September 28, 2013 § Leave a comment
Often in this blog, I focus on relationships between African American women and the white families they worked for in the middle of the last century. But these women had full lives outside of their jobs. Usually I don’t have access to this part of their story. I am pleased to post a “Tribute To ‘Miss’ Maizie Frazier Rumph Glover” written by her daughter-in-law, Martha Rumph. Mrs. Glover worked for several different white families in and around Bamberg, SC. The post “Ironing” is a description of her special technique for ironing clothes with a fire heated iron. There is also a post of another tribute published on her 98th birthday.
by Martha Rumph
The seasons of this year so far have been the most interesting of my life. I had the opportunity to care for my 99 year old mother in law, “Miss” Maizie Frazier Rumph Glover, of 53 years for 16 hours a day for 3 months and the experience is one that will be with me going forward. She was married to the son of a slave at a young age and had 2 sons, the youngest is my husband. She married a second time and that husband was the father that my husband knew and loved. She saw so much of this world from the small town of Bamberg, S.C and developed a caring and loving attitude about life and her fellow humans. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 28, 2013 § 1 Comment
According to The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South, “Cleaning clothes over a washtub, bleaching, starching, and pressing them with heavy irons was grueling work that could take all day.” Several narratives I’ve collected describe the backbreaking but precise methodology of ironing. Thomas Rumph’s mother Maizie Glover worked for several white families in Bamberg, SC in the mid-century, and Thomas vividly remembers his mother’s specific technique for ironing.
“Mom shared a double duty, the white families that she actually [and] indirectly worked for as what we called a housekeeper or maid. She also washed clothes for other whites. She ironed clothes (what we called a smoothing iron) hand held. After you took a towel to pick the iron up with, she would rub the iron a piece of cedar limbs to put a coating on the iron, then rub it on a piece of old clothing before ironing the clothing; this method worked until the iron cool off then you would have to put it on the fire near some hot ashes to reheat the iron. This was a repeated process until all the ironing was done.
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 .
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 »
January 30, 2012 § 3 Comments
Me and It
by Dorothy Day Ciarlo
At some point in life, one has to talk about certain troubling things whether anyone wants to listen or not. For me, It began in childhood and has been a burden of pain and shame. I’m thinking I’d better talk about It now, and a good place to begin is with Idabelle. But first, let me tell a few things about my childhood.
Though time supposedly weakens memory, the Dickensian names of my childhood are forever there, waiting for a tug on the memory chain to come tumbling out. My schoolmates’ names all denoted something—Mary Ellen Finger, Nancy Jean Sharp, Janet Love-it, Jane Ann Cook, Uldene LongStretch, Basil Butler, to list but a handful. So, too, the places: Boil Park, where we went for picnics: Right-Sell, my elementary school, and Win-Field Methodist where my sister Peggy and I went to church every Sunday morning and evening. And the streets—Chest-er Street, Gain Street, Arch Street, Ring-o, stream out of my memory closet. But the Thing that clouded my childhood and in fact my whole life, didn’t have a name. In my own mind, I began to call it It. « Read the rest of this entry »
September 12, 2011 § 1 Comment
Help for the Junior League
Reviewers and bloggers have talked little about the stereotypes of white people created by the recent movie, The Help. The portrayal of the white women of the Junior League made me wince as much as the portrayals of some of the African American women, so I thought I would provide some information about the real Junior League. The Junior League is an international organization of women committed to promoting volunteerism and to improving the community through effective action and leadership of trained volunteers. In my hometown of Greenville, SC, a local group of women, which included my great aunt, started a Junior Charities in 1929. My mother was president of the organization in the fifties, when it became the Junior League of Greenville. My older sister was president from 1983 to 1984.
In the 1970s, it was my time to join. I declined to be considered for membership because I felt it was an elitist organization mostly based on someone’s idea of who “came from a good family” and who had social status. (Now, I realize, those with social connections are usually the most effective fundraisers.) And there were no black members then. According to the Greenville, SC, 2011 manual, after a period of organizational soul searching beginning in the 1980s , the first black woman was invited to join the Greenville Junior League in 1988. A multi-League diversity task force initiative and a joint service partnership with the local chapter of Delta Sigma Theta, a national black women’s sorority, was conducted in 1993. The national Association of Junior League International elected its first black president in 1998. « Read the rest of this entry »
August 11, 2011 § Leave a comment
From a friend: “Your story (about Luvenia Duckett) reminded me so much of my grandmother’s maid. Her birth name was Lena Barton but she changed it to Nadema Nathara when she converted to Islam. She never attended services as far as I know but she did avoid pork. She lived with my grandparents starting when she was 13 or so. Her mother and her brother moved from the south with her in the first decade of the 20th century. She could read and write but very little. When she did write more than a sentence, it was always in Iambic pentameter. This fascinated my mother. She was an excellent cook and house keeper. She would come up to the summer cottage with the family. They had a separate house for her that had electricity but no plumbing. When they travelled, my grandfather would only stop at restaurants that would serve her as well.
When my grandparents sold their house they bought her a small house of her own. The she would come and help my grandmother and my mother a few times a week. She lived a long time, outliving my grandmother and my mother. After my mother died, Nadema would come to the cottage every summer for her “vacation” and help us. The help consisted of occasional sweeping and doing the dishes, and bossing us around. She would never come and eat at the table with us in the house, in spite of many pleas. However, we (Don, Ann, Mary, an au pair, and Nademma) all went on a day trip to Ottawa and she had a great time. Travelling with the elderly and kids works out because they tire at the same time. Eventually she sold her house and moved to an apartment and was taken care of by her brother’s wife. She died a very old lady.”
August 10, 2011 § Leave a comment
This will sound familiar to many of us. From John Seigenthaler, Birmingham, Alabama resident and Assistant to Robert F. Kennedy in FREEDOM RIDERS http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/americanexperience/freedomriders/:
“I grew up in the South—a child of good and decent parents. We had women who worked in our household, sometimes as surrogate mothers. They were invisible women to me. I can’t believe I couldn’t see them. I don’t know where my head or heart was. I don’t know where my parents’ head and heart were, or my teachers’. We were blind to the reality of racism and afraid, I guess, of change.” The reference to “invisible women” reminds me of the compelling work of artist Rodney Grainger (mentioned in previous posts–see photographs) who creates images of domestic workers fading away or faceless behind their white charges.
August 3, 2011 § Leave a comment
Born in Birmingham, Alabama in 1948 and raised by an African American nanny in racially segregated Birmingham of the 1950’s and 60’s, my wonder for the great paradoxes of that relationship has never ceased. Ultimately visual images from this experience would ignite an artistic attempt to understand deeper human connections lying below those divisions within race, class and gender.
For this narrative series Black in White, I have chosen to draw in charcoal rather than painting with color because drawing is so closely aligned to writing. Black and white imagery also serves as a primary language of dreams and the unconscious and I believe is best suited for a graphic awakening the imagination.
Grainger’s images are haunting and remind me that these early connections to a caretaker are mostly unresolved for many white people raised by African American women. It must have been deeply troubling as a child to hear of the race riots in Birmingham during the 1960s. Did he understand what was happening at the time?
Visit http://www.beaconhillartiststudios.com/BeaconHill/Works_on_Paper/Pages/Black_in_White.html#grid for more images of his work.