Letters: The symbolism of separate water fountains

DOUG BERG, Pittsboro
Posted 3/6/20

To the Editor:

Del Turner’s story about getting in trouble with her grandfather for drinking from the white water fountain (“Hindsight 2020: Moving forward from history,” Feb. 27) brings to …

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Letters: The symbolism of separate water fountains

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Posted

To the Editor:

Del Turner’s story about getting in trouble with her grandfather for drinking from the white water fountain (“Hindsight 2020: Moving forward from history,” Feb. 27) brings to mind my story from the other side of that sad coin: Age 11 in 1955, newly-moved with my parents from up north to Charlotte, my mother took me shopping. I saw a water fountain and I had a swig. “He drank colored water,” a clerk told my mother, ominous.

I looked up and saw a sign that read: “Colored.”

“You shouldn’t leave something like that where a child can get at it,” my mother snapped.

I felt a wave of panic. Mom sounded angry. I thought the sign meant the water itself was polluted, poisoned in some way. Colored? The water looked clear to me and tasted OK if you like a touch of chlorine in the mix.

“Oh, it won’t hurt him,” the clerk hastened to say. The clerk looked defensive, like she might get in trouble.

Mom said “harrumph” and we walked away. I was too young to see how Mom said what she did just to make the clerk admit the separate water fountains were purely symbolic.

Unlike Mom, the physical reaction Del Turner’s grandfather felt compelled to use is a reminder how parents often feel compelled to use corporal punishment in repressive societies where any infraction might bring dire consequences. I read that corporal punishment of children has been declining, and I wonder if that’s partly because our society is a bit less repressive than it used to be. Let’s hope, because corporal punishment only results in the furtherance of the cycle of violence.

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