Friday, February 20, 2015

Growing Up Black in Junction City: Part III



Part III
Growing up black in Junction City limited recreational activities, though, Gilbert Hammond, Jerry Turner, Joyce Peoples, Minnie Boyd, and Lee Gates recalled.
Blacks could go to see movie, but sitting in the theaters was restricted, Joyce said. In the Colonial theater, blacks could only sit in the upstairs balcony. At another theater, they had to sit- in the last three rows on the bottom floor, she said.
"We could not go to the skating rink until after the rink was closed, for maybe an hour at night on certain days," Gilbert added. "We couldn't swim in the city swimming pool except on Wednesdays after everyone else had gotten out and before they were going to clean it."
He and other black children were not even allowed to play in the wading pool on Fifth Street.
"I lived four blocks from there but we had to go a mile and a half to the wading pool on 13th Street."
Black children who could go on post had a pool where they could swim, he recalled, but it was just for blacks. Whites had their own pool, he said. “But, some black kids learned to swim there," he said, adding that he didn't because he didn't like to put his head below the water’s surface.
Junction City has a teen club for its white children. It was located over the JC Penney store. Later, black children also got a teen club of their own, in the Pawnee housing area adjacent to where the Buffalo Soldier Memorial stands today. That area was where black military families lived back then.
Before that, black youth would gather in the Johnsons' yard in the 500 block of West 12th Street beneath a big tree that had a circular bench built around it, Gilbert said. "We called it 'Lover's Lane,'" he laughed, remembering those times when "the boys would go there to meet and talk with girls."
Jerry scoffed at the "Lover's Lane" tag Gilbert had applied to the spot. "They just all gathered to talk," she said.
Attitudes in Junction City are different today all five agree, but even back in their youth, the kids usually mixed well, Minnie recalled. "It was the powers that be that laid down all these rules. We had many white friends that I'm still friendly with to this day.
"I stayed all night in homes of certain white families, but it wasn't the children (who caused the separation of races), it was the parents," Jerry added.
"We had to accept it at that time, but now we've progressed a whole lot and kids today won't put up with it," Joyce observed. "Times have changed, but at that time, there wasn't nothing we could do about it."
All five say they are satisfied living in Junction City today. Blacks and whites generally have equal opportunities, they agreed.
"Everywhere you look there's somebody (black). A lot of them got nice jobs. There are plenty of black teachers in the school system now. I don't think there's any reason anybody couldn't get a good job of their choice in Junction City now," Minnie said.
"I like living here and see that we have progressed a lot," Minnie said. "Even our churches have grown to be just as good and nice as the white churches and ... we have mixed denominations and we get along fine. Living here had improved so much," she said. It’s not bad living here.
"Things have really improved. This shows how much Junction City has come up to standards for my children, my grandchildren," Joyce added. "They have opportunity to go to college. Before,, you couldn't if you didn't have the money, but nowadays they're on an equal basis. So they're not held back."
"I came back here in '65 because I liked living here. I liked the town much better when the town was much smaller, but I like living here today because there's opportunities to go where you want to go and do what you want to do. You can participate in whatever you want to now," Minnie said.
Jerry said she feels the same as Minnie does. "Everything is open. There are opportunities for blacks," she said. "There will always be prejudice. You can't stop that, but we want to know we have the same rights as everybody else. It's really good to see how much we have progressed."
Minnie, Jerry and Joyce said they believe Fort Riley played a significant role in how Junction City changed, even though part of that time it, too, was segregated. "The city had to kind of give in because that was where a lot of the families were coming from," Minnie pointed out.
Jerry added that the NAACP also played a key role. one important break came when the NAACP representatives sent young Junction City blacks to local stores to apply for jobs, eventually forcing those stores to open up jobs previously restricted for whites to black workers.
The local NAACP worked with sit-ins at the local "five-and-dime Woolworth's," Jerry recalled. She an another black woman were sent to order food at the store's food counter.
"The waitresses said she couldn't serve us. We asked why, and she back to the kitchen to get the manager,, who finally said, 'We don't serve blacks,' and that's just what the lawyer wanted to hear," said, adding that it wasn't long before "we were eating at restaurants in town."
Junction City has made a complete about face, Gilbert concedes, although he claims it still has a long way to go before it truly becoming a melting pot, mixing its population of Koreans, Filipinos, Japanese, Puerto Ricans, blacks and whites with equal opportunities.
"We can see that drastic change because we were here when it wasn't the way it is today," Jerry added. 

The Colonial Theater, pictured here in the 1980s, located at 7th and Jefferson, had segregated seating. African Americans had to sit in the balcony. The Colonial Theater was formerly and is currently, the Opera House.