June 6, 2011 § 6 Comments
JUST LIKE FAMILY is a blog about African American women who raised white children in mid- to late-century—giving voice to a history and experience not often acknowledged in this country. This cultural fusion of black and white and the intimacy it suggests has undeniably shaped the lives of many in this country in complex ways that I think need to be explored.
But how do we bare witness to such complexity from different points of view? With reader input and my own postings, we will form a purpose toward inclusiveness and healing that I hope will bear out in our exploration.
May 17, 2013 § Leave a Comment
During Black History Month of this year, the Star-Ledger of New Jersey featured interviews with African Americans whose mothers took care of white children as well as one white adult who had been raised by an African American woman.
The first interview in Maid in New Jersey echoes the well-worn theme of how much the African American caretaker loved the white children they raised—a phenomenon that dominates the discussions in Just Like Family. “When Tyrone Doyle’s mother died, he discovered a box of children’s mementoes she’d saved: costumes from a play, birthday cards, old snapshots. But they were not from his childhood. Rather, they were from the four children his mother ‘watched’ in her many years as a housekeeper to the Mayer family of Colonia [New Jersey].” Tyrone insists that “She was just like a family member to the white family.”
Mitch Mayer, one of the white children, says, “Oh my God, did Mae have a negative feeling about my family and we didn’t know it? I wondered what was her take on it. Was it just a job for her? Or was it more than a job, with love for us.” Doyle reassured Mayer that Mae’s affection was genuine. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In 1912, an article entitled More Slavery in the South was published by The Independent. (The online source, Documenting the American South, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, does not give the location of The Independent, but I assume they refer to the New York newspaper that was published from 1848 to 1921. The newspaper covered social topics, primarily opposition to slavery and religious subjects.) The article was written by a reporter from a transcription of an interview with an anonymous African-American domestic worker living in Georgia. The interview documents the other side of the loving and loyal mammy myth. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Lillian Smith (1897 – 1966) was a remarkable Southern white author, educator and activist who spoke out all her life against injustices, in particular the impact of segregation on blacks and whites in the 20th century South. In her seminal work, Killers of the Dream, she draws on memories of her own childhood to describe the psychological and moral costs of the powerful, contradictory rules about sin, sex and segregation—what she calls intricate systems of taboos that still undergird US society. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 15, 2013 § Leave a Comment
In the 20th century, it was common for white families in all parts of the United State to hire African American women as maids. Usually this job included taking care of children, sometimes actually raising them from infancy.
It is obvious that the presense of African American caretakers in the homes of whites would sociologically and psychologically transmit cultural and behavioral information between the caretaker and child. However, this impact may be deeper and more persistent than we have previously thought. The scientific theory of epigenisis hypothesizes that behaviors, actions and thoughts can trigger changes in the functioning of a gene without affecting the inherited qualities of the DNA genome. « Read the rest of this entry »
May 13, 2013 § 1 Comment
Simms and Llewellyn Interview
<a href="“>http://player.vimeo.com/video/57165072″>” title=”Simms and Llewellyn Interview”>
In 1994, I conducted an interview with my first cousin, Simms Oliphant, about Llewellyn Rowe Hopkins—an African American woman who worked for our grandmother for 50 years. The interview was done as part of my early research for the documentary film, Shared History. Shared History is a PBS film about the connection of the descendants of the enslaved families at Woodlands Plantation and my family, who were the slave owners. « Read the rest of this entry »
December 11, 2012 § 1 Comment
Recently, I asked my second cousin, Anne Simms Pincus, to write about the African American women who raised her and her sister, Betty in the fifties. There were three: Miriam Gibson, Louise Weeks, and Dorothy Huggins. I was impressed that my cousin knew their last names. Many whites never knew the last names of the women who raised them. Here is my cousin’s rememberance of these three women and the unspoken acceptance of segregation in their community.
My sister and I were born in South Carolina into a socially prominent family with very little money. My father was away as a pilot in the Army Air Corps when we were born (my sister in 1942 and I in late 1943). My mother had moved with him to various army postings in St Louis and Memphis where he was a flight instructor. She moved to his small home town with his parents where my sister was born. As the war continued she started working as a bookkeeper and eventually built a nice small house. Since she worked long hours she employed a lovely African American Miriam Gibson to take care of us. Miriam had a younger sister Carrie Lee who would come to our house to play with us. They were both very sweet and we loved them. My mother was very generous and thoughtful and was never rude or condescending to them. Miriam got married and moved to Baltimore and my mother then hired Louise Weeks who was like a second mother. She was a marvelous cook and made the best banana cream pie and fried chicken ever. She also cleaned and did our laundry. Louise did not have a car so my mother would pick her up from her home and drive her home at night. Many white families in our town expected the “help” to walk to work — even in the rain. My father never came back from the war. He met someone else and abandoned my mother and us. My mother had to totally support us, and on her small salary was able to take care of Louise and her family as well. My mother shared our food and our outgrown clothes with Louise’s family. Louise worked for my mother for more than 20 years, and after my sister and I left for college out of state, we always visited her at her home when we returned for vacations. She was loved by all of us, and I know she loved us. My sister and I went to public school which was segregated. I graduated from high school in 1962. During my school years I was totally unaware that the Brown vs. the Board of Education law suit was — filed in our County. It was never discussed among our family, and I never heard any of my mother’s friends discuss the suit. It was as if it never happened. Eventually the white public school closed in our town and all the white children went to a new private school. After our dear Louise died, her niece Dorothy Huggins came to work for my mother several days a week–and eventually five days. Dorothy was educated an had worked as a certified nurses aide. She took excellent care of our mother (for about 20 years) until our mother died…Since my sister and I lived in other states, Dorothy became our African American sister. We love her trusted her completely, she cooked, cleaned and drove our mother to various doctor appointments — handled her expenses, car maintenance, etc. After our mother died several years ago, my sister and I gave Dorothy her car and many pieces of nice furniture. We still talk to Dorothy by telephone at least several times a month, and consider her “just like family”. (as I was writing this, I got a call from Dorothy) I’ve also seen Carrie Lee on several visits “home”. We were both happy to reminisce about our playing as children.
March 23, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Nancy Smith in the post “Nancy and Rosie” has sent me additional information about Rosie White, the African American woman who raised her. Shown below is Rosie’s funeral program and a letter from Nancy to Rosie that was read at Rosie’s funeral. These materials give more insight on Rosie’s life and Nancy’s appreciation of her.