Racism is Alive and Well in Quartzsite, AZ

A few thoughts about a startling experience.

I had the batteries replaced on my RV yesterday in Quartzsite, AZ. I’d been camping off the grid about 25 miles from there with friends and was having trouble keeping a charge overnight. Another friend did some troubleshooting with a multimeter and concluded that one of the two 12-volt batteries was dead and the other was on its last legs. There’s a great RV fix-it place in Quartzsite called RV Lifestyles so that’s where I took it. They got the job done in about a half hour and there was free music and hotdogs (and the usual collection of folks you get when you offer free food) while I waited with Penny.

Afterwards, I visited Tyson Wells, where one of the many “shows” is going on. I bought a new coyote tail for my Honda’s rear-view mirror and a pair of long wind socks to replace the wind ribbons on my home. And lunch, which was cold by the time I got it so I wound up reheating it for dinner later on.

Signs from our ugly past

With time on my hands and no real plan for the rest of the day, I went over to the remnants of the old Main Event show in the northwest corner of town. Last year, I’d bought a neon sign at one of the shops there, but I didn’t want to go back, fearing I might want another one. Instead, I saw a metal building off the road with the sign “Henry’s Antiques and Cast Iron Imports.” There were some metal sculptures outside and although none of them were to my taste — except maybe the flamingo on a bicycle that’s designed to hold a flowerpot — I thought I’d kill some time with a look inside. So I parked, cracked the windows in the truck for Penny, and went in.

Henry's Antiques
Looks interesting (and innocent) enough, no?

Inside was more of the same, although smaller pieces. A lot of signs. Bins full of cast iron nicknacks and things to hang on the wall like hooks and insect sculptures and crosses and trivets. A lot of different shapes and sizes, all heavy iron. On the wall were various signs made of a lighter metal, roughly cut and painted, obviously designed to represent the metal signs from 50s. Signs you might put in your kitchen that said “EAT” or “Coffee.” Metal bird houses in all kinds of shapes. There were stacks of repro old gas station signs, made new to look old. Man cave or college dorm stuff.

The building was spacious with aisles of bins with the smaller iron pieces. I went up and down the rows, cataloging, in my mind, the kind of stuff they have. If I found something I liked and could use, I’d likely buy it — the prices were reasonable enough. But I also like to just see what’s available in case I have a need sometime in the future. I’m back in the area most winters and can always pick up something I’ve seen.

And then I saw something odd. A black metal sign with white trim, lettering, and arrows. REST ROOMS. WHITE. COLORED.

Segregationist Restrooms Sign
Who would buy something like this?

I was immediately taken aback. It was a throwback into America’s segregationist days, days we should be ashamed of, days that should have been long behind us. Was this someone’s idea of reminding us about those bad old days? If so, it was in poor taste.

Segregationist Signs
Who would make something like these?

And that’s when I realized that all the signs in the row were similarly themed. Bin after bin, there were signs for showers and drinking fountains and officer dining. And even a WHITE ONLY sign.

These weren’t one-offs or actual antiques. There were bins literally filled with these signs. Dozens of them. Possibly hundreds in total.

They weren’t funny. They weren’t some sort of joke. They were a horrible reminder of how cruel people can be. Segregation was a stain on the fabric of our nation. Yet this shop was selling signs that seemed to say segregation was okay, it was part of the good old days like the old Sinclair gas sign over there.

Why would anyone buy one of these signs? I cannot imagine. Yet someone must buy them or they wouldn’t be manufactured.

And that’s when I realized that someone somewhere had made an iron mold to run off signs like these in quantity. And was selling them to stores like this one. So they could be bought by…well, who?

The thought that there were still people in this country who would buy and presumably hang something like this shocked and disgusted me.

You don’t have to be black to be offended by racism. You just have to be human. I was offended. Deeply offended. I took these photos just to show what I’d seen. I was too shaken to document them all. I just wanted to get out of there. I just wanted to put it behind me.

I left, taking a photo of the store front. I was already thinking about what I needed to say in my blog.

And then there’s that flag…

Of course racism is alive and well in the United States. It’s in the news every time a white police officer shoots an unarmed black man. And now it’s back in the news after Donald Trump’s attack on John Lewis, who marched with Martin Luther King Jr. to help end segregation and give black people the same civil rights white people have always enjoyed. “All men are created equal” — that’s what our Declaration of Independence says — but too many people still don’t think it’s true.

And some vendors and shops in Quartzsite — and elsewhere — cater to these people.

The most obvious racist symbol for sale in tourist shops is the Confederate flag. I’m offended by that, too. This is the United States of America. We fly the American flag here, not the flag that symbolizes the war that nearly tore this nation apart and caused American 620,000 deaths. The Confederate flag symbolizes a way of life that not only approved of slavery, but depended on it. It symbolizes a racist mentality. Anyone who tries to say otherwise is either lying or deluding themselves.

The American flag is the perfect symbol of our nation. The 13 stripes (for our original 13 colonies) with a single field of blue (actually called the union) that unites the 50 stars (for our 50 states). One nation, indivisible. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

People who call themselves “American patriots” and then fly a Confederate flag are hypocrites, plain and simple.

Sorry state of affairs

It’s 2017 and the world is a mess. I blame it on divides. The old “us vs. them” mentality.

Whites vs. blacks. Natives vs. immigrants. Conservatives vs. liberals.

Everywhere you look, there are people trying to separate themselves from each other, trying to say that their group is better or smarter or somehow more worthy than the other group.

Meanwhile, people are dying. It doesn’t matter whether it’s shootings or starvation or war or lack of health care. The “us vs. them” mentality is tearing our country and the rest of the world apart.

Why?

I’ll never understand why we let hate and anger destroy ourselves.

Back in the 1960s, Martin Luther King Jr. led a crusade for civil rights. His fight, which was mostly won, cost him his life. I say “mostly” because I don’t see true racial equality in this country. Sure, it’s on paper. But its not in the actions and attitudes of all Americans. And when I visit a shop and see segregationist signs for sale or drive past a house with a Confederate flag flying in the front yard, I lose all hope that there will ever be true racial equality in my country.

What a sorry thing to have to blog about on what would have been Martin Luther King Jr’s 88th birthday.

21 thoughts on “Racism is Alive and Well in Quartzsite, AZ

  1. I’ve lived long enough to see things get much better over the decades, certainly better than the 50’s, which I assume is the “great” that someone wants to make us again. And I’m naturally an optimist in spite of what will happen this Friday. I do believe that the Obamas have made a difference. Most of us miss them already.
    But I’m sitting here with tears in my eyes looking at those awful bins of hatefulness. How can these people not be embarrassed to buy and sell this garbage? Just seeing it makes me embarrassed to be white.

    • I miss the Obamas, too. It was wonderful to have such a thoughtful, dignified man in office. He and his wife are true role models for children of any color. The orange skinned buffoon is not the kind of person I’d want kids looking up to.

      When I saw those signs, I was truly startled. When I saw how many there were — in number and variety — I was horrified. I thought we’d come a long way, but apparently we haven’t.

  2. Stunning post. Certainly awful that these signs are being manufactured and sold. But, also, a thought provoking post.

  3. A nasty little find and a very good post.

    About 15 years ago we were tourists in Luray, (WV). In the evening we went to a bar which had a big ‘Music Tonite’ sign. The music was really good but as the evening progressed I realised that the bar was full of confederate flags. As a Brit I knew little of its significance until the last song: “The Night They Drove Ol’ Dixxie Down”. The good ol boys (and a few younger ones) were quite literally crying into their beer. Those attitudes run deep and cast a long shadow.
    But the guilt is not just American. From 1607 to the 1770’s we Brits pushed the Native Americans aside in a huge land- grab which killed hundreds of thousands and dispossessed millions.

    • The Confederate flag is part of their culture. But they don’t think about what it truly represents: a divided nation, a fight over slavery. They need to think about that and if they still want to wave that flag, they need to stop calling themselves patriots and start calling themselves divisive racists.

  4. Not to give away my age, but I’ve seen these at the entrance of a diner in NC. “Whites only”. At 15 I was apauled.

    • I believe it. I remember when my grandmother referred to black people as “colored” and used an Italian word as a racial epithet. That was then, this is now. We need to stop pointing out differences and start accepting samenesses.

  5. Well said Maria. By looking at the sign out front it looks like they are ( my guess) being imported, probably from China.

    • I’m hoping it’s China. Someplace where the people making them have no idea what they say. But someone thought up the idea o make them. And “Henry” bought them to sell. No excuses there.

  6. My guess is the “L&N” in those replicas stands for the Louisville and Nashville Railroad. A Southern railroad, chartered in Kentucky,and operated from 1850 to 1983.

    • Norm. When did these signs disappear?
      Are they the ‘originals’ with a new lick of paint or fakes? If the latter, that is a very odd commission!
      The U.K. got rid of that sort of ‘in your face’ prejudice years back, but London has now a higher rate of ‘white flight’ than New York ever did.

  7. No accounting for taste, or tastelessness. Makes you wonder where all those signs will end up, in a drawer as yet another useless souvenir, or on somebodies wall as a not-quite “joke” that they can blow off or not, depending on who is calling them on it?

    Obama is far from being the spotless saint that some portray him as, but he and his family are a far sight classier than the Cinnamon Hitler ever will be. I believe that his legacy will be largely erased by the ideologues on the far right, an unfortunate consequence of his repeatedly attempting to bypass Congress through the executive order process. Not all his fault of course, he faced a stronger headwind than most presidents have had to deal with for much of his two terms. With that said, every president has to face the fact that any legislation that isn’t a true compromise is doomed to eventual repudiation or reversal when the political wind changes. No president leaves office without dragging along the baggage of both the decisions that they did make, and the lost opportunities that could have been had those decisions been otherwise.

  8. I have no doubt that many have walked by the same signs and just shook their heads. Thank you for taking the time to speak your mind and share it with us. I am especially glad that I found this post today of all days. You cannot control what is out there in the world but you can control how you respond to it. And these days we need voices, not quiet resignation.