Separate But Equal



Designated Negro Picnic Area along Skyline Drive
Lewis Mountain Negro Picnic area had closed by the time our family started enjoying Skyline Drive.

When we were growing up, our dad really enjoyed taking Sunday drives through the country. We’d drive for hours. The night before our outing mom would fry up a big batch of chicken, she’d make her world famous potato salad and pack up paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. If you’ve never had a Ritz cracker topped with potato salad (with eggs), then you don’t know what you’re missing. Those Sunday drives were something we all looked forward to, well, maybe not mom so much. She did a lot of prep work in advance of those outings that went mostly unnoticed until we were older and more able to appreciate it.


Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
My family and I on one of our many visits to Skyline Drive, that’s me on the right

The problem with going to Skyline Drive (which we loved) was that there were no places for black people to picnic. By the time we came along, the Negro picnic area had been closed and the park had been integrated. Whites and blacks were supposed to picnic together, no separate but equal facilities anymore. The park had advanced, yes, the park had advanced, but the people, not so much. It was painfully obvious that we weren’t welcomed in those newly integrated picnic grounds, after all the years of segregation, the mixing of the races looked good on paper, but the concept was not so easily embraced by all.

Rather than get evil stares, grunts and unitelligible muttered words while sitting and trying to enjoy our meal, we would spend hours driving around looking for a secluded place to stop and have our lunch. Most of the time though, we would leave the park altogether and park somewhere on the side of the road. Maybe one of the roadside picnic tables / rest stops would be available. I don’t see those anymore nowadays.


Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
Mom takes a photo of Dad and us near Big Meadow.

I lived most of my childhood oblivious to what it meant to be segregated. But our Sunday drives, mostly spent looking for a good place to have a picnic lunch, were a constant reminder of the reality in which we lived. Separate was rarely ever equal.

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