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Growing up Black in Junction City: Part II

*** The story was originally published by the Geary County Historical Society and Museums on February 13, 2015.***

Last week we brought you Part I, this week we continue our story with daily life in Junction City.

In town, Jerry Turner remembered the only types of jobs available for blacks were as a domestic, in the hotel or a cafe. "It bothered me because I saw a lot of the (white) graduates I graduated with working in the stores. I applied for a lot of those jobs but we were not hired."

Getting hired back then seemed a "Catch 22" in at least one instance, Jerry recalled, "I went (to the telephone company) and I was told by the manager that I didn't have the experience. I asked, ‘how can I get this experience?’ He said, ‘I would have to work in the telephone company.’"

Not knowing how she could work in the telephone company without being hired. Jerry said she asked if I could work free of charge for as long as it took to train on the system. "He said, no, he didn't have the time to do that," Jerry said. "I had to go to Fort Riley to try to get a job and could get even more than what they offered in town."

Joyce agreed it was easier to get work at Fort Riley than it was in town, but even at Fort Riley "the blacks were held back. One black woman she worked with are now GS10s and 11s," she said.

"My father was a truck farmer that took vegetables to Fort Riley," Gilbert said, remembering those times with some bitterness. "When it came to getting a job, the jobs they had would not push a black person up the ladder. It would bring you down because you were always using your back, not your brain."

School counselors kept in step with the general work standards prevalent in those times, Gilbert pointed out. He graduated from Junction City High School in 1950.

"They told me and the black students it wasn't necessary to take typing, it was not necessary for you to take mechanical drawing, it wasn't necessary to take shop—working with carpentry and things like that, because "they would recommend you get a job being a boot-black shining shoes or become a porter on a train or something like that. It was nothing that would upgrade you, like being a lawyer or a doctor or a nurse or anything like that," he said.

"I worked for years in the Bartell Hotel with Jerry's father, I ran the elevator, working a little lever," Gilbert said. "We could work in the hotel but we could not eat in the restaurant in the hotel. You had to eat in the kitchen in the back. They did not want you to come in the entryway; they wanted you to come in the back," he went on.

"My cousin and I shoveled coal into the stoker to heat up the Colonial Theater, but we could not sit downstairs" in the theater seating, he recalled. "We would have to sit in the balcony, which was the hottest place in the theater."

Since those years, Gilbert has gone on to be a self-employed businessman and landlord in Junction City.

School counselors aside, all five Junction City residents recalled happy times in the Junction City school system. Most of the education they got was equal to what white children were getting, Jerry pointed out, so they didn't really feel slighted in that regard.

Most recalled being active in music programs, including the a Capella choir, and Joyce belonged to Spanish Club.

Generally, "We took part in all that they let us take part in," Joyce recalled.

But, a black girl couldn't try out to be a cheerleader or majorette in the band, she added, even though the black boys were allowed to play sports and were a primary reason Junction City kept beating Manhattan. "You couldn't try Gilbert said the civil rights commission helped to change that. Although, a few black girls and had been cheerleaders before his daughter tried to make the squad, a representative of the Civil Rights Commission was called to town to investigate why she hadn't made the squad after it was learned she had scored higher on the tryout than a white girl picked had made.

Gilbert's daughter would up replacing the white girl as a cheerleader, he said.

For the school yearbook, seniors were listed alphabetically but in the corresponding photo, all the black students were placed at the rear of the photo, Joyce added.

The story continues with part 3.


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