About a decade before my parents tied the knot, another woman took the name of Mrs. Ebenezer Ray. Her name was Lucille. For a long time, that’s all I knew. My mother had told me my father had had a first wife. And after my mom died, I found my dad and Lucille’s divorce papers in my mother’s dresser drawer. When I told a friend that I’d thought it curious that my mother would save the divorce papers from her husband’s first marriage, but none of his writings, the friend suggested that it was by design. My mother wanted to make sure my father was free to marry. Knowing my mother, that is exactly what she was thinking. But knowing my mother, if she’d had copies of his columns, she would have kept those too. Continue reading
And though we can only hope that this orgy of gratuitous hate and voyeurism was what Wilkerson says was “perhaps the single worst act of torture and execution in twentieth-century America,” we know it was illustrative of the reign of terror, humiliation and intimidation that prevailed in the American South well into the 1960s.
“Across the country, thousands of outraged Americans wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt demanding a federal investigation,” Wilkerson writes. “The NAACP compiled a sixteen-page report and more files on the Neal case than any other lynching in American history. But Neal had the additional misfortune of having been lynched just before the 1934 national midterm elections, which were being seen as a referendum on the New Deal itself. Roosevelt chose not to risk alienating the South with a Democratic majority in Congress at stake. He did not intervene in the case. No one was ever charged in Neal’s death or spent a day in jail for it,” Wilkerson adds. Continue reading
A little more than a year ago, thanks to the wonders of the web, I stumbled upon my father’s name in a college honors thesis. In 2001 Amy Katherine Defalco Lippert, then at the University of California at Berkeley, submitted an honors thesis for her bachelor’s degree in history titled “The Rationalization of Righteousness: Nazi Ideology, the Holocaust and the African-American Community in World War II.”
On page 94, she wrote:
“From the very beginning, black leaders, writers and educators worked to foster an understanding of the Second World War as a fight for their country and a fight for freedom—for their own, as African Americans, and for others as well.
“As Ebenezer Ray wrote in June of 1940, ‘It is a war of liberty versus enslavement. Of course, here and there comes a voice from this race of ours that the war isn’t America’s, ‘least of all it is the Negro’s.’… Methinks this is America’s war, since it is a war for liberty and freedom, and against racial and religious intolerance. If it is America’s it is the Negro’s. What’s true of the whole is also true of the part.'”
In the footnotes: Ebenezer Ray, “The War ‘N’ Us!” New York Age, 15 June 1940, p. 12.
And the rest, as they say, is history, or at least this blog. Continue reading
Recently, Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, gave a talk at Stanford about the challenges he has faced as he develops the museum, which is scheduled to be completed in 2015. Bunch talked about the “treasures” people often bring him as potential items for the museum’s collection.
Bunch told the story of a pillowcase someone brought him that had been passed among family members for several generations. The pillowcase was embroidered by an enslaved African American woman who had just learned the day before that she would be sold.
The embroidery was a message to her daughter:
“In this pillowcase, you will find a dress, you will find some biscuits, but what you will find is that it’s filled with my love. And though I may never see you again, always know how close you are to my heart. “
According to Bunch, that mother never saw her daughter again.
Bunch’s story put into perspective all the chatter about tiger and helicopter moms. There’s even a new one, snowplow parents – who try to move all the difficulties out of their children’s lives. I used to say that most of my black friends thought I was a pushover when it came to parenting and many of my white friends thought I was too tough. I’m not sure what my other friends thought. In the end, all of our children have made us pretty damn proud.
In an age when everybody’s got an opinion about how children should be raised, protected, nurtured, etc., the pillowcase story makes it all seem so silly. Who among us would have had the resolve to embroider that farewell before being sold to another slave owner? Or who would not have been tempted to do what Sethe did in Toni Morrison’s Beloved?
Maybe this is a downer as Mother’s Day approaches. It’s not meant to be. It’s intended to be a tribute to mothers who, under the worst and best circumstances, did and do their best with every ounce of what they have. Here’s to our mothers, who made sure we had clothes on our backs and something to eat and who stitched together a legacy of love that has sustained us through generations.
On a more uplifting note, and speaking of generations, here’s what my father wrote for Mother’s Day in 1937.
Just returned from traveling and am still in the throes of the post-vacation dig out, so I’ll just let my father’s words speak for themselves. One item was written the week before Easter in 1936. Not sure what that last word is, but you’ll get his point. Don’t shop where they won’t hire you.
The second item was published a week later, the day before Easter Sunday, which fell on April 19 in 1936.
Happy Easter to all