I’m just old enough to remember shopping at the 5 & 10 cent store with water fountains for WHITE and COLORED. Fifty years later those signs are gone, but the racism isn’t.
By Elliott Erwitt, in North Carolina, 1950.
Today, you don’t have to go out of your way to cross paths with people who let you know, in short order, that they’re bigots. And it always seems such a waste, such a loss, for everyone.
Several years ago, I drove from the mountains to the coast without leaving the northern tier of NC counties, adjacent to Virginia. If you fail to see a hundred lessons in race on that trip, then you’re not watching. Two-lane roads pass through boarded-up and fading towns. Farming communities are in varying stages of disintegration. It remains Jesse Helms country.
I can still picture the dirt road to my grandparents, a dusty trail through acres of milo. But one day the road was paved. The field was carved into lots. Soon came a row of little brick ranchers with carports on the side. In front of each house, a scrawny sapling was anchored with three heavy straps. Once, I could have told you the name of everyone on that road. But I never knew the names of anyone who lived in the brick ranchers.
The New South has meant different things to different people. For me, it summons up Terry Sanford, Research Triangle, the Queen City, civil rights, and air conditioning…juxtaposed against the Old South of tobacco, textiles, furniture, BBQ, and funeral home fans in church.
Around 1979, it hit me. Headed through Georgia on 441, I saw it happening. Every town was starting to look like every other town. A row of fast food franchises greeted you at the edge of each town. I was fortunate to hit Madison, Georgia when the azaleas were in bloom, decorating the yards of gracious old homes with their ornate porches. And down the road, Eatonton, Georgia announced itself as the birthplace of Joel Chandler Harris. Home of B’rer Rabbit. But the last time I took 441, the bypass was completed, and Eatonton was just a name on a big green exit sign.
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