Lillian Smith—Mid-century (20th) Views Of Segregation from a Southern Rebel

May 15, 2013 § 1 Comment

Lillian SmithLillian 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 »

Llewellyn

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 HistoryShared 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.

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Maids in Greenville, SC

February 11, 2012 § 4 Comments

I was surprized to find online a group of unpublished photographs by Margaret Bourke-White of African American residents in Greenville, SC, which is my hometown. 

From the internet, “In 1956 LIFE magazine dispatched reporters and photographers to the American South to explore how the emotionally and politically charged issue of segregation manifested itself at a time when the Civil Rights movement was barely in its infancy. Here, LIFE presents rare and previously unpublished pictures by the legendary Margaret Bourke-White, who shot in Greenville, South Carolina, for one segment of a monumental five-part series, “The Background of Segregation” — a segment focusing on Greenville citizens from different walks of life who wholeheartedly supported segregation.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

An African-American maid prepares a white family’s supper in Greenville, SC, 1956.

“In photographs that, at times, convey an unsettling intimacy, Bourke-White’s work opens a window on an era that, for better and for worse, helped define 20th century America. There is courage to be found in these images, and dignity, and weakness, and a cruelty that — in the guise of a patronizing benevolence — shaped the destinies of black and white America for decades to come, and echoes in our national conversation even today.”

One of the things that strikes me about the photograph is that the white family’s kitchen is quite modest.  I remember just about everyone of any economic class in Greenville had a maid.  The salaries of the black housekeepers were sinfully low .

The Health Card

February 11, 2012 § Leave a comment

In my first post to “Just Like Family,” I related a story in which my mother told me that maids had to have a health certificate to work in a white person’s home.  I scoffed at this and asked her if any of the people who worked for her had shown her a health card.   She didn’t reply. 

However,  I have some new information that suggests black women may have had to get a health card to work in a white home.  In  the 1940s, Alice Childress, an African American Southern playwright,  wrote a scene in the play, “Like One of the Family,” where the white employer demands that the protagonist Mildred, the maid, supply her with a “health card.”   Mildred retorts by insisting her employer and her family also get health certificates to prove they did not have strange white diseases, since she was working closely with them–cooking, cleaning, bathing children, doing laundry–all would put her in close contact with them. « Read the rest of this entry »

Saying Thank You

February 6, 2012 § 2 Comments

Jane Dalrymple-Hollo and Dezzie McIntosh grew up in rural north Mississippi, but in different generations.  Jane was from a well-to-do white family and Dezzie was a black domestic servant in Jane’s household throughout most of her childhood.  Their relationship deepened after Jane spent a long evening in Dezzie’s living room in December, 1999, and recorded an informal oral history in which she asked Dezzie to describe her childhood, her relationship with Blues music and  her family life. « Read the rest of this entry »

Grady’s Gift

January 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

On December 1, 1999, Howell Raines, the Executive Editor of The New York Times from 2001 until he left in 2003 and contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio, published a remarkable tribute to the African American woman who raised him.  It appeared in the New York Times Magazine. I present it in its entirety.

 

“…she taught me the most valuable lesson a writer can learn, which is to try to see — honestly and down to its very center — the world in which we live.”

GRADY SHOWED UP ONE DAY at our house at 1409 Fifth Avenue West in Birmingham, and by and by she changed the way I saw the world. I was 7 when she came to iron and clean and cook for $18 a week, and she stayed for seven years. During that time everyone in our family came to accept what my father called “those great long talks” that occupied Grady and me through many a sleepy Alabama afternoon. What happened between us can be expressed in many ways, but its essence was captured by Graham Greene when he wrote that in every childhood there is a moment when a door opens and lets the future in. So this is a story about one person who opened a door and another who walked through it. « Read the rest of this entry »

Tribute to Bell

December 14, 2011 § Leave a comment

Hi, Felicia. I want to tell you about our black maid/caretaker/cook/second mother to me.  Here are the facts. Ada Bell Young came to work for my family when I was two years old, in 1950. She lived with us. She was not married but had several brothers and sisters, most of whom lived in Laurens, SC. Bell owned the house they all lived in and had several pieces of furniture there from my Daddy, who owned a furniture store. The floors were covered in carpet sample squares, all different colors, and the walls were covered in wallpaper sample squares. I loved this house and thought of it as the “patchwork” house. Bell went to Laurens one weekend a month and otherwise lived with us. Bell did all of the cooking and cleaning for us as well as some yard work, which she liked. She grew peanuts in our back yard and beautiful flowers. Bell baby-sat me, took me on the city bus to town…to Woolworth’s…bathed me, fed me, etc., etc., etc. I have letters she wrote me when I was away at summer camp and when I was in college. Bell finished the third grade and then had to work in the fields and pick cotton, but she could read and write…just not well. I loved her dearly. My parents also loved her and heavily depended on her. They, however, grew up in another generation, in the Deep South, and could never get over their life-long prejudices, specifically against “people of color”. Therefore, Bell’s bedroom and bathroom were in the basement. When I was older I sometimes argued with them about Bell having to sleep in the basement, but only succeeded in making them defensive and angry. I miss Bell every day of my life and wish I could tell her how she meant to me. I look forward to reading your blog.
Linda Quinn Furman

Fiesty Maid

November 28, 2011 § 1 Comment

I have the honor of introducing you to Tomaca Govan, a new friend and a possible cousin of mine.  She is the Founder and Editor of the blog, Women Move the Soul.  We met through LinkedIn.  She is a colleague and cousin of a friend who had been very helpful to me in creating a documentary film entitled Shared History.    Tomaca tells us some of the memories her mother shared with her about spending a few months as a maid in the World War II era.  

My Mom was born in 1922.  When she came of college age, she was on the waiting list for nursing school.  While waiting, she was one of several maids working for a wealthy white woman in Maryland.  She’s told me some very interesting stories about the few months that she worked there including how all the maids had to share their rations with this woman because during the war [WW II) people were given rations for food and things like that. 

 Even though the maids were required to share their rations with the Mrs., they were not allowed to eat the “luxuries” such as butter.  My mother insisted on eating butter whenever she wanted to because they were her rations, so why shouldn’t she have some?  The other maids did not and they would fuss at my mom for her lack of proper etiquette…   :  )

 My mother was the youngest of 5.  Her mother died when she was two.  Her only sister was 7 years older and took care of my mom like she was her child.  Her father remained a single parent for the rest of his life.  My mother was his favorite and was very spoiled, sheltered and catered to.  She was the baby so everyone protected her.  That’s why she had a certain amount of feistiness when she started what was her first job as a maid.   

 But, she was there for less than a year because she was eventually called to school.  And she was really glad about that because she had no interest in being someone’s maid. 

Also, in terms of my mom working as a maid – she refused to call the woman’s daughter Miss ____, because the daughter was younger than she was.  All the other maids kept telling her to call her Miss ___ so she wouldn’t get in trouble, but she was never reprimanded for that and stuck to her guns. 

One of the maids was responsible for polishing the silver on a regular basis.  She would make a grand presentation of pulling it all out and then polishing only a few pieces and putting everything back.  The silverware was never used, so she felt it was a waste of time. 

When my mother started working as a nurse, there was a white police officer who had been shot and brought to the Black hospital because it was the closest.  They performed surgery and saved his life.  The next day, his family and people from his job wanted to move him to a white hospital, but he insisted on staying there because “these people saved my life.” 

 Blacks and whites have a very rich history [together] and is something that his not taught in schools.  I really feel fortunate to have met you and to have access to the information that you are putting on the internet.  You give us light.

Balanced review of THE HELP by VISIONS’ Executive Director

September 28, 2011 § Leave a comment

Visions, Inc. executive director Dr. Valerie Batts has written a straight forward and balanced view of The Help that I wanted to share.  The link is http://myemail.constantcontact.com/VISIONS–In-Our-Opinion–THE-HELP.html?soid=1102645492743&aid=eKJMe45QUvE#fblikeVisions provides consulting and training in diversity and inclusion.  The article was forwarded to me via Coming To The Tablehttp://www.comingtothetable.org/,  a program that is addressing the legacy of slavery in the US through stories related to slavery’s legacies under the topics of history, healing, connecting and action.  Coming to the Table members are descendants of enslaved people and slaveowners from the same plantation property before the Civil War.  The orgainzation was launched when people whose ancestors were connected through an enslaved/enslaver relationship realized they had a shared story that remained untold. Today, they and many others believe that the legacies and aftermath of slavery impact our nation in seen and unseen ways and they are committed to writing and telling a new story about our nation’s past and the promise of our collective future. 

Also see www.sharedhistory.org, my own story of descendants coming together at Woodlands Plantation in South Carolina.

THE HELP: A SATAN’S SANDWICH?

September 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

THE HELP: A “Satan Sandwich?”    

I read the book The Help last year and have seen the movie now twice.  I’ve read at least 13 film reviews (from the New York Times and the Rolling Stone to the Christian Science Monitor and the Hollywood Reporter) as well as several academic responses (see the rather strident statement from the Association of Black Women Historians at http://www.abwh.org/ ) and innumerable comments from bloggers. From a term used recently by Representative Emanuel Cleaver regarding the August debt deal, it seems that The Help has created a “satan sandwich” of its own.

Despite all of the laments about stereotypes and the question about whether whites can write about black experience (check out the 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Peterkin at http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/hius324/peterkin.html) and the creation of two new magical negro characters (see The Rumpus blog below for an illuminating description), I  decided I like “The Help.” I appreciate the struggle of the director to create a film on the subject of “help” in the 1960s.  It would be controversial from any point of view.  I’ve been looking at the issues of the impact of African American domestics on the white children they raised in the blog at www.justlikefamily.wordpress.com.  I hope to open discussion about this complex and sometimes perplexing relationship and invite the biological children of the domestics to weigh in on what it was like to have their mother raise white children. « Read the rest of this entry »

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