|Date(s):||June 6, 1923 to June 6, 1946|
|Tag(s):||Segregation, Race Relations, Civil Rights, African-Americans, Transportation|
|Course:||“Historian's Craft,” University of Alabama at Birmingham|
|Rating:||4 (4 votes)|
During World War II , whites and blacks had sacrificed for their country; yet, only the whites who returned found themselves recipients of respect. Around 9:40pm on June 6, 1943 a “negro” soldier boarded a streetcar in Birmingham, Alabama on the North Birmingham Line. Instead of moving to the back of the car, he chose to stand in the white section. White passengers began to complain and the conductor told him to move back to the negro section. After some “questionable language”, the soldier refused, stating he was going to the station where his troop train was waiting. With some coaxing, the soldier finally moved back, but not entirely out of the white section. At the next stop, a few more negroes boarded the train. The soldier threw himself across the seats stopping these men from moving to the back of the train. The conductor opened the doors and told him to get off. After a small altercation, the soldier hit the conductor and fled.
According to leading historians, this was a common experience for black soldiers returning home to Birmingham and other cities during and after the war. Although they had earned the respect of their commanders while fighting for their country, at home they were still viewed as second class citizens. Forced to face humiliation at the hands of white streetcar conductors and passengers, they resisted. Sometimes their resistance came in the form of calling others to stand with them in defiance. More often than not their calls were in vain. For too long black citizens had attempted to resist racial segregation on streetcars and failed. With time however, their demands for equality coalesced into an unstoppable force.
From the emergence of streetcar lines, the races had been at odds over sharing transportation. When attempts to provide separate cars failed, it was decided that cars would have to be shared albeit divided. On May 3, 1923, Birmingham Railway, Light, and Power Co. requisitioned its first set of racial partitions for 184 of its streetcars. In a formal gesture they were stating that there would “now” be segregated transportation. This was the case all across the country. Cities were formally segregating their streetcars in an attempt to quell violence between the races while maintaining their transportation systems. However, this system of racial separation would not fulfill its goal. Twenty years later, soldiers like this one and black civilians alike were still resisting racial segregation of streetcars.