From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Prejudice and Segregation

Even the public records of Christian County, KY, were segregated.



Marriage books

Today I had to go to the County Clerk's office and my business took me to the room where various legal records are archived -- land deeds, wills, marriage records, and so on. I was surprised to see that "colored" marriage records were once kept in separate books from "white" marriage records. When I commented on this, the lady who was helping me said, "Well, segregation was segregation." The separate records ended about 1970.

Anyone my age or older who grew up here would be able to remember the days of segregation clearly. I have never heard anyone talk much about it in my circles of (mostly white) friends and associates.

As a child in northern Nebraska, I rarely saw a black person. In fact, I can remember clearly the first black men I ever saw because it was such an unusual experience. The first black man I ever saw was a porter on a passenger train. The next black men I saw were workers in the iron-yards in Omaha where my dad was buying a trailer-load of pipe.

In northern Nebraska, people who weren't white were usually Sioux. The Rosebud Reservation was (is) just north of Valentine, Nebraska, and the Pine Ridge Reservation was (is) just north of Gordon, Nebraska. We saw and brushed shoulders with Indians often when we went to town, but particularly if we were at Valentine or Gordon.

The prejudices (pre-conceived notions) I learned as a child about other races were about the Sioux Indians. I wasn't taught to hate or despise them, or to think that I was better than them, but I was quite sure that many of them drank heavily. Statistics would agree that alcoholism is a terrible problem on the Sioux reservations, but I knew about it mostly from hearing the sad stories that my parents and grandparents told. I didn't have any personal experiences to base my notions upon.

I feel sad as I write about the Sioux because they were pushed off their land by the settlers, but I don't have any personal feelings of guilt about how my family treated anyone. I remember a young Sioux man who worked for my dad in the hayfield one summer. His name was Victor, and he lived with us like a family member. He ate three meals a day with us and slept upstairs in our home. My mother did his laundry, and it was my chore to make all the hired men's beds every day.

My mother grew up just north of Gordon, Nebraska, only 20 miles or so from the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota. When her grandparents settled in Sheridan County, it was only a few years after the Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890. My mother remembered her father hiring Sioux's from the reservation to help with potato harvest in the fall. They camped on the farm in teepees and tents. My grandfather had to go to town and get bags of silver dollars to pay them because they would not accept paper money.

My mother also remembered parades in Gordon (probably during the 1930's) where the Sioux men walked in their leather clothing and fine long feather headdresses. Stories like these were told with respect and they were another part of what I learned about the Sioux Indians as a child.

These are some of my rambling thoughts after seeing the marriage books in the Christian County Courthouse today.

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2 comments:

Copper Skull said...

Nice stuff.

The title of this Blog made me read the stuff, cuz I couldn't really make out what does it mean!

Good informative blog. :)

Genevieve said...

I'm really glad you decided to read some of the blog, copper skull. Stop by again. :)

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
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