“Water Fountains”

During Mike Broussard’s early childhood, his family lived in Shreveport, Louisiana, but later he moved to Vivian where he owned a business and lived out the remainder of his life.  The experience described in this song, when Mike was twelve years old, affected his attitude towards race relations from then on.

One of the oldest movie theaters in Shreveport was The Strand.  It had different entrances for blacks and whites and water fountains marked for the different races, as well.

During the ’60s, most southern cities had two simultaneous phenomena: demographically a significant percentage of the population was African-American (Shreveport was about 60% black) and as a consequence whites and blacks unofficially interacted a lot.  The other aspect was a policy of official segregation. This manifested itself in a myriad of ways beyond the obvious, e.g. separate drinking fountains and different entrances to movie theaters.  However, relationships between whites and blacks could be warm and friendly despite official segregation.

Into the demographic mix were other ingredients.  Louisiana had a relatively large number of Italian Americans, mostly Sicilians.  These immigrants also experienced some discrimination, and in general did not share the otherwise pervasive white attitudes about African-Americans.

When Mike Broussard served in Vietnam he met an African-American from Detroit, D.W. Washington, and they became life-long friends.  Mike and D.W. talked about their plans when their tours were over, and D.W. went back to Vivian with Mike and they operated a filling station and auto repair shop for more than forty years.  D.W. was Mike’s closest friend (see songs “Sarge“, “Mike & D.W.” and “Out on Cross Lake“).

Water Fountains

It was 1960, I was twelve years old
My brother and me went to the picture show
My mother dropped us off gave us each a dollar
To see John Wayne in “The Alamo”
Outside The Strand were two water fountains side by side
One was marked “Colored” the other one, “White”

I didn’t know Bobby Ghio all that well
He’d just moved to Shreveport that year
He was Sicilian, from New Orleans
And was different from the kids ‘round here
He went to the wrong fountain, he didn’t want to wait in line
My mouth was wide open, it kind of blew my mind

It was exceptional
To question what we thought was unquestionable
Like climbing a mountain
Or just drinking from a water fountain

Big Mama raised three generations of Broussards
She seemed to me as old as Moses
Taught me right from wrong, and a lot of other stuff
She was black but I didn’t seem to notice
It was an age old line that Bobby Ghio crossed
But when he did it a light bulb went off

It was exceptional …

It was 1960, I was twelve years old
My brother and me went to the picture show

© 2019 Frank David Leone, Jr./Highway 80 Music (ASCAP). The songs and stories on the Highway 80 Stories website are works of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events, locales, and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

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f. d. leone


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