An independent journalist since the 1980s, Flammang
Tales of Travel and Back at Homeby James M. Flammang
Whites Only '59
Wherever you happen to work, a lot of the rules of the job are unspoken. Never mentioned in ordinary conversation. Not written down, either.
No, they’re informal. Casual. Understood, somehow. Everybody seems to know them and, for the most part, abides by them.
Except the newcomers, of course. The new hires. Break one of those unspoken taboos and you’ll hear about it soon enough, you bet. Even if you had no idea that you were breaking any rule, or bending it mildly. Or even that such rules existed at all.
The hotel business was no exception. It was full of secretive rules. Requirements, even; stuff that you were expected to know, even if no one had ever told you about them. If anything, hotels – especially small, residential hotels – were overloaded with little rules, as well as a few big ones.
At the Jefferson Hotel, on Chicago’s Near North Side, there was just a single big one. A whopper. Break it, and you’d be out the door in a flash. Maybe worse, if old man Kenton got wind of your transgression.
Nobody would ever admit the existence of such an unwritten rule. If the subject ever came up, denial was a near-certainty.
Couldn't be simpler: Anyone working the desk must never – ever – rent to a negro. If the rule was stated orally, the final word wouldn't be "negro." That was the acceptable term used to describe African-American people back in '59. It wasn't the one that white people typically used, in everyday life.
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