That’s a good question, and it’s a tough one to answer.
Segregation of public facilities — including water fountains and restrooms — was officially outlawed by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson on July 2, 1964, after a rare cloture vote in the U.S. Senate. (Sen. Robert F. Byrd, D-W.Va., a former Klansman, spoke against the bill on the Senate floor for 14 hours, 13 minutes straight.)
U.S. Rep. Alton A. Lennon of Wilmington, a Democrat who represented North Carolina’s 7th District at the time, and North Carolina’s U.S. senators, Democrats B. Everett Jordan and Sam J. Ervin Jr., all voted against the measure.
In Raleigh, Wilmington and other Southern cities, local businesses seem to have complied grudgingly but promptly. (Local historian Susan Taylor Block remembers watching the water fountains being removed from the downtown J.C. Penney store when she was a young girl.) In smaller towns and rural areas, however, old Jim Crow customs lingered a little while longer.
The questioner specifically mentioned H.L. Green’s dime store, which was at 258 N. Front St., Wilmington [Map this], until around 1967. That was one of a number of stores and offices with segregated fountains.
Local history librarian Beverly Tetterton still remembers seeing fading “White” and “Colored” signs on the restrooms of shuttered gas stations when she first came to town in the 1970s.
Elliott Erwin of Magnum Photos took a celebrated black-and-white photo of a segregated water fountain in North Carolina in 1950.
Date posted: June 5, 2009
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