My wife could be used by cynical people as an example of “one who made it”. Should they do that in her presence, they would be shredded. Often we sit among a group of Black people and my wife begins talking about White people and the ones who don’t know me get real nervous. Finally, someone realizes what they are nervous about and say, “Oh, that’s just Pat. He knows all this.” What they mean is that I know the truth of what life is like for Black people in the U.S. and I know that Black people make statements about Whites or hispanics just as dumb as those made my Whites about them. So we move on.
I write this b/c I am pretty sure a lot of people who write on listservs for teachers do not have an intimate knowledge of Black people. They may have personal relationships but have not lived day in and day out with Black people of all sorts so as to get an idea of what life has been like and is still like So here is Letha’s story:
She was born in East Texas in 1941. The totally segregated town was very small in fact she was born at home out in the country. She recalls leaning out her window to hear the music coming from the jook joint next door where even the great Louis Jordan toured. She also remembers the segregated schools and the police breaking up parties that were not even rowdy, let alone criminal.
Her dad served in the Navy during WW II but that didn’t help him. Trained as an aircraft mechanic, he was unable to find work. He had very little education. Her mother had little education and worked as a cook in a hotel. Without work, Daddy decided to take someone up on an offer of work in Arizona picking cotton. The family went to Standfield, AZ. where my wife was terrorized by bugs and snakes as she picked cotton at age 6. This was real work, not something to do just for the summer, etc.; it was to feed the family. They lived in a shack with an opening in the wall rather than a window and her sister had to jump over a snake going out the door one time.
They moved up to Phoenix where my father-in-law got a job as a janitor in the Black school and my wife attended the segregated schools here in Phoenix (they desegregated just in time, 1953, for her to miss going to Carver, the Black high school with an excellent reputation; she instead wound up one of a small number of Blacks attending the previously all-White high school whose mascot was a Little Rebel). She worked from age 9 with her mother cleaning houses.
The family had become Pentecostal and they were in church all the time. Education was not a priority b/c you had to consider that her father had training and yet could not get a job due to color restrictions. They also lost several houses b/c Blacks were excluded from the mortgage market and so houses were bought on contract, thus building no value. Working in those nice homes engendered in my wife a desire to have those things; a number of Black people served as role models: the pastor’s son, her girl friend’s mother, teachers I don’t think any role model was other than a teacher. Eventually, she decided to go to college. She paid $15 a semester at the community college and after two years transferred to ASU. She graduated in 3 years and began teaching second grade in 1963.
In 1969 an NDEA grant brought professors from ASU looking for Black teachers to turn into counselors who would integrate the high schools. She got a stipend so she could quit work and got her masters in a year and was assigned to various high schools over the years. Her job was to bring a Black presence into a school system that remained White but was beginning to receive Black and Hispanic students as housing restrictions eased up. Getting out of what was called the ghetto was what most people aspired to and we went with everyone else, from the frying pan into the fire.
That brings me to what I have left out: the part about being Black. Those experiences will be in my next blog entry on this topic.