COMMENTARY: Jim Crow Alive And Well At Tennessee Cotton Gin

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  • Racism was so intolerable for two African-American employees at an industrial Tennessee cotton gin that they secretly recorded their supervisor making racist comments and saying he would “hang” them for drinking from a “whites-only” water fountain. The two men, Antonio Harris and Marrio Mangrum, said the racism at Atkinson Cotton Warehouse in Memphis lasted for months until Harris became fed up and recorded the supervisor’s racist remarks with his cell phone.

    In one of the conversations, the supervisor says: “I need to put a sign here that says ‘white people only.’ ” And in another exchange, the supervisor told Harris he couldn’t drink from certain water fountains. “What they do when they catch me drinking your water?” Harris asked the supervisor in one of the recordings. “That’s when we hang you,” the supervisor responded.

    Another recording featured Harris talking to the supervisor about using a microwave. “Why can’t I use the microwave man?” Harris asked. “No. You’re not white,” he responded.

    The supervisor also compared black employees to monkeys. “We all know what monkey means,” Mangrum told a local television station. “That’s very offensive.”

    Harris and Mangrum have filed a federal racial discrimination complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, hoping to expose the company – or at least supervisor – for a pattern of racial discrimination.

    “I had to bite my tongue a lot,” Harris said.

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