I was born in 1952 into an affluent, white family in South Carolina. We considered ourselves part of the aristocracy of the state.
I attended a private, church-established school that was hastily founded to avoid integration. Much like the character, Scooter, in The Help, I was a debutante and was offered membership in the Colonial Dames and the Junior League. A pair of pastel portraits of African American women holding white babies hung over my bed. I had every advantage of a comfortable life, good education and access to many opportunities. Yet…something was wrong. There were several African American women in my life growing up. My mother, my grandmother and every ancestor since the Revolution were raised by African American women. I was surrounded by black “help” –maids, nurses and cooks. They were an unquestioned part of life. Jesse Mae, Geneva, Clara Mae, Llewellyn, Daisy, Theresa, Luvenia–I didn’t know their last names and rarely saw their children. The talk in the household and community about desegregation and inferiority was bewildering. I wondered why my parents entrusted me to the care of people they thought were inferior and why it would be so terrible to be in school with black children. My fear was that if skin color was a determinant of inferiority, what inferiorities might I harbor that would not be as obvious as skin color but would eventually be “outted.”