May 17, 2013 § 1 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 § 1 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 § 9 Comments
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 § 3 Comments
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.