Maid in New Jersey
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.
In contrast, Lloyd Earle’s memories were not so positive. His mother, who was also “in service,” would tell him stories about the way she was treated that “had us hating white people for years….” Earle’s mother found it degrading to clean homes of white women half her age and told her daughters “she would rather have them dead (than) do what she did for a living.”
University of Rutgers University history professor Clement Price recounts that his mother became a housekeeper after she was unable to find work as a teacher when she moved to Washington, D.C. “My mother was a fully fleshed out woman who did not comport herself as a victim, or as someone not completely self-sufficient” he said.
These interviews provide four different points of view and glimpses of diverse experiences that remind us of the complexity of relationships between African American maids and the white children they raised. These complexities from the past remain vivid into the present for these individual adults.