Column – ‘Separate but equal has no place’

Published 5:31 pm Tuesday, April 25, 2023

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1955 and ’56 were filled with turmoil as well as advances in civil rights and medicine. 

In early 1954, the first full-scale thermonuclear explosion in history was performed. This was announced as the first step in the hydrogen weapon program for the United States. Unofficial reports described the blast as wiping out an island. According to a story in February 1955, the hydrogen bomb can kill 140 miles from detonation. Many stories over the following months cited the opinion that any future war would be an atomic one. Beginning in the summer of 1955, nationwide atomic attack drills were held to educate the public about safety procedures in the event of an attack. 

One drill practiced the emptying of the Pentagon. The plan, as detailed in a June 1 story, was that all employees would exit to the parking lot, typically filled with about 9,000 cars. They would then load up the cars, providing rides for those who use the bus to get to work, and drive out of the city. The story cites traffic control plans to move the 9,000 cars out of the city without traffic jams. 

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On May 17, 1954, a Supreme Court decision outlawed segregation in public schools. Chief Justice Warren read the court’s opinion, which declared: “We conclude that in the field of public education the doctrine of separate but equal has no place. Separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.” 

In June 1955, the Supreme Court unanimously declined to fix a definite deadline or order any national procedures for ending segregation in 21 states practicing segregation in some or all of their schools. They called instead for “prompt and reasonable start.” And they said “primary responsibility” rests with state and local school officials to solve the delicate problem. Court battles continued through the end of 1955.

On June 15, 1955, Mayor Richard L. Woodward Jr. announced that he would resign as mayor and councilman of Suffolk because, he said, he “will not serve on the same City Council with a woman.” He clarified his statement by saying that his action was not directed to Mrs. Laura Elmore, the woman who was elected to the council that week, or to any other particular woman. Instead, he said, it was directed to “the entire feminine element in general,” and added that he was of the opinion that there was no woman in the city who had the capabilities and business experience that he believed was necessary to serve on the City Council.

As the polio vaccine was questioned and studied by medical boards, new versions were released. It was reported that the vaccine would not be withheld from any child due to financial hardship. In 1954 field trials, the Salk polio vaccine was about as good as that for whooping cough, a Public Health Service doctor said. It isn’t quite as effective as smallpox vaccine and diphtheria toxoid. But Dr. Joseph Bell, who made the comparison, hastened to add that “this is the first polio vaccine and we can expect that an improved vaccine will eventually be developed.” 

On the entertainment side of the news, in early 1955 funds were raised to build a public swimming pool near downtown Suffolk. Business and community organizations raised money, as did school children. The children held a march and spare change fund at all the local schools. “If you are old enough to walk, you are old enough to swim,” one story stated. The News-Herald also assisted in collecting donations and listed those on the front page. The pool opened Sept. 3. Although the weather was rainy and at times there was heavy downpour, a couple hundred children dodged the showers to swim the first day. 

While most international news centered on the wars in China or the threat of the Soviet Union, one story was published of a different nature. 

“A gaunt, snarling lad dubbed ‘wolf boy’ is providing medical authorities in Lucknow with twin problems of keeping him alive and determining his background. Tho doctors said today the boy, who walks on all fours, eats only raw meat and laps water like an animal, is 9 years old. With his hair long and matted, he was found mysteriously in a railway freight car. Though definitely a human, doctors conjecture that he was reared by animals. Despite more than two weeks of hospital care, however, he still lies huddled weakly in his body, giving an occasional snarl and trying to bite attendants. He cringes from light. He shows little interest in his surroundings until raw meat is produced. This he devours avidly.”

Jen Jaqua is the creative director for the Suffolk News-Herald. She can be contacted at