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Billy Joe Evans

Professor emeritus of chemistry

Billy Joe Evans

Brown wasn't even discussed in Macon; it was of absolutely no consequence to us,” recalls Prof. Emeritus Billy Joe Evans, who was 12 years old at the time the decision was handed down. “We were all aware of it, but we knew nothing was going to happen. There was no animosity; there was just no prospect of change. It just wasn't going to happen. They weren't going to integrate the schools, and that was that.”

Some of the sleepy ante–bellum towns at the geographic heart of Georgia were barely touched by the North's incursions during the Civil War and they demonstrated no interest in complying with the Supreme Court's 1954 Brown decision either. Indeed, nearly 50 years after Brown , Taylor County High School, 100 miles east of Macon, held its first integrated prom in 2002.

“I went to Ballard High School in Macon,” says Evans, who retired last year after three decades in the chemistry department. “It was the biggest high school in Georgia at the time. The white schools usually had about 400 students, but 2,500 Black students traveled to Ballard from everywhere, even across county lines, as much as 50 miles away. There was no busing for those of us who lived in the city. I must have walked five miles to school, each way, every day.

'I had everything I needed in the Black school'

“I had no desire to go to the white school. I had to go past it to get to my church. The buildings may have looked better on the outside, but I had everything I needed in the Black school. The teachers came by my home to visit and give support. It was a very good environment.

“My brother finished high school in 1965, and there had been absolutely no change at all in our segregated educational system, even then. It must have been around 1968 when they finally did integrate the schools.”

Jim Crow was an unyielding force in Macon. “We lived within a block of whites, but no white person lived in the midst of our community. The line was drawn pretty sharp. There was no interaction at all. The wisdom in the community was that the white kids would get you in trouble. So we stayed away. We knew there were things we did do and didn't do.

“We couldn't go into white restaurants, and there were ‘Colored' waiting rooms at the train station and the bus station. Then, on the train and the bus, you just had to deal with the racism. We went on vacation for three weeks every summer to visit family in Newark, New Jersey. We had to sit in a segregated coach on the train and couldn't go to the dining car when we were hungry. A ubiquitous part of our travel was the lunch box, because we had to worry about preparing all of our food for that trip, which lasted 24 hours. It was different in Newark–we would go to neighborhood stores and everywhere we wanted and not even worry about where we'd go.

In Macon, “The libraries were segregated too,” Evans recalled. “I was an avid reader, so I went to the main library once or twice, but I never really used it. We had our own library in the colored neighborhood.

“And there were Black and white movie theaters, too, but we were never tempted to go to the white one. We would not go along with Jim Crow if we didn't have to, like go to white movies and sit in the colored section. Jim Crow was a big part of our lives. We lived our lives out within that Jim Crow world with just no expectation for change.

The Emmett Till case

“In 1955, when I was 13 years old, the tragedy of Emmett Till [a 14-year-old who was gruesomely murdered in Mississippi for whistling at a white woman] gave us all a perspective of a world outside our own. I remember the picture of Emmett Till's corpse in Jet . We all sat around looking at that picture. Of all the images of segregation and discrimination, that's the one I remember most. That's when we became aware of how bad things could be. And our parents pointed out to us that this is what can happen 'out in the world, where you're not supposed to be.'"

Evans's father, Will Evans, navigated the larger world relatively well, however. “My father was a railroad man. I never had the sense my father was powerless in relationship to the white community. I took a lot of pride in my daddy's job. He was a fireman on the railroad, but they called him a 'fireboy.' It was considered heavy labor, beneath white folks, because it involved shoveling coal. Then, with dieselization, they tried to take those jobs away from Blacks because it became a cream puff job. They required the Black firemen to take a test to prove they knew how a diesel worked. My father had taken correspondence courses, so he passed the test, then conducted classes for the other Black firemen.

“He worked part-time as a coordinator for the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters and went to Washington, D.C., to confer and strategize with [BSCP founder and president] A. Philip Randolph about how to keep Black firemen's jobs.

“In 1959, I entered [historically Black] Morehouse [College in Atlanta] at the end of my junior year of high school. Hamilton Holmes – who, with Charlayne Hunter, integrated the University of Georgia in 1961 – was one of my classmates.

“I was never attracted by the northern trek. At Morehouse, my notion was to get a degree, then return to Macon to teach and help my siblings with college. At Morehouse, though, if you did well, you were expected to go on to graduate school.”

To maintain segregation at the highest levels of study, Southern states frequently subsidized Black students' graduate work in the North, as was the case for Evans. “I finished my BS in Chemistry at Morehouse in 1963, then the State of Georgia paid the tuition difference between the University of Georgia and the University of Chicago, where I completed my PhD in chemistry in 1968. There were three Black graduate students there from Georgia at the time. We each got quarterly checks of at least $900.”


Richard Tillinghast | Adye Bel Evans |
President Mary Sue Coleman | Lester Monts


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