Colored People


Colored People Essay, Research Paper

Segregated Peace: an essay on Colored People

Integration was a main theme or topic in this memoir. It played an important role

in the time when Gates was growing up and had a big affect on him throughout his book.

Integration changed the way Gates viewed, whites, blacks, restaurants, hairstyles, church,

school, etc. He went from a conformist to a rebel to an Episcopal. His community changed

with him and the older generation of course did not take to integration as well as most of

the younger generation did. Integration was considered a good thing to most people and

others believed that Blacks had lost something through the whole ordeal. They believed

that they had lost the close knit family ties that segregation indirectly created. Gates sums

up the way the community felt about integration in one of his last sentences in his memoir.

He writes, ?All I know is that Nemo?s corn never tasted saltier, his coffee never smelled

fresher, than when these hundreds of Negroes gathered to say goodbye to themselves,

their heritage, and their sole link to each other, wiped out of existence by the newly

enforced anti-Jim Crow laws.?(Gates, 216)

It was hard for blacks to integrate into all white schools after being surrounded by

blacks for most of their lives. Whites weren?t the only ones to critique black attitude and

black style, blacks did it to themselves. Gates writes that when he was a child he

remembered that when blacks were admitted to all white neighborhoods or schools,

Negroes were the first to censure other Negroes(Gates, xiii). His father would say things

like, ?Don?t go over there with those white people if all you?re going to do is Jim Crow

yourselves(Gates, xii). Even Gates writes, ?I always reserved my scorn….for someone too

dark, someone too loud, and too wrong.?(Gates, xiii). The way Gates writes it, blacks

would scrutinize their own kind. Integration wasn?t as easy as going up to a white person

if you were black and saying, ?Hi, since were supposed to be integrating with each other I

guess we?ll be friends.? There was extreme racial tension and some whites would just

absolutely not integrate. In Chapter 17 Gates writes about an episode in his life when his

friends and himself try to integrate a local all white dance club. The owner forced the boys

out using violence and the next Monday the club was shut down by the Human Rights

Commission, because the owner wouldn?t integrate. In this incident the owner of the

nightclub closed his place down rather than integrate with the black community. Gates felt

that it was better to have the club be turned into a family restaurant than stay segregated .

Gates felt like a pioneer, someone who was helping out the cause fighting against

segregation and racism. Racism was a major cause of segregation throughout the book.

The view of Piedmont thorough Gates? writing reveals that whites and blacks got

along fine as long as colored people didn?t eat at the Rendezvous Bar, or buy property, or

dance with, date, or dilate upon white people(Gates, 27).This quote represented Gates?

sarcastic view of segregation. What he meant by this was that there wasn?t a problem

between blacks and whites until they started to integrate. Racism was the cause of

segregation throughout Piedmont and prevented blacks from doing a lot of the things

whites could. At the cut-rate, a local diner, blacks were only allowed to order their food

and leave. The proprietor of the diner, Carl Dadisman was very nice to colored people, but

he didn?t want colored people sitting in his booths, eating off his plates….or put their thick

greasy lips all over his glasses(Gates, 18). This quote embodies the attitude of the majority

of whites in Piedmont. It basically states that blacks were only allowed to integrate as far

as the whites would let them because the idea of blacks using the same items whites were

using was disgusting. Blacks were also not allowed to go to school with whites and even

after integration racism still controlled the way blacks were treated. Limits on the

inter-mixing of blacks were established by the school board. These limits were, no holding

hands, one colored cheerleader, one colored teacher, put most of the colored on the B

track, and several more. Gates? brother Rocky was restricted from winning the Golden

Horseshoe award because the hotel where they would have to stay was segregated(Gates,

98). The oppression of the school board of his brother gave Gates perseverance to excel

and win the horseshoe award 6 years later. Gates wanted to bring down the racial barriers

that the whites tried to establish.

As he got older Gates rebelled and started to read black books, grew an Afro, and

started to wear dashikis and beads(Gates, 186), as well as many of the other blacks did.

The black power movement was strong and it was considered great to be black. Blacks of

light complexion wanted to be darker instead of lighter and the bad kink in black?s hair

now became good. The word brother and sister were passed around in conjunction with

the soul handshake. This was all a result of integration and the further acceptance of black

culture spawned these type of movements. Integration helped black men and women

release new ideas more easily and begin to break away from conformity, to rebel without

being overly criticized. The integration made blacks want to be blacker, to find their own

roots and study their own African culture. For the young black generation in Piedmont,

integration was a door that opened up a new idea of black culture, the creation of the afro,

and of a new found pride for being black.

Meanwhile for many of the older blacks in Piedmont, celebration was the furthest

thing from their mind. ?For a lot of Colemans in particular-integration was experienced as

a loss….and the nurturance of the womblike colored world was slowly and inevitably

disappearing(Gates, 184) The Colemans felt that the integration caused the loss of close

knit family ties. Tradition was heavily stressed in black families and integration caused

tradition to change. Families during the 1950?s were more liberal than their parents and

this caused anxiety with the older generations of blacks. They believed that the rebellious

idea of the younger generation would only cause trouble with the whites and things would

come to a bad end(Gates, 185). Gates believed that the older generation was scared of him

and the way he was handling integration. He believed that the older generation of blacks

thought the new way blacks acted, the way they dressed, and the odd hairstyles they wore,

would only cause trouble.

Gates writes a good amount about hairstyles in his memoir. Gates uses the

different hairstyles as a symbolic representation of the attitudes of blacks towards

integration. For example, in Chapter 4 Gates goes into detail about how hard he tried to

keep his hair as ?straight? as possible. ?I used all the greases…and everyone new about the

stocking cap, because your father wore one… grown men still wear stocking caps.?(Gates

46,47). The passage about the stocking cap refers to change. Gates writes that the older

men still kept their stocking cap in their top drawer as if to say these men are still holding

on to the past, the past of conformity or controlled hair. On the other hand, in 1966 the

?Black Power? movement moved through Piedmont and Gates grew an Afro. The afro

represented rebellion from the conformity blacks practiced previously with their greased

down hair. ?I got goose bumps just thinking about being black,…learning to look at

bushed-up kinky hair and finding it beautiful.?(Gates, 186)

The last mill Picnic was a time when Gates writes about the communities true

feelings on integration. Most blacks in Piedmont didn?t view the picnic as the law did, as a

segregated black party, but a communal coming together. Gates writes, ?For who in their

right mind wanted to attended the mill picnic with white people, when it meant shutting

the colored one down.?(Gates, 211). The Blacks believed that the picnic was something

that they wanted to keep for themselves, something that the whites shouldn?t take away.

Once it became integrated, the picnic lost its glory to the black community in Piedmont.

Growing up in and around the era of integration in the United States, Henry Louis

Gates goes through many different experiences and views dealing with race, racism,

segregation, and integration. His memoir, ?Colored People? offers insight into the

segregation of the community of Piedmont, West Virginia where he grew up. A place

where whites and blacks were almost forbidden to integrate until the court case of Brown

v. Board in 1954(Gates, 91) which stated that all schools must abolish segregation. The

integration of the school system led to the integration of many other establishments which

sometimes caused tension and trouble. There were many mixed feelings about integration

through the black community in Piedmont and some blacks didn?t enjoy the outcome of

integration. Gates used integration as a doorway to express himself and voice his opinion

through his actions and dress like many of the other young blacks in Piedmont. Gates and

his younger generation had a higher more optimistic view of integration while on the other

hand the older generation believed it to be trouble.

Gates, Henry Colored People Vintage Books;New York 1994

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