Mike Watson, the new owner of the historic Kress building, has made the bold decision to preserve a portion of the wall where black and white customers once drank out of separate water fountains.
But if you ask someone who didn’t live during the days of segregation, that move doesn’t seem quite as bold. The words “colored” and “white” lack significance for someone who never had to experience such blatant, open and – the worst of it – accepted discrimination.
As a 29-year-old, the words have always struck me as an anachronism, something that is so far removed from my world that it is difficult to fully comprehend the power the words wielded so long ago. But seeing the words in their original context and natural setting, as I did at the S.H. Kress building last week, made it more real. Even though the water fountains have long been removed, I could stand in front of the marble wall and imagine what it might have been like to have an assigned drinking fountain determined because of my skin’s pigmentation.
When I considered that, a wave of embarrassment came over me.
This is what Montgomery Advertiser photographer Julie Bennett had to say about seeing the same wall:
Turns out, a group of EMERGE members who toured the building last week seemed to have a similar reaction to the etchings. As the group was walking up to the roof to admire the views of downtown, a special stop was made along the way so people could snap photos of the etchings with their cell phones.
Kindell Anderson, who is the president of EMERGE, which is Montgomery’s young professionals organization, said later that he was “very shocked” but “in a good way” when he saw the etchings. If anything, Kindell says he was more surprised that the etchings were still intact (at some point, paneling was put up to conceal the words).
“I really didn’t have any negative feelings (about it). It’s all a part of history. You have to have an understanding of the things that happened in your past in order for you to move on to your future,” Kindell said.
If you have seen the etchings, what was your reaction to them? Even if you haven’t, should the wall be preserved and incorporated into the Kress rehabilitation project?