The Reality of Segregation


The Washington Post's Richard Cohen wrote a column last week that closed with this unsettling anecdote:

"Years ago, a Howard University professor told me that as a boy in the South he was forced to buy shoes without first trying them on for fit. Only whites could do that. Think of that and then think of what [Trent] Lott said. The majority leader of the Senate may not be a racist, but he is remarkably incapable of appreciating what it was like to walk in those shoes."

And for those interested in history, here's an audio snippet from a Strom Thurmond stump speech in 1948, featuring the grand old man fulminating against integration on the grounds that it would lead inexorably to "admitting" blacks' [not Thurmond's choice of words] into white theaters, swimming pools, homes and churches.

Lott will appear tonight at 8 p.m. ET on BET, for an interview that should be pretty damn interesting, to say the least.

NEXT: Gore as Nixon?

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  1. “interesting” the way a horrible train wreck might be interesting. . .

  2. I’m finding it more “interesting” Lott’s talking to blacks on BET. Seems the thrust of the pressure’s coming from conservatives themselves… bad move, IMO.

  3. If you’ll pardon me for appearing to (well, actually) plugging my own blog, I’ve just posted two items specifically on the lessons of segregation and Lott. The most recent is:,

    and the other is right below it.

  4. Denial of the right to try on shoes to see if they fit? Horrors! There must be a clause in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights specifically outlawing such vicious cruelty!

  5. It’s sounds silly, but there were probably a lot of racists who were horrified by the thought that a black man might have tried on the same pair of shoes as them.

  6. There’s plenty of horror stories of segregation but this shoe story isn’t it. Ever bought shoes from a mail order catalogue, ala Loretta Lynn?

    A hospital turning away a dying Bessie Smith is a good anecdote–not being able to try on shoes in the white man’s store isn’t.

  7. To Kate: Uh, isn’t there a big difference between CHOOSING to buy shoes without trying them on and not being ALLOWED to try them on??

    That said, if this was the decision of a private company rather than a public law, it wouldn’t literally violate anyone’s rights. Still, it reflects a rather noxious attitude, I think it would be quite easy to say, even if no one was killed by it. Anyone really going to dispute that??

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