled that separate but equal was legal. And from 1896 until 1954 we lived with that doctrine in this country.