Our community had men and women who taught us, preached to us, looked after us, led us and raised us to be full-fledged and functioning citizens and human beings. We don't have that today.
While I grew up pretty happy in my own, black community, I realized there was a white world out there and there was segregation. Whites usually didn't come into the areas where blacks lived, and we usually didn't go into areas where they lived. When blacks walked in white neighborhoods, we wouldn't walk on sidewalks in front of their houses. We'd walk on the grass, or in the streets. Same for whites walking in our neighborhoods.
Although I had few encounters with whites, I had enough to know that I generally wasn't welcomed in their world. That encounter occurred with one of the first jobs I had, as a janitor at the old Park-Bell Store.
The white sales representative seemed friendly and we'd talk and even cut up some. Then, one day I saw her out on the street and started talking to her. She cut me off and told me, "Don't you ever speak to me out in public again. You can speak to me in the store but never, ever outside of it." That hurt. That hurt real bad.
I did find a place where blacks could talk to whites, and also go to school with them and work with them. I was in high school and went on a trip to Berea College, which has a long, historic tradition of integration and equality in regard its students and faculty. I remember talking to a white girl. It was a real nice and friendly conversation. It was the first time in my life I had ever talked to a white girl. No one looked. No one stared. No one told me to stop talking to her. When I got home, I thought, why couldn't the rest of the world - why couldn't Danville - be like that.
Napier: The "hood" at the time for young blacks in Danville was Circle Drive. That's where there were black-owned places and where young blacks hung out. But things were different when you entered the white world, downtown Danville. You had to sit in the balcony at movie theaters. You had to wait till after white people were served at stores and restaurants before you got served. At the old Bun Boy, you had to go the back of the restaurant to eat. I didn't think we should be treated like that. My father, Morris Napier, a pastor, had to ride in the back of the bus when he commuted to his church in Somerset. Black folks also had to ride in the back passenger cars of trains. A lot of us young blacks told our parents, "We aren't going to put up with what you put up with."
Public accommodations in a segregated world
From being relegated to sitting in the backs of buses to having to use "colored only" restrooms, local African-Americans were forced to use separate and anything but equal public accommodations. Here is what they remember:
Frye: There was some segregation in the stores, but almost every store was open to black customers. Black customers were able to shop and buy things at the Hub Frankel Department Store and other stores like that, and we were able to buy food and drinks at most restaurants, but white customers generally were given priority service and treatment. Blacks were able to watch movies at the theater but we had to sit in the balcony. Yes, there was discrimination, though it was mostly subtle, and my parents just accepted it.
In my later years, I was involved in the Danville chapter of the NAACP and served as its president for a time, and the most important public accommodation we wanted integrated was public housing.
The NAACP was an ugly word to many white people at the time. We were considered troublemakers. But all we wanted was justice and integration, our rights as American citizens. Our big project at the time was to integrate public housing, and we achieved that goal. We also worked with the Kentucky Commission on Human Rights on other discrimination issues.