Jim Crow Water Dippers

Water Dippers

Jim Crow restrictions separated the races in America in every aspect of public life.  Restaurants, buses, trains, restrooms, theatres, water fountains and workplaces posted “White Only” and “Colored” signs to remind people of their place.

These water dippers (circa 1940) were donated to the Civil Rights Museum in the memory of R.L. Bryant by Jim Gatling and Beverly O’Bryant Gilton.  They were found on the property of the Arkansas plumbing company owned by Ralph Levert O’Bryant.  When the employees worked outdoors during the hot Arkansas summers, they used the dippers to scoop water out of the communal water bucket. 

At first glance, these brown, rusted ladles look unexceptional, except for one interesting feature - the hand painted letter on the back of each. One dipper is marked “W” for whites and the other “C” for colored. Even though the dippers were for the same bucket, the influence of Jim Crow segregation seeped so deeply into the lives of southerners that drinking from the same implement was anathema.

The water dippers are part of our education collection and are a provocative example of the way in which Jim Crow laws subjected African Americans to racial discrimination in their daily lives.  Since the museum received them in 1998, hundreds of school children have viewed this artifact and have learned how even the simplest items can speak volumes about the history of inequality in America.

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