Monday, December 21, 2009
Santa Claus. I mean the white beard, red suit, big belly and all. I can remember putting out milk and cookies for Santa and in the morning it would be gone. So, how did I get to the point where Santa was no more?
Monday, December 14, 2009
I was to be a flower girl in my mother’s first cousin, Pauline’s wedding. I was about three years old. My mother had made my dress and I was all excited but a few days before the wedding I caught the measles or maybe it was the mumps. That was back in the day when those diseases were common. Needless to say I could not be in the wedding. I remember crying and crying, I was so disappointed.
Then when I was about eight, I fell and broke my arm roller skating. We were living on 24th Avenue. I was rushed to Children’s Hospital. And when I say break, I mean I broke my arm. I stayed in the hospital three days.
Oh, yes, mentioning about my childhood illness reminds me of the time we went to get immunizations, how my parents tricked us and how my brother and I almost got a spanking for running away. Okay, I need to flush that story out. Back to the cough medicine and bed.
Monday, December 7, 2009
In writing my memoirs about a pivotal time in my childhood that culminates in the year 1963, I made a list of memories that would bring this piece together. These stories will be the basis for a book.
Little Red and Earthquake
Trick or Treat
Shirley Temple Curls*
Lisa the Creole girl*
The motorcycle girls.- Wendy*
Amos n’ Andy*
Celia, Wendy, Carmela, Jimmy Sue
Debra the bully
Jennifer – best friend- Louisiana Creole- Gumbo
Carmela and Santa Claus
Steven Fong and the Grocery Store- father’s suicide
Roger Chevron and the party
Getting a whipping at my birthday party
Tyrone getting killed on a scooter on 23rd Avenue*
Manzanita and the Maypole
Playing the radio and the older kids dancing to it
Playing music of the 50s and 60s- This is Dedicated to the One I Love, I Danced to a Quarter of Three, School is Out.
The Ballet- Taking dance lessons with the black bourgeois kids at Barbara Braxton’s studio in West Oakland*
Black dolls/white dolls
The transition from 24th Ave. to Brookdale Ave.
The girl who’s mother ran away with her boyfriend (Kathy?)
Walking to Jennifer’s house
My little red-haired friend at Garfield School*
Walking by Myself to Garfield School- You're a big girl now
Mrs.Feefee taking care of us and the whipping over a hot dog and Birely's orange soda.
Walking to Monkey Wards
Modeling/charm class at Montgomery Wards
Going to Arkansas
Cabiness, Mrs. Jackson and Mr. Jackson-Hamilton Junior High School
Mrs. Eating Tortillas’ at Celia’s house
Going to school after Mom left for work- Flo going to school by herself
The transition from 24th Avenue to Brookdale Avenue
Wednesday, December 2, 2009
The ones who do not yield at a four-way stop sign. You know the ones who take off behind the car in front of them without regard to if it is their turn.
People who chew and pop gum in public. You can do that all you want in your house or in private. Doing it in public is just tacky and crass.
People who stand so close to you in line at the store, the bank, even at the pharmacy. Back up off me! I don’t know you like that. And there are too many damn germs going around. You ever hear of swine flu?
People who reach across you, step in front of you, stand in front of you and don’t excuse themselves. Total disrespect and hella rude.
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I am thankful for waking up everyday
I am thankful for my health and know I should do better
I am thankful for my 83 year-old mother
I am thankful for my beautiful daughter
I am thankful for my siblings and extended family
I am thankful to have a job
I am thankful to be in my right mind.
I am blessed in so many ways, I am thankful for so many things
What are you thankful for?
Monday, November 9, 2009
The smell of magnolia permeating the air in the square of downtown Savannah
Jazz musicians warming up their instruments, the lazy drawl of the saxophone
The seduction of the trombone, deep, unhurried, .
The piano rumbling a series of notes that eventually became a tune,
distinguishable to a Duke Ellington tune.
Sweet syrupy honey intermingled with scent of fresh baked bread
causing stomachs to rumble.
Sizzling platters of Lady’s and Son’s fried chicken
wafting up to our noses,
the finest in Savannah cooking.
The Spanish moss sprouting wildly
Colorful books on display
A Confederate flag in the window
My look of horror and disbelief
Reminding me of where I am
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Ballet Among the Black Bourgeois
Originally Written in 2001
I happened to be reading a novel called Breathing Room and coincidentally I had cleaned out my closet and came upon some pink ballet slippers. In an attempt to get exercise and perhaps recapture my childhood, I had taken some ballet lessons at Grand Dance, a local ballet studio a few years prior. It brought back memories of my taking ballet lessons at a black-owned ballet studio in the ‘60s. The book is told from three points of views and one of characters is Zadi, a fifteen-year old middle-class black girl living in Washington D.C. Her story is told in writings in her journal given as a Kwanzaa gift by one of the other characters. In this journal, Zadi is writing to “Sisterfriend” and she talks about many things, boys, clothes, her father’s new wife and a major part of her life, ballet. She is an advanced ballet student who stresses over her fouette¢s, pirouettes and the wrath of Ms. Snow, the dance teacher. She is also anticipating a role as Odille-Odette in Giselle and dancing for Alvin Ailey or Dance Theatre of Harlem. Zadi takes lessons from a black-owned studio where the students are also black.
This so reminded me so of my experience over thirty years ago when I took ballet and tap dance lessons at Barbara Braxton’s dance studio in West Oakland at 24th and Market. In a ramshackle building on the corner, I trudged up the gray stairs and past graffiti-strewn walls for my ballet and tap lessons either Saturday morning or Wednesday afternoons. I took lessons off and on from about 1959 when I was about eight years old until about my sophomore year in high school about 1966, as I recall.
There in Barbara’s studio, I learned to loved dance, especially the ballet. Barbara said I had the perfect feet for ballet; I had a natural pointed toe and beautifully shaped calves. Over the years I still hear remarks about my nicely formed calves from my years of dancing. Though I didn’t pursue dance as a career (I had a dance major in my first year of college) the truth was I held back. I was shy, somewhat withdrawn, not wanting to shine and be in the limelight. Barbara would get exasperated with me because when we had individual projects, I would make something up short and sweet. She would always say I had the potential but my dance projects were too short.
The students at Barbara’s studio were the popular girls, the daughters of the black bourgeois. Children of doctors, dentists, lawyers and successful businessmen. Some belonged to Jack and Jill and their mothers were member of the Links. I knew many of them through my father’s club, East Oakland Business and Professional Men’s Group. There was Janet and her older sister, Cynthia (who later married Gene Washington, 49ers football player), daughters of Dr. Watson who had a large medical practice and cute brothers. Mickey’s (the only boy I can remember that took ballet) parents was the first black family to buy a home in Orinda in the ‘50s. His father was a physician also His father was also a medical physician. Judge Broussard’s daughters also took lessons there. Cheryl Taylor was older, but she was the daughter of a renowned officer in the military. She also ended up marrying my high school crush, John Ivey( which is a whole other story). I also remember Joslin, who lived not that far from me who was a very good dancer. I don’t remember what her parents did. Barbara’s studio is where the middle-class and upper class black girls went for their dance lessons. It was like a special club. When I would see these girls at different events or outings it was like a special fraternity.
Some of these girls could really dance, some of them were very awkward and I could dance circles around them but still I didn’t showcase my talent or skills like I could have and as a result I never advanced to toe shoes. Anyway, I remember those days of putting on my ballet slippers, I had a pair or black ones and pink ones and when I put them on, I let my young cares drift away. Barbara was a woman in her 30s and she had two children during my tenure with her. She was a formidable, attractive brown-skinned woman with her hair either hanging to her shoulders or pulled back in that ballet style bun. She also taught tap dance. I remember once my sister having on her tap shoes and my brother picking at her and she kicked him with her tap shoes. Barbara ended up moving to
Reading Zadi’s letters to Sisterfriend in her journal, I am also reminded of a book by Rita Williams Garcia called Blue Tights. In that book an inner-city girl is rejected at a white ballet studio and told her body is not made for the ballet and finally finds acceptance at a black studio learning African dance. Zadi talks about the joy she feels at Ms. Snow’s studio and I am reminded of her same security and protection dancing with someone who will nurture and encourage her.
Present day 2009:
A few weeks ago, I attended a choreographer performance for the Oakland Ballet. Several Bay Area ballet dances performed prominent choreographers’ ballet and while there was no black ballerina but a black male dancer, one of the choreographers honored was Alonzo King, whose body of work is without question, one of the finest. Even today there are stereotypes about black bodies and dance techniques. But I am so thankful that an avenue was provided for black girls like me in my early years that may have been discouraged from dance and judged by European standards. I am also thankful I have a mother who appreciated art and culture and exposed us, my sister and me to dance. It has been well over forty-five years since I took my first ballet lesson but my memories linger of the fondness I had for the art and the opportunity to be introduced to dance in a positive manner, an art form I still love.
November 2, 2009
Monday, October 26, 2009
The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock was regular fare so we were really geared up on the scary movies. The Adams Family and the Munsters television series got us ready for the haunted houses. I remember this old lady’s house over on East 26th Street that was spooky and we called it a haunted house and being scared to walk past but we marched bravely up to it on Halloween night, still scared, but not to miss out on any goodies. The lady just gave us regular candy.
I remember being a fairy, a ghost, Snow White (ha ha). We got huge amounts of candy. My mother would go through it and throw out loose unwrapped candy and then we would put our horde in big glass jars and we were supposed to be meted out a few pieces but my brother and I always ended up eating as much as we could. I remember getting a tummy ache one year. But that was then and this is now. Parents now have to worry about every little thing and have to think on every angle. Most people go to people’s houses they know, some do not trick-or-treat at all. I see lots of churches have parties; some call them Harvest day. They have games, costume contests and plenty of goodies. But I still remember Halloween back in the day when we were carefree and innocent.
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
Memory, forgetting, it's all in rememberances.
Well, I'll be back later in the week with a new blog.
Monday, October 12, 2009
I remember fall days
a light wind blowing a leaf down the street
Walking to school with a cool breeze
whipping against my legs
Buttoning my car coat up to my neck and
pulling the hood over my head
Autumn leaves dancing in synchronization
of burnt amber and new gold
I remember fresh boxes of crayons
The smell of new pencils
and learning times tables and spelling words
Drawing diagrams of verbs and nouns on blackboards
Games of kick ball and tetherball wrapping around a pole
I remember ashy legs that became shiny with Vaseline
Pigtails with ribbons and barrettes that hit me in the face
when the wind kissed my weathered cheeks
I remember the first rain that signified
summer was over
Halloween masks and trick or treat
Big bags of candy and delights
Darkness descending earlier and earlier making
the days shorter
Taking a bath and running to the portable heater
Sneaking to watch Amos n’ Andy before bedtime
I remember fall…..
My favorite season, the best time of the year.
Copyright © 2009
Monday, October 5, 2009
I was too young to remember the Little Rock Nine, the nine black students who integrated Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. I was born there and at two years-old moved with my parents to Oakland, California. We were frequent visitors to Arkansas, but it was not until I was much older did I read about and realize the sacrifices those young people and their families made.
I read several of the Little Rock Nine memoirs, and I am currently reading Carlotta Walls Lanier’s account, A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice at Little Rock Central High School. The youngest of the nine at 14, Walls Lanier would not speak of the ordeal; so traumatized was she, for thirty years. She left Little Rock in 1960, as did her immediate family after the bombing of her home. Lanier Walls was a bright, ambitious, intelligent young lady, who just wanted to best education possible to secure the future she felt she deserved, yet there were thousands of people who tried to take that basic right away from her. And Why? Because they were threatened by the color of her skin and threatened that their way of life would be changed. Arkansas’ Governor Faubus was determined to keep the six girls and three boys from entering Central High by calling out the National Guard. Angry white parents taunted, threw things, berated these youngsters, their faces full of hate. But Daisy Bates, a journalist and activist who was born in my mother’s hometown of Huttig, was unafraid of standing up to the white establishment that dared violate these young people’s rights to an educated as mandated by the 1954 Brown vs. the Board of Education ruling.
This past summer I visited Little Rock, along with my mother, sister and niece as part of our family reunion in the southern part of Arkansas. It is a much different city then it was in 1957. You would never have known this was formerly a Jim Crow city. We spent a lot of the time visiting and reliving the history of that city. We visited my parents’ alma mater, Philander Smith College, the Mosaic Templar Museum on 9th Street, other museums. We also visited Central High and the majestic school’s architecture is amazing. Lanier Walls gives the history of how this school came to be built and why she so wanted to attend. Earlier this year, monuments were erected to the Little Rock nine on the Capitol grounds and we of course, visited that. We took lots of pictures at both places.
Last year in 2008, Soledad O’Brien of CNN featured Central High in her Black in America series. Little Rock schools are totally integrated, I dare say, more integrated than the schools in Oakland. So it pained me that now that black students can freely attend Central High--- which is still considered prestigious, that the students self-segregate themselves and that black students are routinely herded into low-achieving classes. I know this is not endemic to Little Rock particularly but a symptom of the inequality of the educational and economic structures of this country. However, I am proud of the great many prominent African Americans that graduated from Central High and those faces I saw in the glass cases honoring high-achieving students. All in all, I have to say I am pretty much proud of my birth home.
Enjoy the pictures.
Monday, September 28, 2009
Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston is my all-time favorite book because it made me believe in the possibilities. I read TEWWG at a time when I was finding my way as a writer. TEWWG showed me the complexity of both language and art. The dialect titillated my sensibilities and brought me back to a place where Blacks governed their own lives, albeit hard times. Janie, the lead character is a character that came into her own and was finding herself. I, too, was at a place in my life of finding myself. Janie’s journey of discovery was my discovery of language and how it speaks to one’s life. TEWWG gave me license to believe that I could write. I saw in myself the pioneer. This book brought out the womanist, yet feminine as Janie was a pioneer in black womanist movement.
I read the book for the first time almost 20 years ago for an English class after I had returned to college for a liberal arts degree. This was also around the time I began to take my writing seriously. My daughter was about ten years old and while she still required my attention, she was growing up and becoming more independent. Up until that time my writings consisted of journaling and an occasional short story. But now I felt I was ready to write longer fiction and made my first attempt at novel writing. Writing in the first person, my work-in-progress was called simply “My Mother’s Homeland” set in either Haiti or Martinique, I changed back and forth, oh boy. But I knocked out some pages that had people asking me, “Is this a true story?”
It was then I began to believe in the power of my writing and the possibilities. My desire and need for writing grew immeasurably and I was knocking out pages and overwhelmed with possible topics. Like Janie, I was coming into my own, becoming my own woman as a writer. This also was around the time my father was dying of cancer. His impeding death and the turmoil in the last few years of his life, his moving back to Little Rock, and my awakening was overwhelming at times. But through it all I knew my dad had faith in my writing abilities. He believed I could. Janie had to conquer her fears of navigating the 130s south as a poor, black woman without a man. Her burgeoning independence made me realize that I had the fortitude to step out and begin to pursue my dreams. Janie became my shero.
Monday, September 21, 2009
Among my memories of 1960s Oakland is the old Montgomery Wards store. My first job was in the toy store at Christmastime 1967, my senior year of high school. The Chatty Cathy doll was all the rage, along with electric trains and bikes.
One memory stands out and that is when my friends and I attended the Wendy Ward Charm School at Wards. We must have been in the 10th grade and boy, did we think we were cute. We attended classes after school one day a week. We learned how to walk, balance a book on our heads, fashion, charm and Miss Manners. This was back in the day when those things were important. Learning to be a lady was considered IN, as in style, an OK thing to do.
Later on I would continue my “charm school” lessons by enrolling in one of the premier Black-owned charm schools taught by Louise Skinner, who was an icon in Negro society in the Bay Area. Her fashion shows and hosting of debutante parties was legend. She is still a classy lady today. I remember being in a fashion show with the first Miss Black Oakland, Stephanie Jo Swanigan.
Montgomery Wards was more than a store to buy things; it was a part of the community, a place to see your neighbors, get that special sweater and learn to be a lady.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
Going to DeLauer’s Newsstand
My times at Garfield and Manzanita schools
Dancing around the Maypole
Walking to Dimond Park and swimming lessons
My favorite television programs- see last week’s blog from 9/7/09.
These and other topics I am writing or will write about.
Monday, September 7, 2009
Why was I sneaking and plotting to watch one of my favorite shows? Because I wasn’t supposed to be watching this program, the reason being that my parents considered this program to be ignorant and an insult to Negroes. In their escalating middle-class existence having grown up in the south, both from humble beginnings, obtained college educations and negotiating Negro geography, the stereotypes were just too blaring. Kingfish would rather con somebody than work, was shiftless and lazy. Sapphire was loud and emasculating as well as her mama. Andy spoke poor English and was easily led. Houlihan was a joke as an attorney. Buffoons they were, laughing, joking, always happy-go-lucky. This is what they portrayed. But of course, this went over my head. It was just fun entertainment but I also saw more.
Even at that young age, I saw the good points about Amos N’ Andy. I can remember this was a show where there were black business owners, doctors, attorneys, cab drivers and families that I could relate to. I remember one of my favorite shows was a Christmas segment where Amos’s daughter was sick and all she wanted was this most beautiful doll in the store window of a department store. There was a black Santa Claus, I vividly remember. And yes, the doll was black. She had a white dress on, I think. In the late fifties, how often did we see these images? Almost never.
Unfortunately the negative aspects of the show outweighed the good and the NAACP succeeded in having the show taken off of the hair by 1960. I understand my parent’s stance. As a parent now, I fully understand the impact of the images that our children are exposed to. As an adult I cringe at some of the antics that Kingfish and Amos participated in and understand why my folks had their reservations about the program. But many of these same people, my mother included, now admit they appreciate Amos N’ Andy. It is amazing to find out that the actor who played Ebonics-talking Andy was in fact a well-educated man who spoke six or seven languages. But as a black man trying to work as an actor, this is what was offered to him. The original Amos n’ Andy was a radio show played by white men in black face. What was worse, white men imitating what they thought black people were like or actual black people playing themselves as white folks saw them?
The Amos n’ Andy series have become a legacy of black memorabilia. We have most of the tapes and I feel some pride when I see Andy talking to his little boy and girl dispensing his wisdom while walking strong and tall as a man with dignity.
Saturday, September 5, 2009
Where did I get it from? My mother. It was not so much said but practiced. Every Easter my sister and I got white Mary Jane shoes and we wore them throughout the summer and they were retired at the end of the season. In researching the topic, it seems that this mandate originated on the east coast where there are definite seasons. White clothing reflects light and makes you feel cooler so therefore you would not wear in the winter. It was also intimated that class issues came into play and the middle class in late 19th century set themselves apart by observing this practice.
Now, evidently, the color, Winter White does not apply to this dictum. Winter White or off white is worn all year round, including the winter. I have a Winter White skirt, dress pants and coat jacket. I wear those all through the fall and winter. It is stark white that the rule applies. Of course white tennis shoes do not count. And of course, white blouses and shirts are worn all year, every day. Evidently, the only people “allowed” to wear all-white consistently are nurses or medical professionals, and of course, church sisters on First Sunday. LOL
Of course, with times being the way they are, people make their own rules and poo poo the idea of anyone suggesting what they can or cannot wear. Here in California, folks make their own attire-wearing rules. Shorts and sandals and sleeveless summer dresses if the sun comes out in January. Some people get downright insulted if someone teasingly chides them for wearing white shoes after Labor Day, and dare suggest they are not fashionably in tune. Relax people, it’s just a saying. Why do I follow this mandate? Mainly, because I always have and as a creature of habit, I’m not going to change this late in the game. I am getting it out my system. Friday, I wore white pants to work, today I am wearing white capris, for church tomorrow I am wearing what I call my Scarlett O’Hara skirt, white of course with white shoes, and Labor Day, my white shorts…….. and then these items will be washed or dry cleaned and then retired until next spring.
Happy Labor Day!
Monday, August 31, 2009
There is so much in regards to memory I want to write----memoir, family history, childhood stories, that I cannot seem to grasp it all. It gets all jumbled up and sometimes overwhelming. I sometimes question writing about my memories growing up in Oakland. I wonder if people will say I lived a black Leave it to Beaver existence. I wonder about what I did not see, or at least do not remember, of the bad things growing up black. Like being called names and being discriminated against or a teacher or counselor discouraging me and trying to put me in a box. The light-skin, dark-skinned intra-racial discrimination in the black community. The wanting of long, straight hair, the self-hatred, I missed all of that. Was that really going on all around me? I remember my sister, Flo, and I playing with our black dolls. We pressed their hair, burned it out and everything. Did I live a real black childhood or was I living a fantasy?
But memory is present and I know that my life was what it was. It was my memories of growing up whole, not jaded or scarred. I did live a black life, but it was my life. The things of my memory are my story. This is my life.
Here’s to memories.
Monday, August 24, 2009
I always said I grew up without much racism. My childhood was relatively free of the name calling and put downs other African American kids seemed to have gone through. I don’t know if it was the hand of God, time and chance , or by design, but although I knew I was Colored or Negro (we’re talking the 1950s and 60s), I never had reason to feel inferior or less than or that my blackness was bad. That was until I was about nine years old and an incident happened in my neighborhood.
One of my playmates was Lisa Millet. She lived down the street and I knew her through our parents. Lisa’s father had died but her stepfather and my dad were in real estate together and had an office on 23rd Avenue in Oakland in the late 50s. Lisa lived with her mother, stepfather, brother and grandmother and I spent many days over her house eating her grandmother’s gumbo. Their roots were in New Orleans, where her parents and grandparents were born. As I have written before, our neighborhood was quite diverse. There were Negroes, White, Mexican-Americans and Asian Americans. What I knew about Lisa’s family was they were Negroes but her grandmother talked funny talk--- and they were very fair-skinned. Lisa had long, light brown hair that hung to her waist and her ponytail swayed when she walked. Didn’t mean much to me. My mother is very fair and some of her family members looked like Lisa’s family.
A new family moved in the neighborhood and they had a daughter around our age—I think I was about nine and Lisa was eleven. Somehow, soon after she moved in, we were in this new family’s front yard. At some point, the suggestion was made about going into her house. The girl, which I have forgotten her name, then turned to me and said,
“Lisa can come in but you can’t because colored people steal.”
I stood there with my mouth open. I had never heard such a thing in my life. I gathered myself together and said confidently.
“Lisa is Negro too.” I looked over at Lisa, knowing I had an ally. We would show this stupid girl.
But was I in for a surprise. “I’m not Negro, I’m Creole.”
What???? Creole? “What is that? All of these questions were in my head but all I could do is stare, turn around and run home. I was in tears by the time I got in the house. I immediately told my mother what happened and then I asked, “Momma, isn’t Lisa Negro?” I remember my mother speaking in her soft voice, full of wisdom.”
“Yes, she is, but you have to let people be what they want to be.” She then went on to explain what Creole was. That funny talk Lisa’s grandmother spoke was Creole, a derivative of French and the food they ate was indicative of that culture. I do not know if I understood but though I was hurt and felt betrayed, those word my mother spoke has always stayed with me.
Race, identity, culture of the African Diaspora has always fascinated me. The many ways of being black is the basis of much of my reading, research and some of my writings. As a genealogist, I respect that most of us are an amalgam of many ethnicities and nationalities but my identity is and always will be black, first, foremost and forever.
Lisa and I made up. Her grandmother called and said that Lisa was upset that she had upset me and my mother told her to send her over. She came over bearing gifts. We never spoke of the incident or of that girl. She ceased to exist as she was not in our play circle. I thought about Lisa, the Creole girl recently when a blogger wrote an essay for a book I wrote a review for two years ago. One Drop by Bliss Broyard is the author’s memoir of discovering her ancestry and the rich Creole background that was denied by her father, writer Anatole Broyard’s passing for white and fear of being labeled a black writer.
This book did a great job on discussing the issue of identity and culture and is destined to be a classic.
My review of: One Drop: My Father’s Hidden Life—A Story of Race and Family Secrets
Monday, August 17, 2009
Much has changed in downtown Oakland since I was a kid. The festival brings a diverse crowd from all over to the downtown area which, while it remains an employment mainstay—there are a number of national and local businesses, the shopping life is little to none. There is no longer a major department store and the dress shops of the 1960s and 70s in my heyday are nonexistent. Only one, J. Malnick, remains with an assortment of small retail shops.
There was a time downtown was bustling. There were Sears, Capwells, and Rhodes department stores. Joseph Magnin and I. Magnin and Goldman’s were the high end dress shops with their furs and chic dress and shoe styles. That’s where you went to dress for a special event. I got my senior ball dress at Goldman’s, bought my shoes at Capwell’s and had them died yellow to match the trimming and sash at Leed’s Shoes. And of course, there was the Paramount, the Roxie, and The Fox theaters, where we went to the movies. With urban renewal or the more current term, um uhn, GENTRIFICATION, things changed.
Now, as then, Oakland is diverse but more ethnic with African Americans, Latinos, and Asians predominate. Whites moved out in droves all through the 60s and 70s. Now their children and grandchildren and transplants from the East Coast have come back to downtown Oakland and West Oakland. With them are gourmet restaurants and new-fangled boutiques, generated to jump start Oakland’s regeneration. The Paramount is now an upscale concert hall, home of the Oakland Symphony and Oakland Ballet and I am a patron of both. Change is good but there is an underlying battle between the haves and the have-nots. But all and all, I’m lovin’ Oakland despite the blight, the crime and the bad rep we have nationally. After all, it is home.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
I have a love/hate relationship with the South, that is the southern states of this nation. Everyone knows that I have a special relationship with the South. I was born in Little Rock, Arkansas, and I still visit there and rural Union County for family, reunions. I love the literature, the food, history and the culture. I go back and forth in my mind with the decision of if I want to retire to Arkansas or another southern city.
While I was at my cousin Angie’s house in a suburb in Little Rock, we had a conversation about the mindset of southerners. The topic came up about what we had discussed on the first night of the reunion down in Strong at my cousin Cynthia’s house. The towns of Huttig and Strong have combined their school districts because of decreasing enrollment. They got a new superintendant of schools, a white woman from Mississippi; they said a racist. Why did they call her that? Because she “reportedly” said in reply to why she did not move into the house the school board provides the superintendant, “It still has a nigger smell in it.” You see, the former superintendant was black and had lived in the house. When they finished telling us this, I kept waiting for the punch line. You know, the rest of the story. I finally said, “Okay, and she’s still there?”
“Yeah, she’s there.” “Uhmm, well if that was California, she would have been gone, quick and in a hurry.” My sister gave me a look that said, cool it. It would be no use in discussing it further or asking too many questions. They would have said, “Well, our kids have to go to that school and answer to that woman” or “ We can’t afford to send our kids to private school like you did.”
Okayeee, that’s when I said to myself, It’s still the South. Despite integration, and in some cases they are more integrated in their school system than in Oakland, California, my residence, and other northern urban cities. Despite integration and great strides made by African Americans, it is still the south and therefore a southern mentality. Let me explain. There is a certain mindset in mostly rural towns in the south that still plays out as if it were still the old south, pre integration, before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
There is open, blatant segregation in terms of economic and social issues. A government official was traveling through rural Florida a few years ago and stopped to have a bite to eat and beer at a local tavern. He sat down and ordered the beer and was told by the bartender that he might be happier on the other side. The other side was the bar for blacks. This official was outraged. Separate facilities in the new millennium? Gasp! But the people in that ass backward town, both black and white did not see what the problem was. Blacks were equally complicit in upholding the separate but equal. “They like Country & Western and we like the Blues and R& B”. “That’s just the way it is” is what I heard from a friend who grew up in one of those ass backward towns in Florida. That’s what I mean when I say, it is still the south.
Oh, and there is the case of separate proms in those little ass backward southern towns. Every spring you read about it. There was an article in the New York Times recently chronicling this in a little town in Georgia. No, you aren’t going to find this in Atlanta or any city of significant size in the south; it is those ass backward, still living in the 1950s, narrow-minded, provincial towns where black and white agree to do this. “It’s tradition” or “It’s always been this way.” But what do you expect, it is still the south?
Oh, yes, things have changed. The schools are integrated and blacks like my uncle are supervisors on their factory or mill jobs. There are even interracial romantic liaisons; the townspeople in that little Georgia town admitted the kids date interracially, which makes the whole idea of separate proms even more ludicrous, but they are all complicit, again citing tradition. I was told that they just stopped having black and white homecoming queens down in Huttig-Strong. These little ass backward towns usually have a high school population of less than 100 students, some far less and they want to keep Jim Crow alive?. And remember the madness in 2008 in Jenna, Louisiana with the nooses and all? I’m told by folks who attended the march that the town is so blatantly delineated by economics. My church member said the whites have nice homes all through town and then you cross the railroad tracks and the black people live in dilapidated homes that should have long been condemned. But that is the south.
In 2006, I visited Savannah, Georgia on a literary retreat. One morning a group of us took a walk downtown to a tea shop for breakfast. I was walking along taking pictures of the moss wood trees and beautiful scenery of this magnificent, historical city, soaking it all in, window shopping on a beautiful spring morning. Suddenly, we came upon a big window front and I stopped dead in my tracks. I could not believe it, it was a real live Confederate store. I mean, there was everything, flags, clothing, memorabilia, war materials, everything Confederate. I was standing there speechless. The other three women stopped and looked at me taking it all in. One was from Georgia, the other from Florida and the other from Texas. Clearly, this was nothing new to them but this was an eye-opener for me and a reminder that no matter how nice the people appeared, or how beautiful the city of Savannah is, it’s still the south. And lest those in Union County, Arkansas where I just came from thought they lived in a “we are the world” existence, there was a Confederate flag hanging high and proud on the road down in Felsenthal where we had our fish fry that Friday, reminding me of where we were. Well, I’ll be damn, it is still the south.
Monday, August 10, 2009
You all know I went to Arkansas last month. In going through some photo albums of my aunt’s, there was a picture of my mother’s oldest brother, Jerry. He was one of the four children grandfather Samuel Rowland had before he married my mother’s mother, Otelia Gilliam. The last time I saw him was in 2005 when we went to El Dorado, the county seat of Union County, to visit him in a convalescent home. He was suffering from several ailments, among them dementia. He didn’t really know us, my mother, sister and Aunt Bera Faye but there may have been a recognition or two.
My memories of Uncle Jerry were of him visiting us in Oakland when I was younger and visiting him in Chicago, where he went in the 1940s and made his home. When he came to Oakland we would meet him at the train station. That was back in the day before Amtrak when everyone rode the Southern Pacific. In Chicago, he was the consummate host in a home that was quite appointed. He enjoined entertaining and the night life of Chicago. In the picture here, he is shown with three unknown women, evidently at some night club or social event.
Jerry Rowland died in 2006. He left to mourn his longtime partner and several siblings.
Monday, August 3, 2009
You’ve heard the song by Ray Charles. “Tell yo mama, tell you pa, I’m gonna send you back to Arkansas.” Arkansas. All kind of perceptions come up but it is the place I was born. It is the place my parents met at Philander Smith College in Little Rock. It is a place of great memories.
Eating barbeque, spaghetti, and watermelon that my Uncle Raymond, a cook at a hotel, on the 4th of July in Little Rock in 1963 when I was 12. Running around with his children, my cousins. Coming back in 1968 when I was 17 and really thought I was grown.
Going down to the country where my mother was born in Huttig. In 1960, we used a slop jar for going to the bathroom; for real, there was no bathroom. Now that was real country living. Sweet tea, biscuits, smothered chicken and gravy, fresh born and greens from the garden.
Well, I was down in Arkansas for a week and I will be posting blogs and pictures about going back to my hometown in Little Rock and the family reunion in Union County.
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Author E. Lynn Harris died on July 24, 2009. http://www.cnn.com/2009/SHOWBIZ/books/07/24/harris.obit/ It is hard to believe this renowned writer has left us. Not since James Baldwin, has an author attacked the topic of homosexuality, but Harris took it to another level, exploring the down-low culture of black men who lives two lives.
Invisible Life, his first novel, will go down as a classic. Poignant, well-written, and personal, a young college football player embraces his homosexuality and enters the world of black gay men in the closet. Readers embraced the honesty of Harris’ work and have been entertained by his subsequent novels. He published a memoir, What Becomes of the Brokenhearted in 2003 that revealed his painful childhood where he was abused by his stepfather and discovered his homosexuality.
I was in Arkansas last week and had just left Little Rock to attend my family reunion in Union County when I heard of Harris’ death. He was raised in Little Rock and in the last few years he had returned home as a visiting professor at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, his alma mater. I am so thankful I attended his last Bay Area book signing in February at Marcus Bookstore in Oakland, California. He was a favorite of Marcus and the book club. His graciousness and humility was endearing to us all.
I wrote a blog this past March honoring Mr. Harris and his work.
May he rest in peace.
July 30, 2009
Monday, July 27, 2009
Mom talks of people of long ago, most dead and places of yesteryear-- that don't exist anymore. Of old friends. "Let's go by Lola's house, or Lucille lived there by Batts Chapel. Riding on the back of hay trucks, picking fruit and cotton to buy school clothes, getting second-hand books from white schools. That was the way it was. The way we were.
For the next few weeks I will be posting tidbits about the family reunion, family history and stories. Stay tuned.
Monday, July 20, 2009
My family has traveled south frequently in my childhood and at a young age I learned the meaning of Jim Crow and that people actually did not like people who look like me. That was hurtful and a painfubeofe I board the plane.l lesson to learn.
For now because of time constraints, I will refer you to my former blog- Memory Monday--Coming of Age in 1963.
I will continue my discourse at a later time, hopefully next week. But right now I have to catch a few zzzzzs. In the words of Ray Charles, "Tell yo mama, tell yo pa, I'm gonna send you back to Arkansas."
Monday, July 13, 2009
Blackberries have significance for me. It was a blackberry summer that a neighborhood kid was killed when he rode his scooter into traffic and was hit by a bus. Tyrone had ridden his boxcar scooter along that fateful path, the same path as the blackberries in the fields and backyards of the houses he rode past, down East 23rd Street into the path of the bus on 23rd Avenue. I wrote of this memorable event; the piece was called “Blackberry Summer” and it was published by the Peralta Press journal in 2004.
I also wrote a poem called Blackberry Winter. It was the year my father died in 1990. I went to Little Rock to see him when he was dying of cancer and it was an icy spring day, the kind they call Blackberry winter. The way it was explained to me is that time at the end of winter and beginning spring, the seasons are fighting for control, and there is an icy, crisp air. That scene was evident in Little Rock as we rode to the hospital to see my father for the last time.
Blackberries, juicy, sweet, stains on my little sister’s shirt
Blackberries, juicy on a winter/spring day, bittersweet
Monday, July 6, 2009
Writing about your own life is an interesting, tricky, delicate job. Memory can be fleeting and capricious. Trying to regain one’s earliest memory is easier for some than others. My earliest memories go back to the time I must have been three or four and my paternal grandmother had died. I remember seeing my father kneeling on my parents bed crying. I was strange for me to see my big, strong daddy crying and I reacted by laughing. My mother pulled me aside and said Grandmother Florence had gone to heaven. Another strong memory was being in kindergarten and there was an earthquake, and all the children were told to go under the desks. I remember the desks shaking and not being afraid but thinking, this was an adventure.
As I said, memory can be tricky, especially particular incidents from your childhood. You can remember something happening and a sibling’s remembrance of the same incident can be interpreted differently. For instance my sister remembers an incident with her and our brother from Jr. high school, that he remembers completely different. All in all though, writing our own personal stories is something that should be a common practice. Leaving a record is a gift to your children and extended family that cannot be matched.
Monday, June 29, 2009
Memory Monday- A Death and a Birthday
It was not my intention to write about Michael Jackson but I find myself led to say a few words. His sudden tragic death on June 25, 2009 has brought a lot of memories and no doubt dominates many blogs, columns, and essays this month.
I, like many others feel as if I grew up with Michael Jackson and his brothers. The Jackson 5 burst on the scene in 1969, the year I was 18 and in college. I remember a house party in East Oakland where several of us were partying hearty and the hit song, “The Love You Save May be Your Own.” We stomped all night singing and dancing to that tune. It occurred to me that Michael Jackson was generational. My daughter Rebecca who turned 30 on June 27 also remembers Michael Jackson. She was three years old when Thriller came out. One of the songs on that album was “Beat It.” One day she was at her babysitter, a close family friend and church member, Mary’s house. She was going around the house singing, “Beat it, beat it, nobody wants to be defeated.” Mary told Rebecca, thinking she was redirecting a three-year old’s waywardness, “Why don’t you sing a church song?" Rebecca’s quipped, “We aren’t in church.” We still laugh about that years later and I reminded Rebecca of that the other night. She remembers singing and dancing to the Thriller album.
Sunday at Rebecca’s birthday Spa Brunch, the talk seemed to always veer back to Michael Jackson, his life, the gossip, and of course, the music. Yes, Michael was tragic, there were many accusations and reportedly the abuse of prescription drugs but I won’t get into that side of it. I choose to remember the old Michael, the one who sang with his brothers and took Motown by storm; the one who could dance like a gazelle, who made such genius videos such as Smooth Criminal and Remember the Time, who could unite the world with Black or White and We are the World.
Gone but not forgotten
The Love You Save
Monday, June 22, 2009
Yesterday was Father’s Day and for the first time on this particular day since he died in 1990, I really thought about how much I missed my Dad. Usually this holiday doesn’t affect me, but Sunday, I found myself a little melancholy.
Two African American women were at a college conference where several references were made to the lack of black fathers being a factor in a student’s education. These women countered by letting those expressing these opinions that this was not their reality, nor that for many blacks. Out of that momentous occasion came an anthology, Our Black Fathers: Brave, Bold and Beautiful. I was blessed to contribute my story, “A Dad’s First Born.”
My reality was my father was present and accountable, and truth be told, most of my peers, friends, and cousins had the same reality. True, this was back in the day but I do not want to forget nor take that for granted but by all means I do not think this far from the norm, even these days. There are many black fathers in their children’s lives; it is simply one-sided and provincial to assume that the majority of black fathers were MIA.
My story is particularly important to me because I had written the draft several years ago and had submitted different version to different venues requesting father stories but could not seem to get it accepted anywhere. I was pleased that editor, Anita Royston and Joslyn Gaines Vanderpool saw the value of the piece and got what I was trying to portray; showing a man that while he was bigger than life to me, was just a man; who had insecurities and flaws, because of the lack of a father in his own life. How he rose above his circumstances and became a wonderful provider and mentor.
If you want to read about positive father of African descent, you can read it in Our Black Fathers: Brave, Bold and Beautiful.
Yesterday was Father’s Day and I am getting the idea that the day is being hijacked. Maybe it had something to do with the numerous messages on Face Book and even, in passing from strangers, when in reference to Father’s Day, almost in the same breath, invariably someone would comment “Happy Father’s Day to the women who are both mother and father.” I have heard that comment countless time over the years and it always rubs me the wrong way. My initial thought is always, Mother’s Day is in May; mothers had their day, can the dads have their day without being infringed upon?
Last week, I attended a graduation awards show for a community organization that mentor young people in track & field. My nephew, who just graduated from high school, was one of the ones being feted. The moderator of the event was thanking different people; she thanked the team mother and others who helped and she gave a special thanks to the Dads of the kids. A group of women sitting in the center murmured something like, “What about us who are both mother and father?” The moderator was very diplomatic and said yes, to you too, and I thought, dang, can fathers even be recognized without women’s bitterness, anger and insecurity getting in the way? I know where this is coming from; so many women and their children are in pain because the helpmate and fathers are missing from their lives. But if they could step away and realize, it’s not about you and your feelings, but about celebrating those men who stepped up to the plate and were fathers.
My reality was my father was present and truth be told, most of my peers, friends, and cousins had the same reality. True, this was back in the day but I do not want to forget nor take that for granted but by all means I do not think this far from the norm, even these days. There are many black fathers in their children’s lives; it is simply one-sided and provincial to assume that the majority of black fathers were MIA.
I wrote comments to that affect on Face Book today and got some positive comments. One friend wrote that even though her mother was a supermom, she could not replace that void of not having a father in her life. Another one said, even though her biological father wasn’t there, she had both grandparents and later, a stepfather who stepped in. Another agreed that Father’s Day is for the MEN in your life and that everything needs to be in context.
There are numerous essays and blogs from black writer to and about their fathers and fatherhood. Some are lovingly dedicated; others are bitter and sad. Some folks have not been able to move on. I found several on The Root website- http://www.theroot.com/
Type in Father’s Day in the search section.
Monday, June 15, 2009
There were aspects of Colson's story that hit home despite my being female and my coming-of-age being in ther 1960s, going into the 70s. My father and his best friend, Dr. Edward Wright, purchased a cabin in Morgan Hill, a rural community outside of San Jose, California. That is where we spent a lot of summer time during my teen years, along with other families from the surrounding Bay Area. My father's club, The Men of Tomorrow, a professional black businessmen's social and civic organization, held their annual 4th of July event at the Morgan Hill cabin, which was one of the biggest social events on their calendar. The members of the group were doctors, dentists, attorneys, ministers, teachers, businessmen, and government employees. They included Creoles from Louisiana, some of West Indian heritage, some from the East Coast but the majority were transplanted southerners, mostly first-generation college-educated. I made friendships among the kids, formed cliques with some of the girls, and had crushes on several of the "cute boys" ooh Mickey, and have my own coming-of-age antics from those "West Coast" summers. Bar-b-que, lemon pound cakes, watermelon, and Sly Stone's "Hot Fun in the Summertime" was the theme of the time.
What were the memorable highlights of your teen-age summers?
See my review of Sag Harbor-