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July 2, 2014

Civil Rights Act of 1964: Landmark legislation marks 50th year

— The vestiges of the segregation era are still visible at one of the state’s few remaining hometown dairy bars in North Alabama, providing a symbolic reminder about the subtleness of race discrimination.

Fifty years ago today, the Civil Rights Act became U.S. law on July 2, 1964, ushering in a new era in which “separate but equal” and denying services based on skin color became illegal, among other changes.

Kreme Delite, a standup ice cream stand in downtown Athens, remains the site of two drinking fountains that formerly labeled its patrons as “White” and “Colored.”

South Carolina native Josh Tarokh, who also owns nearby Village Pizza, bought the bustling ice cream eatery with the famous neon sign and red-and-white striped canopies four years ago from lifelong Athens resident Jimmy Greenhaw.

He followed Greenhaw’s example by keeping the 53-year-old building as close to the original as possible. Tarokh, who plans to install a plaque near the fountains, said he left them intact along the building’s west wall due to their place in Limestone County’s history.

Local recollections

Elkmont resident Lois Scott, 80, was born in Limestone County and grew up with three sisters and a brother, graduating from all-black Trinity High School in 1950. She vividly remembers North Alabama as somewhat shielded during the 1960s from the violence and turmoil dominating portions of Mississippi and Alabama.

“North Alabama was different, even though there was much segregation. All we had to do at that time before I went to college at (Alabama) A&M is pay the poll tax and pass a written exam,” said Scott, who taught high school English and history for 37 years in Athens, Illinois and Wisconsin.

It seemed illogical during her school days to ride a bus from her home near the all-white Tanner High School to Trinity near downtown Athens, Scott said. Even after desegregation, she said students living near Mooresville Road were transported to Ardmore for a period of time.

“I could have walked to Tanner from my house and I wondered why I was bused to Athens to go to Trinity. But those were things that happened to everyone. There were some things you get so accustomed to,” she said. “I do remember when we moved to town and one of my younger sisters would walk to (Kreme Delite). It had the separate windows and water fountains at that time, but they would serve you, even if you went to the window that was marked for whites. But I always went to the other one because it seemed they would give you a bigger serving of ice cream.”

A trip to Montgomery showed her how different it was for her peers when her young son tried to buy an ice cream cone at a stand that resembled Kreme Delite.

“We stopped for gas in Montgomery when we were headed back home, and we saw something like Kreme Delite across the street. One of my sons, who was 12 or 13 years old at the time, went across the street. He came back and said, ‘Mother, they said they wouldn’t serve colored people.' I said, ‘Shut up and get in the car’ because he could get an ice cream cone when we got home because there is a consequence for every action. Sometimes it’s negative and sometimes it’s positive. When you are at the disadvantage stage, you just get out and leave,” said Scott, who has three children, seven grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

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