The Guardian

Child soldiers march at night.
Homeless veterans haunt the Boulevard
You know longer patrol the Wall for this city’s Miserables.
Even Guardians get old.
Even Guardians get old.

Once you tended to Valjean and Javert
Protecting one from a crackhead son
Making sure the nursing home gave the other his HIV meds
That was then.
Now, even the memory is, “just too much, too much.”

Instead we find each other
through fragments of song
“Drifting on a memory/
Ain’t no place I’d rather be…”

“What we investigate is linked to who we are”

The Re-education of Me Table of Contents

  1. What we investigate is linked to who we are
  2. The Me nobody knew then
  3. Mrs. Jefferson’s “Sympathetic Touch” meets Mrs. Masterman’s Philanthropy
  4. Discovering Masterman, discovering myself
  5. The electronic music lab at Masterman School
  6. The Interactive Journalism Institute for Middle Schoolers and the quest for computing diversity

Phliadelphia: 1963-67

Literary scholars of the Freudian sort sometimes speak of the fantasmatic, a kind of archetypal drama etched into a writer’s subconscious, rooted in childhood experience, that finds expression in the structural elements of that writer’s work. In her groundbreaking 1998 tome, Psychoanalysis and Black Novels, Claudia Tate (pictured below, left) used to concept to explain WEB DuBois’ penchant for eroticizing the quest for freedom in his creative writing. I recall a conversation with Tate not long after the book was published in which we speculated that writers would probably do well not to dig too deeply into the oedipal roots of their creations.

Nevertheless, this work would be incomplete without some exploration of the ways in which personal experience and social location helped shape my way of doing journalism and thinking about journalism education. Research related to the effort to enlarge and diversify the computing pipeline discloses that young people’s career choices are heavily influenced by parents, teachers and guidance counselors. (References) In plumbing my childhood experiences, I see evidence how I began to think of myself as a writer, and the values I began to internalize that would shape the kind of writer I ultimately became.

Investigative journalist Florence George Graves alluded to the impact of the personal on the professional in her May 2003 Columbia Journalism Review essay, “The Connection: What We Investigate Is Linked to Who We Are.”(.pdf) Graves speculates that her penchant for uncovering secrets was probably affected by the coded rituals of segregated life in the Waco Texas of her childhood,

“I couldn’t stop wondering about certain aspects of life in Texas. Why were there separate drinking fountains for “whites” and “coloreds” in public places? Why did my close friend’s parents treat her decision to marry a Catholic as if there had been a death in the family? Why weren’t Jews allowed to join the country club? Why should girls bother to excel in school if they were not entitled to use their knowledge in the world beyond the home?”

I was born in 1957 – the year of revolution in Ghana, federally-enforced integration in Little Rock, and the first human foray into outer space – accomplished by a Soviet regime considered the West’s chief global adversary. It was, in other words, a time when old orders were under siege, new power equations were being drawn and no one seemed sure whether the future held hope or annihilation. My childhood was lived in the space between the restrictive past and future possibility. On one occasion, my parents and I stood in one long line at an armory to receive a vaccine-laced sugar cube that promised protection against polio. On another, we stood in another long line to see the desk and other effects that had belonged to Pres. John F. Kennedy, who had been murdered in a Dallas street while I sat in my first-grade class and made a paper turkey to decorate our Thanksgiving table.

Unlike Graves, the adults around me openly discussed the reasons behind the inequalities that she observed in silence. The questions revolved around how those inequalities might be eliminated – or at the very least, how their destructive impact might be minimized. Racial justice and the quest for enlightened governance had been matters of vital concern in Philadelphia since the 18th century, when the Quakers debated the morality of slavery, and black freemen Richard Allen and Absalom Jones protested segregation within the Philadelphia Methodist conference by founding the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

From a sociologist’s perspective, I suppose my family’s prospects seemed fairly fixed in 1957.  My paternal grandparents had been part of the Great Migration of African Americans from the Jim Crow south to the de facto segregated north. Their parents had been slaves. The men in my family mostly worked with their hands, mostly in construction. My father had done that kind of work as well, although by the time I started school, he had landed at the Post Office, and there he saw other black men who were going to college. With the help of his veteran’s benefits, he enrolled first in trade school, and then Temple University, fitting his classes around his swing shifts at work.

We weren’t the kind of people whose lives and concerns took up much space in the daily newspaper. The scholar VP Franklin (pictured, left) notes WEB Du Bois’ pointed critique of American journalism as he experienced it in the 19th and 20th centuries:

“The American press in the past almost entirely ignored Negroes. Very little of what Negroes wanted to know about themselves, their group action, and their relationship to public occurrences to their interests was treated by the press. Then came the time when the American press so far as the Negro was concerned was interested in the Negro as minstrel, a joke, a subject of caricature. He became, in time, an awful example of democracy gone wrong, of crimes and various monstrous acts.” (Franklin)

Philadelphia, where I spent most of my childhood, was no exception to this general rule. In her 2008 doctoral dissertation, communications historian Nicole Maurantonio supplied the scholarly support for the sense of invisibility and alienation that I and so many others experienced as we searched for some reflection of our reality in the Philadelphia newspapers. Maurantonio argues that in the years between the end of World War II and the fatal 1985 attack on the headquarters of the radical group MOVE:

“[N]ews organizations were not merely impartial storytellers providing a language with which to narrate crises. Journalists inscribed a rhetoric of racial marginalization that shaped discourses surrounding race and ‘radicalism’ within the city.”

It was of course, the black press who tried to cater to the needs of African Americans in those years. From the time of its founding in the early 19th century, the black press had, as scholar Matthew Holden puts it, “facilitated the umbrella issues of freedom, racial uplift and the emancipation of the slaves.” My family, and most my peers regularly read the Philadelphia Tribune (which billed itself as  “The Constructive Newspaper” in those days) and Ebony magazine alongside the Philadelphia Bulletin. Many of us listened to black radio stations, where DJs such as Georgie Woods (“The Guy With the Goods”) would become indispensable allies of the Civil Rights Movement.

Maurantonio recounts how the Tribune tried to counter this dominant “rhetoric of marginalization”  by calling for police restraint during such moments of crisis as the Columbia Avenue riot of 1964 – a series of violent clashes set off by false rumors that the police had killed a pregnant black woman.  Maurantonio discusses the ways in which the Tribune and the other local newspapers framed their coverage  in the following video segment (from 9:12 to 15:03):


My teachers created what I now recognize as a hidden curriculum designed to reinforce our belief in our own humanity in the face of segregationist school district policies and a a culture that, as Du Bois had explained decades before, constructed us as a problem. Between school, the neighborhood library where I discovered Carter G. Woodson’s magical Encyclopedia of Negro history, the devotion to learning that my parents modeled, I came to understand education as a pre-requisite for personal and racial advancement.

When my parents and teachers noted my curiosity about certain aspects of science and writing, they shepherded me into Saturday morning writing workshops and science classes. My stepmother folded lined paper into little booklets that I filled with short stories.

When I was 8, I appeared as a panelist on a children’s version of the popular College Bowl television quiz show. The show ran on WHYY, our local public television station, and was hosted by Philadelphia’s answer to Mr. Wizard, Bess Boggs. (At least that’s her name as i remember it; having failed to find a record of the show during my research, I’ve posted a Facebook query to fact-check my memory.)  My parents dressed me in my Easter outfit for that year (a powder-blue tailleur with a faux-fur collar, don’t you know) and put my hair in a bob instead of the usual school-day pigtails. They cleared their work schedules to accompany me to the studio (no small feat, especially since my father worked swing shifts full time and went to school full time).

It will tell you something of who I was in those days to know that when Bess Boggs entered the studio, I jumped up and down and started tugging on my parents as if the Beatles and the entire Motown Revue had just strolled by. (Or maybe more – two years later, on a summer camp field trip, I was quite calm when we ran into Marvin Gaye in the Philadelphia International airport. It did please me mightily, of course, when he held my hand and planted a kiss on my cheek.) In any event, my admiration for Bess Boggs was in keeping with the fact that one of my other hobbies in those days was keeping journals on the Gemini space flights.

I don’t remember the show much, other than the fact that I was Kearny’s only representative. Kearny was not known for its academic prowess. The neighborhood it served included the Sunday Breakfast Mission, then at 6th and Vine. The tow-headed brother and sister in my class,  the only white children in the school, if memory serves, were the missionaries’ children. They had transferred in from somewhere, and I don’t think they stayed long.

Kearny was old school. We lined up on the concrete playground by class in the morning and stood at attention in the stairwells once we were marched inside. Two or our more imposing teachers, Mrs. Jenkins and Mrs. McCoy, patrolled our ranks to ensure that we kept our mouths closed and our hands to ourselves while we awaited the class bell. Any transgression would require that you step out of line to have them smack you with a ruler. The school day began with a salute to the flag, the pledge of allegiance, and a moment of silent meditation. (We were told that the silent meditation was a substitute for the prayer that had been required until the Supreme Court banned the practice.)

My teachers exhorted us to be a credit to our race. A local historian, Ed Robinson, spoke at one of our assemblies about the glories of our African past. They were also steeped in art and culture – the crossing guard taught piano, and one of the teachers sang opera. One of the few white teachers taught us about Woody Guthrie and Huddie Ledbetter. They got us some instruments to start a small string ensemble, and had us learn two pieces for my one and only instrumental recital: an aria from Verdi’s “Aida” and “Go Down Moses.”

In Mrs. Moore’s class in second and third grade, I sat next to a handsome, sharply-dressed, husky-voiced and mischievous boy named William Cook. His brother, Wesley, who was three years older, was a fixture at the Friends’ Neighborhood Guild, whose library was one of my favorite haunts. My clearest memory of Wesley, whose neighborhood nickname was “Scout,” was of him sitting at a table at the Guild, telling another older boy, “Listen Up! Eli Whitney didn’t invent the cotton gin!” If I was 8 or 9, then, he was 11 or 12.

Two years after that, in November, 1967, after Wesley went to Stoddard-Fleischer Junior High School, we heard about the police cutting loose on a throng of high school and junior high school students who had gone down to school district administration building to petition for black history classes in the curriculum. We heard that Frank Rizzo, the inspector to whom mild-mannered George Fencl’s civil disobedience reported, had reportedly unleashed his men on the peaceful crowd with the command to, “Get their black asses!”   (The year before, Time magazine had cited Fencl’s unit as an innovative way of managing protests with minimal conflict.) In later life, after he changed his name to Mumia Abu Jamal, embarked on a career as a journalist and activist, and ultimately landed on death row.

By the way, the city’s new superintendent of schools, Mark Shedd, earned the enmity of Fencl’s supervisor, Frank Rizzo, when he criticized the aggressiveness of police response to the demonstration, leading to Shedd’s ouster when Rizzo became mayor in 1971. In a subsequent section of this work, I will treat Shedd’s legacy in more detail, but for now, I merely want to note the controversy over the police action.

All of that would be later. Suffice it to say that by 1967, I had internalized my parents’ and teachers’ messages about the power of the pen, the fun and necessity of learning, and the certainty that Lord have mercy, we were moving on up!


Endnotes

  1. 1. Franklin, VP. “W.E.B. Du Bois as Journalist,” Journal of Negro Education, Vol. 56, No. 2 (1987). P. 240-244
  2. Philadelphia Tribune page one flag, Sept. 1, 1964
  3. For example, see: Cohoon, J. M. and W. Aspray, (eds.) Women and Information Technology: Research on Underrepresentation, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2006; Barker, L. J., E. Snow, K. Garvin-Doxas, T. Weston, Recruiting Middle School Girls into IT: Data on Girls’ Perceptions and Experiences from a Mixed-Demographic Group, in Women and Information Technology: Research on Under-representation, Cohoon & Aspray, The MIT Press, Cambridge MA, 2006. pp113-136;
  4. References on the black press during this periodFor an on overview of the black press generally, see the PBS website for Stanley Nelson’s documentary: The Black Press: Soldiers Without Swords. Pamela Newkirk’s Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media (NYU Press, 2000) offers a comprehensive and concise overview of the process of integrating white newsrooms and its impact on the black press.

Life plan for a poem

In youth I was beguiled
By master gardeners who, sowing words, raised
bountiful harvests
that fed and healed.

I thought it would be grand
To grow thought out thought things
Soul food for children of the new day comin’

In those days it was thought
That authority rested in
Knowledge that required
Careful cultivation.
The only debate
was over what was worth knowing
and who was worth cultivating.

And so, I studied.
Apprenticed myself to those
who had never seen the likes of me
do more than pull a plow.
Brought the seeds from my grandmother’s garden
and said,

“See? This too, is beautiful.
And its fruit makes all of us strong
And one day this will be
A poem.”

The Good Mother, Part 3: And so the girl marries

Hi Mommy,

You and my father married in a double wedding ceremony with his brother and your cousin. It was an outdoor wedding, and from the one picture I have seen of you and your fellow bride, it was pretty and summer-casual.  Your sister showed me the picture; she said there weren’t many. I have never seen a picture of you and Dad together when you were a couple.

Dad comes from a big family that was as well known in that part of South Jersey as yours. He’s the 7th of 12 kids born to parents who had left sharecropping in Georgia to come to New Jersey. His parents’ parents had been slaves, and his maternal grandparents had also come to Jersey, along with several members of their generation. So Dad had grown up in the bosom of a huge extended family that stretched across Camden County to Philadelphia and as far out as Pottstown and Phoenixville. They were their own village — not much need to spend time with strangers, until it came time to do business or find a suitable mate.

This is what you and Dad had in common: a belief in the value of work, and a desire to make the best of whatever you were given.  Dad’s family had come through the Depression logging the Jersey pines,  becoming trusted caretakers for local  businesses owned by merchants who lived in the big city. doing day work, or whatever came along. Your family, too, was good at finding whatever work there was to be had.  Both families took pride in rejecting welfare, no matter how tough the times got. (Not that welfare was all that easy for black families to get in those days, but that is another story.)

So you had those things in common. Also, among your peers, you were unique in having been Someplace Else. Well you were unique among the girls. Dad had been to Kentucky when he was in the Army. His brothers had been to the Pacific theater during and after the Big War.  Living someplace else let you know something else was out there. But how to get to it? And what kind of dreams could a young Negro couple have anyway? Especially one where the husband was clearly too dark to pass for anything else?

This last point made your father-in-law skeptical, you told me.  Then again, Grandpop Jesse was a tough man.  Thirty-five years of hard work and no-nonsense family leadership had made it possible for him to own his own home and enough land to allow the family to grow much of its own food. I think you must have looked a little soft to him.  Jesse Albert Pearson came from field slaves; your olive skin and curly hair told him that your family had worked in the Big House. And as far as you knew, he was right. You told me about forbears who had been cooks and chauffeurs in Virginia and Maryland and more recently, among the big houses on Philadelphia’s Main Line.  Slavery was not part of your family’s story, as far as you knew.

You and my Dad shared a house with your cousin and her husband. The two brothers worked construction, until eventually Daddy got on at the Post Office.  There were arguments about things like muddy boots being left on clean kitchen floors.  Before long, both brides were pregnant, and the little house could not contain all the hopes and fears and tears and excitement and anguish.

Which is to say that neither marriage worked out, but babies were born and they were  much loved.  The second of those babies was me.

The earliest picture of me, aged 3
The earliest picture of me, aged 3. I'm on the left.

Here is what you told me about me before I was born.

First, I made you sick. You puked for seven months. Sorry about that. Scary thing for the girl that you were,  no doubt.  Perhaps a midwife could have told you that trick about eating plain yogurt before meals to dampen the nausea. In any event, with so many of the women around you seeming to have an easier time being pregnant, I got the impression that your sickness made you feel even more alone – a loneliness your husband was at a loss to understand.

Second, you didn’t have a nice maternity wardrobe. On TV, a pregnant Lucy Ricardo got to wear cute smocks — with big Peter Pan collars and dainty bows that matched the bows she would wear in her hair — while a bewildered but adoring Ricky tried to respond to her cravings and mood swings. In Chesilhurst, pregnant women wore their husbands’ pants and shirts used pots to boil their baby bottles, not expensive sterilizers. You tried to adjust.

Your father-in-law tested your mettle.  You told me that on one Sunday visit while you were pregnant, he called you to the backyard for a chat.  You don’t remember what it was about, but in those days, when an elder called you, you came.  He had a freshly-killed hog hanging from a tree, and he was just beginning to butcher it.  While he chatted amiably, he plunged a big knife into the hog’s belly and dragged it down to expose the entrails. Nauseous already, the hog’s reeking innards were about to make you swoon. As you fought to look attentive and keep from puking, your mother-in-law bustled out, alarmed! “Jesse!” she cried. “You can’t talk to Anna while you do that! The baby will have the face of a hog!”

When I was born, you told me Grandmom Mattie inspected my face to assure herself that it was quite human.  (When you told me this story I was in my 30s and Grandmom Mattie had been dead for a while. I took some comfort in remembering that she had told me I was pretty.)

The only other thing I know about the circumstances of my birth was that I came at 6:30 in the morning, and my father had already gone to work.  I tried to come out while you were in the hospital elevator, and a nurse put a hand on my emerging head to try to hold me back. She yelled , “Stop that! It’s not time yet!” And you said,  “I can’t!” and soon after, when you reached the delivery room, I was born.  Six pounds, three ounces, but the lungs weren’t in such good shape and you said one foot was curled into a club, but I think you must have been mistaken about that, because no one else remembers it and that just doesn’t go away from wearing orthopedic shoes.

The important part is that I was here, and eventually my lungs got better, but your marriage didn’t.

My mother at work
My mother at work

The two of you split and I was moved around between Dad’s relatives and yours while you each saved up money to make separate homes for me.  Eventually, you got an apartment in a Camden rowhouse and an office job, most likely because they thought you were Italian and not Negro.  I came to live with you, visiting Daddy and his new wife in Philadelphia on the weekends.

The thing that I want to thank you for the most is that you never talked badly about each other in front of me.  And although there were many rocky times in the half-century to come,  the two of you managed to support me through the triumphs and tragedies of my life.  For this, I will always be grateful.

I love you, Mommy. Talk to you again soon.

Love,

Kim

The Good Mother, part 2

Hi Mommy,

What was it like for you to be back in New Jersey busting suds and picking crops, after spending those years in Hartford, Connecticut, learning etiquette, elocution and the other skills essential to becoming a proper bourgeoise? No doubt it was a shock, and not just for you. You loved your New Jersey family and they loved you, but sometimes you just didn’t understand each other, and maybe that was to be expected.

For one thing, your sisters and brothers couldn’t get over the way you talked. Your sister was chuckling about that just recently. South Jersey folks of that generation have their own kind of country drawl, but you had a New Englander’s clipped enunciation. You had a way of saying, “Look at the the dogs!” that sounded more like, “Look aht the dahgs!” making your family double over with laughter because they had never heard anyone speak that way. It hurt your feelings, but then, lots of things hurt your feelings, and you could say things that they found just as cutting.

Not that there weren’t good times there. Along the White Horse Pike, between Camden and Atlantic City, and over the Ben Franklin bridge to Philadelphia, there was a world to explore. Near as I can tell, your Mom, Eileen, moved you and the kids around, depending on the most affordable and livable arrangements available at the time. Mostly you were in Chesilhurst, near your grandfather Ashton’s family, and not far from where your father’s brother built a home.

And your dreams of high school proms, high school dating, and eventually, college receded into heartbroken imaginings.

Start in South Philly, a place that you all visited on occasion. Eileen’s father, John Henry Farrell, had his own “Sanitary Barber Shop,” as his business card said. John, Jr. was the first colored elevator operator for one of the big department stores downtown. And his brother, Wendell was a mechanic in the Air Force. Sometimes Aunt Gladys came to visit, and Eileen would get together with her and sisters Lynn and rarely, Edna, who moved to Elizabeth early on. Lynn was something of a glamour girl and you all got to be friend with her kids, all being around the same age.

Cross back over the Ben Franklin to Camden, either on the bus in a car like that big pink Studebaker your Mom used to drive. Camden was a working class town, but it was in much better shape than it is now. There was plenty of work at the Campbell Soup plant, and if some folks had to shop at the Goodwill on Broadway, there was also a Tiffany’s.

But if you were young, black and looking for fun in the 1950s, the action was down the White Horse Pike, in Lawnside.

A former stop on the Underground Railroad, Lawnside was the first self-governing African American community north of the Mason-Dixon line. The Peter Mott House there is now a historic landmark.  In the late 19th century, it was the childhood home of Jessie Redmon Fauset, the novelist, poet, teacher and editor credited with launching the publishing careers of such leading lights of the Harlem Renaissance as Langston Hughes and Countee Cullen.  For the last few years, they’ve celebrated Jessie Fauset Day in Lawnside with poetry competitions and historical observances. But in the 50s, Ms. Fauset had moved back to Philadelphia for a few years of genteel retirement before her death, in 1961.

The Spaniels

By the 1950s, the striving town of Jessie Fauset’s youth had become better known to local African Americans as a place for barbecues, picnics and dancing. Jack Brady’s Dreamland Cafe saw its heyday during your childhood, boasting the likes of Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan. I never heard you all talk about Dreamland or the Cotton Club. But I did hear tell of the Whippoorwill and even as late as 1975, you all were still going to Loretta’s Hi-hat for family wedding receptions.

Daddy tells me there was a place next to the Tippin’ Inn where you go could for food and dancing if you weren’t yet of drinking age. That’s where he and his brothers used to go before he got drafted into the Army during the Korean War. He was going with your older sister when he got drafted. Then another man took your sister to the altar while the man who would become my father was doing his bit for Uncle Sam. It was later, after he got back, when he met you.

In the meantime, your older brother and sister were hitting the Hi Hat and you and your closest brother E  were winning dance contests at some of the local joints. Not that you all even needed to go out to have a good time. Even in my youngest childhood, I remember how you and your Mom and brothers and sisters would get together to eat, play pinochle and dance.

Grandmom cooked for white folks on the Main Line, I recall, but her family menus were strictly down home. Ham, fried chicken, macaroni and cheese, candied yams, string beans, potato salad, cornbread, apple pie, sweet potato pie, white potato pie, tomato soup cake — there was always something good in Mom’s kitchen. Maybe somebody put some music on a record player or maybe it was just a radio. The bop was the dance of the day.

Maybe it was at one of those contests that you met Thornton James “Pookie” Hudson from the Spaniels. Their signature  tune, “Good Night, Sweetheart,” had come out in 1954 when you were only 15. You told me that the two of you dated for a time. Given that Pookie was five years older and touring regularly, it’s likely that the relationship was more serious on your end than his. Nonetheless, you told me that you lost Pookie to a girl named “Tina” — a girl who so captured his heart that he wrote a song about her that the Spaniels recorded. You played the song for me; it mostly consisted of Pookie wailing her name.

I got an email from a cyberfriend when Pookie died in January, 2008. I thought about telling you, but I didn’t want to make you sad. I suppose you know by now.

Another time, you told me you met Arthur Prysock, and even sang backup for him. I never did hear the whole story, but I got the impression it wasn’t a serious thing — maybe even that he just let you get up on a stage with him one night and sing behind him. Who knows? It was one of those things you would say and leave unexplained, the same way you would say that we were related to Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. Who can say?

From what I’ve read about Lawnside in those days, it was a place where everybody mixed with everybody, so hanging out with  big stars such as the Spaniels is not as exotic as it might seem to us today. African Americans flocked to Lawnside because they weren’t allowed to be anyplace else.  Not long ago, Dottie Smith, a singer who played the Lawnside clubs in those days, told an interviewer:

“On Sunday, a lot of people would leave church and go right over there for the rest of the day,” she said. “That’s why it all felt so much like family. There were grandmothers and kids and musicians and shriners and everybody from all walks of life. Blacks didn’t have a Blue Book or a Country Club. Lawnside was where we went. It cost practically nothing to enjoy yourself. I remember in Philadelphia there used to be this weekend saying that it was time to ‘go down the ridge and over the bridge,’ which meant heading out for Lawnside and the clubs and all.”

You were popular with the fellas, I’m told. At your memorial service, a man who had grown up with you, whom I only knew through your church, talked to me about your beauty with all the wistfulness of an old man remembering his first schoolboy crush.

This was your life: work, child care, hanging out with friends on your off hours. School was not part of the picture for you or your peers. Dropping out of high school to help the family was pretty common in the 1950s. Heck, it wasn’t unusual to meet kids who had bailed on elementary school. Nobody was sending truant officers out to make sure poor black kids went to school.

The jobs available to blacks in Camden County didn’t require more than an elementary school education. They were jobs that needed strong backs more than good brains. Also, you had to have a high tolerance for being called “boy” or “gal.” And never talk back to a Jersey cop. People warned each other,  “They’re as bad as the ones in Mississippi,”

But you had seen another world – a world where a black woman could get an office job, instead of having to clean a white woman’s house or wash her clothes. A world where little black girls took ballet lessons and dreamed of going to college. A world with doilies and flowers and husbands who save up their money to buy you a string of pearls. A man who, as you were fond of saying later, “brought something to the table.”

That was the world you wanted. Sometime in 1956, when you were 17 and he was 24, you decided that my bookish father was the man most likely the partner you needed.

Yes, Ma’am. I’m going to get some rest now.

Love,

Kim