Archive for the ‘personal history’ Category

Fear lingers a long time.

Have you personally spent hours not knowing if a mob would appear, armed in the night?

Would you forget the feeling of your stopped breathing or your ability to move your limbs to safety? Would you know it again?

At the end of my freshman year, the President of Spelman College sent me word to stop at Asheville, NC on my way north. I was the only one who had a ticket in the direction of the Regional YM-YW Conference.

I replaced an elected delegate from TX. It was not fair but in 1948′ students did not argue with adults. Much was on the line: scholarships, good courses, or recommendations.

I had already been an officer in our chapter and was active in an Intercollegiate interracial Council.

The conference was held in a boys’ camp, above the city. I arrived as dinner was ending. I left a pair of rubber boots on the porch which had not fit in my trunk. Thus my name was Boots forever.

As the singing ended, we were lectured about our responsibilities. While on camp property our programs, meals etc. would not be racially restricted despite the laws.

The strongest admonishon was for going in to town. We were to travel with a chaperone and group of the same race. We were to carry ourselves, trying not to become an issue with the law or community. Over the many southern conferences I attended, this was repeated.

The week was a full of sharing and understanding.

On the last night, all assembled in the largest lodge. We held skits and singing as we prepared to leave new good friends.

In the last song, the brighest lights came on. Our top leadership talked to a hushed room.
A call had come from the police and other agencies in town. We had been warned.

Young men were riled up and armed. They were threatening to cross the lake and cause havoc to us. The plan was for the Black boys and their adviser to go to one cabin. The white advisers and white boys would move through the property looking for disturbers. They were given flairs,

We girls were separated by race but stayed in place with women advisers. We were asked to be as quiet as possible and use light sparingly.

Once we were all quiet, you could hear the shouting echo across the lake. We could see flares moving back and forth.

By early morning, we left for our trains in separate cars. What had put us in such danger? Along the roadways were huge billboards with our camp activities hastily blown up. Some one had left film to be developed!

My sense of doom did not lessen until the train pulled away with me in the Jim Crow car. I had noticed the additional plan. A group of Black women teachers were arriving for their conference. As they stepped off the train, city Black women, hugged each, whispering, “Come with me. I will explain later.” As you looked at that scene, you would not know these women had never seen each other. But had been mobilized overnight for safety of all.

In DC you changed trains after showering off the soot in the segregated car. It wasn’t fear-free but it was a fear I knew. I never forget the fear of an unruly, racially angered crowd.

I have given up the idea of writing a novel. Life events are more potent than fiction. The lessons I learned at 20 included how to organize for safety and how to love and protect strangers.

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It never leaves, the sweat of fear.
I was lying on my bfack in the old truck, around me are my cousins and brothers. It is something we did at the country. We would count shooting stars while the house was closed and before we set off for Detroit forty miles, door to door.

But that night, my aunt and uncle had shooed us out early. They were solemn, more than usual. It seemed exceptionally quiet and we whispered the star count, making corrections if someone cheated. I always held my breath as a trail streaked the night sky.

Only the little radio in the kitchen cranked out scratchy sounds. While i could not understand it, there was a feeling. Doom. Mystery. Sadness. Fear.

I was familiar with this strageness. It starts with excluding the children, especially me. And was followed by hushed words.

What I learned later was there were reasons to worry. It was the event starting World War Ii. As a child, you learn the moods of adults around you. There are the worst times when you are virtually invisible. Like when someone is very sick or dies. You get your inside tied up inside, you stop breathing and you pull your shadow up into a small ball, hoping no one sees you.

The next time I remember there was a war brewing, raging, was Sunday, December 7, 1941. Living, attending high school in NYC, I had my own uncertainties. I stuggled to feel secure. Orphans and others who have shifting home lives, will understand the feelings.

We were spending a usual quite Sunday. After a large breakfast, my aunt rested while my uncle listened to opera on the radio. It was the kind they don’t sell any more. A floor model with both RCA radio and record player. The music had a soothing tone. My desk, and proof of study was the secretary with a drop down desk. You did have to remember to pull out the top drawer. Otherwise there would be no support to write on. Between me and the radio was the always present stack of NY Times papers and my uncle sitting, smoking his pipe.

Into such a tranquil scene, what could be so important as “we interupt this proggram…” Now we are so used
Lto Breaking News that we hardly notice. But then, to hear that America was being attacked by air in a place called …Hawaii. What could this mean for me, barely 15? I was distributing the Times at school. I decided immediately, i would save the issues to tell the story.

In time, the war either had to end or I would need a warehouse for storage. Instead we saved silver foil, used ration coupons for goods from sugar to shoes, and wrote letters until the boys came back men.

It is a time of fear again. So many fears of increasing unrest. The sweat of fear reminds me of times to become small.

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Now, at 90, my place in family history
I am the oldest living man or woman in my family. It has been the women living, triumphantly, out living their men and some children. The loss of children is unbearable. Now that I have lost my son, I grieve in silence as my aunt must have. And for those children unborn.

The women on my mother’s side were those who have aged the best. Grancy holds the prize. At 100 plus she survived slavery, segregation, birthing thirteen known children and everything in between. She was born Adeline in NC about 1833. Her mother may have been Portia and her father a Crump. They were slaves of the Crump family. When Adeline was 5, they were transported to a plantation in Holly Springs, MS. 
Her first child, Josephine, was fathered by a Crump when Adeline was 13. A total of 8 children were born before Grancy was loaned to Ephraim Talbot. He and his brother, Francis, had moved to Holly Springs from MA in 1840 to open pharmacies. Ephraim’s wife died leaving him with two young boys.
Grancy was rented, probably to live in and care for the sons. Her daughter Josephine had ben living with the William Strickland family since age 9. He was a prominent lawyer, no relation to my gradfather. There she was the nurse maid to their infant daughter, Perle.
Four children were fathered, born while Grancy lived with the Talbots: Victor (1860),Annie (1862), Adeline and William.
These four youngest children were educated at Rust College paid for by their father? Ephraim. Grancy had big responsibilities as Ephraim also ran a pharmmacy in Memphis, TN. He spent a great deal of time there running Talbot and Yates pharmacy and his slave holdings. Grancy managed the the household and his slaves in Holly Springs.
As the Civil War heated up and Memphis businesses were in danger, Ephraim returned to MS and two of Grancy’s children were born as the war ended.
My grandmother, Annie Talbot, became a school teacher at 18. She married my grandfather when they both graduated from Rust College. Annie took her mother everywhere she lived. In Little Rock, AR, El Paso and Houston, TX, Wilberforce, OH where she taught in colleges, and finally Detroit, MI.
Annie and William Strickland married when they both graduated from Rusr College. While my grandfather studied medicine at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, the family lived in Little Rock, AR where my grandmother taught in high schools and colleges. My mother Velma and Aunt Unita taught school also.

I ssay Grancy lived longer than any other family member because records were not kept at the time to clearly state births. The names of Crump slaves were recorded on arrival in MS. Grancy herself said she remembered 100 years and the presidents who served in her lifetime. 

Unita lived to be 101 as active then as ever. She worked for the government in Detroit. She followed the tradition of caring for her mother until her death. My great aunt, Adeline (Aunt Addie) Morris lived to be 92. She taught at Rust College and was a political powerhouse in KC, KS.

And now it is a puzzle to be resolved in the future. The statistics for me are good. I never was a smoker. I did not drink alcohol until my late forties and I have an active, quirky mind. So, will it be the tortoise or the hare?

Sent from my iPad

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I used to answer telephone calls directed for my husband. The caller would settle for my opinion should he be away. Sometimes a parent of a prospective student called. I could reassure and offer to schedule my home and tour, or explain why hot water was in the toilet in the dorms. If you have followed this blog, you may have read about some creative ideas I come up with.

Late one night, the caller identified herself as a White House scheduler for President Nixon. I was friends with her parents and other family members. But this was a business call for my husband. Not finding him, she asked for my opinion.

Nixon was looking for an African-American (assumed to be male) who had two Ph.ds. One degree in Biophysics and the other in  Psychology.  My initial reaction was what? Yes, in the ’70s more advanced degrees were being earned by African-Americans, both male and female. But it would narrow the field. It seemed a curious combination, but what did I know?

After sharing my confusion, I assured her it would be better to contact John in his office. i also said, in my opinion, this would be a difficulr search. 

I did understand the value Nixon hoped to get. He wanted to understand how his pronouncements would be processed. His headlines on the front pages of newspapers (google ‘newspapers’), in the strongest way, told readers  what he would do.  Then, near the obituaries, a much smaller article would describe how Nixon would take the opposite position.

This allowed President Nixon to do either of these things. If your were for the first action, you were satisfied. Also the opposite action. This left it so  one or neither action could be taken wiithout too much dissent.

This was my opinion and now it helps me understand current politicians and their inconsistent promises. One way to keep the masses happy. 

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Yearbook – Double Take

Others attending this school 1944 were Henry Kissiinger, Harry Belafonte, Betty Peters, Chester Redhead

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Waiting in my inbox late Thanksgiving, Ancestry had found my George Washington H.S. senior  photo!  I am certain I never owned any paraphanlia like class ring or yearbook. You will find me Number one (but it is page 84). Look down a few rows and you will see a “look-alike. She was a class ahead of me but we were often mistaken for each other. Our graduation portraits looked more like the other.

Earlier in the evening, I had been asked several times if I have finished the book. Friends do not want to read bits and pieces on this blog as I am living ‘the Book’ . It could be called Many Lives of… Was this little green leaf, ancestry’s way of telling you they have found something,  trying to tell me to get on with my ‘work’?

George Washington was my second high school. I went to NYC for the summer and the adults forgot about school or sending me back. The last day of enrollment I was registered even though I had no papers and it was not in my district. The little lies are using a wrong address and being clueless about the system. Rejecting anything which might have bee learned in Chicago, my class load started out: English,Latin,Algebra and Clothing.  I could have taken cooking. My home room was made up of students who were between grade level. The hope was that we would catch up. Standing room only.

At that time, you were given a brochure telling how wonderful it was. Graduates were prepared to enter West Point and super fine colleges. It said its mission was for graduates to succeed.my uncle was not impressed with Clothing. His niece would go to college and,as he impressed on a cowering principal, they better get me there. They redid my classes but left me Latin 2. I entered the room late and had to share a seat with above mentioned girl. The class spoke only in tongues to my ear and the book was gibberish. Before I could work with a willing tutor, I was back at the beginning. Very difficult to relearn a language.

I did well, made friends, joined some clubs and delivered the NY Times. To get to school from the foot of Sugar Hill required over 100 steps through the park, straight up, walk straight up to Amsterdam, take the old IRT. All the while carrying huge books. Book bags were unknown.

You Arista under my name. That is the National Honor Society. My Ecomics and Civic teacher told me to apply my junior year. The committee was already meeting so it was a hurried job to get recommendations from my teachers and advisors. We were crushed when I was denied. There were no blacks being considered and the school’s record was not good. We decided to plan better and apply again. That meant more activities and keeping high grades. My recommendations were stronger.

When decisions were made, it was secret. You were just asked to attend. No decision was made on me until the last minute. I barely had time to get home and put on something presentable and back. But I made it. It may have been a first.

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November 11, 1951
It had already been a snowy winter in Chicago. Not really good for students who lived in Hyde Park. That section of the city is still a beautiful place to live. It is close to the lake. It has great homes and large apartments. People walk every where. 
There were interesting stores, good restaurants and open spaces. Famous universities and museums made this an ideal neighborhood for singles and families. My relatives had owned a typical two family semi-attached building on Maryland Avenue since the 1920s. The block had become an oasis for Black families who were locating from Holly Springs, Ms. 
Little had changed since then in the racial make-up until the Hyde Park-Kenwood agreement* in 1948. The Supreme Court had overturned Restrictive Covenants on real estate as unconstitutional. Titles to property that had these clauses had the effect of keeping designated groups from buying and/or renting in perpetuity. Thus, making a ‘gated’ community of whole sections of the city. High standards of public services were guaranteed. 
And so, when I returned to Chicago after college and a year at the School of Religion, Howard University, I roomed next to my cousins. The advantages outweighed the negative: transportation. My job as a caseworker took me to the far westside. One thing the city fathers forgot was a plan to move diagonally from point A to point B. The office and my West Maxwell Street caseload were a challenge. Also, my bedroom was so small I could not stand if the ironing board was up.
The housing frustration was shared by several co-workers and we were able to share a large apartment on Hyde Park Blvd. New property owners were beginning to change the complexion of the area. I did not consider our unique arrangement until after we moved in. We were just happy to have space. Our popularity exploded. We became beatniks before we new the term. I quit my job and enrolled in the famous George Williams College just a few streets away. 
Not too long after that, I got a call from a casual college friend. She informed that I would get a call from a lawyer. He did call to inform that I was required to show the apartment whenever asked. He said investors were buying the large building and because I was the only minority, I would have to comply. I was angry and scared. Luckily my favorite lawyer was my cousin. He actually worked in the building with Atty. Journay White! A few steps up and Mr. White was told to leave his best cousin alone. That is how I was part of block busting, a common tactic to control the racial makeup of people living in an area.**
And then, the college was asked to recommend someone to work at a settlement on the Westside. I was lucky to have my maroon storm coat and my green fleece lined ankle boots, a typical caseworker outfit. The weather did not cooperate. Some days I never got where I was going. 
It seemed logical to buy a car even though I could not drive. One student worked at Hull House. He drove me to work and later we came back to Hyde Park. It was a 1937 Ford barely driven by the little old lady owner. It also did not like the piles of snow now covering streets and sidewalks. 
On November 11, 1951 the University of Wisconsin played Penn State. My roommate and I took the train to Madison. She had been invited by a friend of mine and I tagged along. The train was delayed while the engineer got out to clear the tracks. I needed my uniform because there was no heat. When we finally arrived, the weather was 70 degrees and it had no snow!
That is how I met my future husband. I never really understood the game of football.
* Supreme Court ruling on Restrictive Covenants, May 3, 1948

Urban Renewal Timeline

**Block busting is a practice to build fear that minorities are moving into an area. This is to get quick sales of other houses.

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