Salai Tun Than

As Interviewed by Yati P., March 15th, 2016

Salai Tun Than: In His Own Words

My name is Salai Tun Than. I am an 89 year-old Burmese man. If I told you my whole story it could take years. Let's start off with how I came to America. I lived in the United States with a student visa. I went to the University of Georgia from 1953 to 1955, I got my Master’s degree there. Then I went to the University of Wisconsin, Medical University of Wisconsin. I got my PhD in 1958, and then on January 14th, 1959, I went back home.

At that time, I found that there was a separation of colored people. They could not go to the same church, or to the same university, or to the same school, but they were what we called “separate but equal.” At that time, colored people were put down. They had separate churches, separate schools, even separate waiting rooms in the bus station. When they rode the bus, they had to sit at the front. They could not sit in the back.

So, when I came back to America, I saw a lot of change. They could go to the same school with the whites, they can go to the same churches with the whites, and they could ride the bus and sit wherever they like. It was different -- and at the same time, they can buy houses, whichever ones they want. Back when I was in college, the colored people could buy only certain houses. Now, there is no more “separate but equal.” Of course, it's thanks to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

When I was in University, there was not much protest from the blacks because they were very suppressed. They had their own quarters, and all the good roads were for the whites. All the good roads ended before they reached the black quarters.

When I got to America, I was very disappointed, because in the university I was alright, but when I go outside of the university, most of the restaurants did not accept me because I am supposed to be colored. In the universities it was alright, they accepted me as a university student, as white.