I didn’t expect when I started working on “Sleeper Ave.” that the project would dredge up so many of my long-forgotten memories. Apparently these stories having the same effect on readers, as well. The story I posted are on Wednesday, about my first encounter with the evils and the idiocy of segregation, drew a host of comments.
Like many of the privileged, we had a maid, who was like part of the family, but I never associated that with race–more with class (still a problem in both categories, which so readily mix). I remember being shocked when I did travel with the family into the Deep South and saw for the first time the segregated bathrooms and even water fountains, not to mention swimming pools. Although I do remember that in Waco blacks were supposed to move to the back of the bus, so I always insisted on going there myself once I was conscious of that form of discrimination.
And yes, I was called a “nigger-lover” more than once when my sympathies were known. To me, that slur was a badge of honor.
Orvel wrote this when I mentioned what I was working on in my blog, before I posted the story:
Gotta feeling this story is gonna be a bit uncomfortable to read and remember.
I’m about your age, lived in Waco, and remember ‘the help’ and how we didn’t interact with them outside of their work.
Looking back it seems tragic how we acted and didn’t do the right thing to speak out against injustices.
I’m putting on my seat belt for the upcoming stories, as it’s gonna be a bumpy ride.
Wow! Makes a profound statement.
Adonna had this to say:
I’m ashamed to say that I do not remember seeing any black people until I was a teen. But then I have to think back to the fact that there was a sign outside our doctor’s office, at the back door, saying “Coloreds Only” and my grandmother had a very nice black yard man called “Ole Tom”. My grandmother used to say “coloreds are like children and you must treat them nice.” I had to remember that she was born in 1886 to a father who fought in the Civil War (Union) and a mother who lost a first husband to that war (Reb). My grandmother (paternal) was the most bigoted woman I ever knew. I’m glad things changed for the better.
I was deeply moved by your clothes-shopping experience. It provided a new angle on the reach and ramifications of Jim Crow. On one level what came home to me was obscenity and absurdity of these restrictions on people’s basic human rights. More broadly, your experience reminded me of the characteristics of the human experience that frighten me most and as captured by the saleslady in your remembrance: the epidemic of ignorance combined with certainty.
Mary had this recollection:
I was 30-something arriving in DC in 1997 and found out the Pentagon has too many water fountains per employee. Because when it was built, “people of color” had a different station. I was floored. Born in 1968, I didn’t think we had racism. Or do we still?
I just finished the draft of another story on the same subject, this one a bit harder-edged than the last one. I’m not sure yet when I’ll post it.
The place you grow up defines what you think of as normal. It’s only later, as your grow and evolve, that you begin to question what you’ve always taken for granted. I suspect that having parents and grandparents who moved from other places made me more aware at an earlier age than some of my friends of the profound unfairness of racial segregation.
Waco was, of course, no different than many, many other places in mid-century America. In “Sleeper Ave.” I’m trying to give a true picture of what that world was like, with all its many joys and pleasures, as well as its blemishes.
My hope is that you will stay with me as I tell the story as I experienced it.