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The Rise and Fall of Jim Crow A Century of Segregation
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Crime and Punishment
Phone Call From a Stranger


Listen to this audio clip

In this audio clip, James Jones recounts an experience he had as a young man in Mississippi. Arrested for no apparent reason other than being black and driving a nice car, he faces violence and indignities.

I was assistant to the bellhop and I also worked in the cafeteria that was open, coffee shop they called it, twenty-four hours. And that was a little problem. Back in that time in Mississippi you know, it was against the law to have liquor. And, of course, it was just at the time of the beginning of the war in the '40s. And you had a lot of soldiers from Camp Shelby here in Hattisburg [coming to Laurel]. And they would get rooms, you know, and naturally what do a soldier want to do, you know? Huh? One of the things he wants when he have a little time off, is to have a drink, you know. And so, since it was illegal, they would always ask the bellhops, can you get us a pint or a half a pint?

So, my ... back in the '40s, well, my mother had a car. And she would allow me to bring the car to work, because I would go in late and come home, you know. She didn't want me to be traveling at night by myself on the street. So, this particular night I had the car, and one of the bellhops, the bellhop asked me, he said, sonny boy. They always called me sonny boy. Sonny boy, can you go get me a couple of half a pints. And there was this bloke, which you called bootlegger, who had a little cafe on the outskirts of town, and he was in cahoots with the law enforcement officers. They new he had it, you know, and he would sell. So, I was only about fifteen or sixteen years. I didn't drink. I didn't even drink beer. Didn't smoke. But this was making a buck for me, you know, and I didn't think anything was wrong with trying to make an extra buck. [laughter] So, I said, OK.

So, I took the car and it was about three or four ... about file miles to this place and back, and I was playing the radio. And coming on back I got about a block and a half from the motel. And the car died on me. I meant to go around the corner and it died on me. And, of course, I had been playing the radio. The battery was dead and I couldn't get it started. Here I am with a couple of pints of whiskey under the front seat, and my car stopped on me. I said, oh goodness. What am I going to do? And I was half a block from the police station.

So, uh while I was there trying to push it to the side, two o'clock in the morning, here come a patrol car. Police stopped. He said, hey boy. What's the matter? I said, my car stopped, and the battery was dead. And I was in the middle of the street. He says, Well, can you get it started? I said, No sir. He said, well, get in there. I got in the car and he pushed me to the side. Parked it. And so, I got out to thank him. He said, well, come and get in the patrol car. We rolled up half a block to the police station, which was in the city hall. So, we went in and he took me to the front desk.

And so he asked me ... he told the desk sergeant. He said, we've got this guy here and his car stopped out on the road. So, he says, "Whose car is this?" I said, well, you know -- because at the time many black people did have cars, even in the ... '39. The late '30s. So, I said, "It's my parent's car." He said, "Who are your parents?" I said, my dad, he works across the street to the YWCA. I said, my mother ... my ... but my dad never drove. We've had a car since 1925 and he never drove a car. So, I was ... I mean, it was my mother's. I said, "My mother." He said, "Who is your mother?" I said, "Mrs. Isabella Jones." He said, "What?" I said, "Miss Isabella Jones." He hit me and slapped me, knocked me clean across the room.

He came over to me as I got up; he said, "Whose car is that?" I said, "My mother." "Who is your mother?" I said, "Miss Isabella Jones." Bang. He hit me again. He said, "Boy, don't you never miss a nigger to me."

He says, "Whose is the car" ... I said, "Miss Isabella Jones." I was determined because that is what I was taught, to respect my elders, you know. So, he said, "We are going to put you in this jail and let you rot." So, he picked me ... I got up off the floor and he took me downstairs, and locked me in the jail cell downstairs in the basement. The jails ... the cell was ... there is a window that was even with the ground ... the ground outside. And I climbed up on the bed and looked out of the window. And as I looked out of the window, looking out of the window maybe about fifteen to twenty minutes, I saw a guy pass. And I called him. And he came over and I told, I says, "Look, go across the street to the motel and tell the bell hopper that James Jones is ..." -- they called me sonny boy -- "Sonny boy is in jail and to come over here." So, he did that.

The bellhop come running because he thought I had got caught with this two quarts -- two pints of liquor in the car. So, he came running over there and he said, "What's the matter? What's the matter?" I told him what happened. He says, "Where is the liquor?" I says, "In the car." [laughter] He says, OK. He says, "Don't worry about it." So, he went on back to the hotel. And the manager of the hotel, he lived on the fifth floor. So, he went to the desk night clerk and told him. And asked him to call the manager of the hotel. And he says ... they knew me, of course. I had worked there for years. I started when I was about fourteen years old. And I had never no problems. So, the manager called the police sergeant and told him, he said, "Look, that's one of our boys." He says, "Sonny boy, he's alright. Let him go. And uh, because, you know, we know him and we can vouch for him."


Somthing to think about

ArrowPlease consider the following questions:

Have you ever wrongly been accused of shoplifting? Have you ever, without asking for help, been followed around a store by an employee? If so, how did you feel? How many times has this happened to you?

Have you been pulled over while driving, or stopped while walking, for no apparent reason? If so, how did you feel? How many times has this happened to you?

Have you ever been unable to hail a taxi? If so, how did you feel? How many times has this happened to you?

Have you ever been told that your racial or ethnic background was more important than your abilities in considering you for admission or employment? If so, how did you feel? How many times has this happened to you?

Please compare your answers to those of friends or acquaintances of different racial, ethnic, religious, and economic backgrounds.

Share your thoughts on our Discussion Board.

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