Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Leroy Beavers, August 8, 2002. Interview R-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Integration destroys the black community

Integration destroyed the black community, Beavers argues. He remembers a train station, the hub of the black community, where African Americans met one another traveling through Savannah or on their daily shopping trips. Then integration introduced a new mentality, Beavers believes, that encouraged African Americans to leave their communities to explore their new freedom. The community fractured and drugs and crime filled the void.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Leroy Beavers, August 8, 2002. Interview R-0170. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

KIERAN TAYLOR:
If there were one business that you'd like to see come back to the street, what would you see come back?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
The train. The train.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Are you serious?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
The train station back there.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What is it that you miss about the train?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Just had all kinds of things, have you ever been to Central Station in New York?
KIERAN TAYLOR:
The same.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Yeah, just on a smaller scale. The train would back into the terminal get you some ice cream and the stores, and the train killed this damned place, man, because people from all around they met people, that you'd think you'd never meet met at the train station. You met New Yorkers. You met people from Oklahoma, California, Chicago, had a chance to talk to these people, and while the train station was up there, the black people that came from these areas came down here to get service to get their hair cut, stop off to a club. You got a chance to meet these people. When they put that highway out there, I-95 that was the other stab in the back because this is Highway Seventeen here. Everybody had to come down West Broad Street first.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
That's right, sure.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Everybody had to come across that bridge, the old Talmadge Bridge, up Seventeen, and this was Seventeen here and then the junction was right here at Victory Drive for all points going south. I used to stand at the corner and look at the tags. Nebraska, Arkansas, California.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
To get from New York to Florida you had to go by the Beaver's barbershop.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Every time right, excuse me, every time. Every time, everybody had to come by here. Everything came by here. Baseball teams, entertainers, their buses came through here. Everything came through here. I was sitting with my father in front of my father's barbershop. They had a radio one time. I sure wish that barbershop was still here, and the radio had a speaker and the speaker was up in the door. Every October in the World Series they'd play the World Series on the street and everybody'd come up. Bus drivers stopped. What's the score? What's the score? It was just so much life on MLK. Integration came down and killed the life, killed it.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
Because?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
They didn't put it to death. They just put it on such a low level that it could never rise again, but it's going to rise again. I know it's going to rise again. They put it on such a low level where people now, we're talking about esteem now. It was so much esteem on West Broad Street at one time. There were so many respectful men. Mr. Joe Young, I haven't ever seen that man without a suit on and a tie, elderly man. Never. Gold rings on his fingers, never. A nice little fedora that the men were wearing. Oh man. Then integration came along, and then for some reason this mentality came along that where everybody was—. I was going down to Woolworth's or I'm going down to Kress. I couldn't understand that. I couldn't understand why they wanted to go down there. You could go to Dave's Soda Shop for the same thing and even get even better treatment. They had restaurants they could go to, fine restaurants. My daddy had a restaurant. He ever tell you about that restaurant he had? He had a restaurant at Fortieth and West Broad. Back in the early '60s, right.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
What kind of place?
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
I loved that place. I could get cookies and candy. It's not the first restaurant, business my father owned. We owned that business down there and it was a very nice restaurant. But now a days people are always on the go and they've got that fast food and a greasy spoon will suffice now for anybody now a days, just stop and go. You know what I'm saying. Let me get this here and I've got to go. But it was a remarkable thing what happened here on West Broad Street. It was murder. It was murder. It was actually, in a sense it was sort of a type of a genocide of a social life of life where people had just pure natural respect for each other. That is something that we are lacking here, now today. Don't have it at all. Not here any more. No telling what might happen to you now on West Broad Street now. Get robbed, killed or whatever, right now and because of that, because first and foremost we can't leave out technology. Technology did West Broad Street in too. The mall, when they took all those businesses and put it up under the roof, that was not only the death of West Broad Street, but it was the death of Broughton Street. I had loved Broughton Street too.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It killed that one too.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
And at Christmas time, Mama would take me to Broughton Street, and we would always go there just as they put up all the Christmas decorations. My mother had a '56, I think it was a '56 Chevrolet, and I used to love to put my head in the back of the mirror as the car went down the street, and I could watch the light and it looked so beautiful. It was like Las Vegas. That was grand. That was grand.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
It killed Broughton.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Yeah, it killed it dead. It killed, the mall killed Broughton dead. Now but urban renewal is fixing Broughton Street up. But urban renewal is fixing up all of the, they call it downtown. So what do we call this here? America will fix up all of downtown. They never want to talk about the Auburn Street in Atlanta, the West Broad Street in Savannah, Georgia. They don't want to talk about them, and when they know they were Meccas for us. We had, we had it. Then we got this new social life now. We got to call a spade a spade now. We've got racism within racism within the black race. Not so much talking about white folks. We've got black folks the middle class black folks against the lower class black folks. You understand what I'm saying. That's a thing in itself right there that the young black guys have to deal with now. In other words, we have a caste system of our own that we've got to deal with right here. It's crazy man. It's wild.
KIERAN TAYLOR:
If you were—go ahead.
LEROY BEAVERS, JR.:
Integration got it like that. Integration was a terrible thing. Regardless of how you, integration was terrible. But who, what did, integration didn't help anything. It didn't help anything. White folks still just like black folks by the color of their skin. Black folks just still distrust white folks. It didn't change anything. Only thing it changed, the drug trade got big. Everybody's into it. The only thing that happened in America is the drug got big. One time marijuana, one time marijuana was a serious novelty. It was just something for somebody to try. Just to see what it's like. It's a way of life now. It's a way of life now for the young teenagers coming up now. Right up here, it's a way of life. You couldn't find any—if you find somebody on MLK on West Broad Street selling dope back in those days, he was an outcast. He was a lowlife. What are you trying to do, destroy your own people? That's what these people would tell him. They'll make him feel that he is not wanted. Then the guy who was using the drugs. You guys y'all go down the street and y'all take care of your business. Don't come down with this here. It's not like that any more. You look at what's going on around you especially if you're on MLK, and you ride up and down MLK.