Eddie Edmonds

Eddie Edmonds in 1963.

A group of Americans carry the scars of a nearly forgotten war. They know the psychological impact of battles that their sons and daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren cannot imagine.

They are the African American people who will observe Black History Month during February, still holding the memories of life under the Jim Crow Laws — the rules that allowed segregated schools, back-of-the-bus status and other institutionalized discrimination.

"The effect of those laws was to make a man feel inferior," said Eddie Edmonds, 83, a man who enjoyed his time in Kankakee and still visits here after moving to the Alsip area. "It made me so ashamed that I wouldn't wear short sleeve shirts for years.

"I grew up in Alabama, and it was the lynching of a colored man near our hometown, in 1947, that helped convince us to move up north."

Of course, lynchings weren't allowed under the Jim Crow Laws, but those statutes represented more than the tradition of separate drinking fountains, bathrooms and other accommodations.

"They dictated a way of life," said David Pilgrim, the founder and curator of the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Big Rapids, Mich. "They established the norms and the attitudes of the era. And some of those remnants have morphed and remain a part of our society today."

Eva Staple, 84, of Kankakee, recalls just how insidious the discrimination was in that era.

"I grew up in a little town in Kentucky, and most of my friends were white," she said. "But I went to the back of the bus. I knew that there were restaurants that I could go into, but I couldn't sit down. I had to get my food and take it outside.

"But I just thought that was the way it always was. And that's how it was supposed to be," she said. "It wasn't til much later that I came to realize that it shouldn't have been like that."