1950 Memories of Suburban Adventures

The race reality that I grew up with during the 1950s and 60s is not today’s. And that’s a good thing.

I used to sneak out of bed and hide behind a chair in our living room to watch Amos and Andy. It didn’t seem fair that such a funny show aired after my bedtime. A lot has changed since the hoopla over Guess Who’s Coming To Dinner and All In The Family.

In January of 1964, I lay on the floor reading while Grandma sat crocheting in her overstuffed chair.

“Come sit by me,” she said.

I laughed at the notion of squeezing in beside her. “I won’t fit,” I said.

“Sure you will, look there’s plenty of room.”

I thought of happy times sitting beside Grandma in the past. I guessed she must have been thinking about them too, realizing they were coming to an end as I continued to grow.

I wedged myself in beside Grandma. A saucer of apple slices sat on the flat arm of our chair. I continued reading while Grandma crocheted. So cozy and heartwarming.

Fast forward to 1970: I transferred to another state for my last two years of college. Grandma crocheted a throw rug and an afghan as a surprise for me. This was an act of love since her hands were crippled with arthritis. I still treasure her crocheted creations.

Back to 1964: Crunching an apple slice, I closed my book and reached down for a Look magazine lying on the floor. Flipping through the pages, I stopped at a two-page illustration by Norman Rockwell.

“Grandma, look at this. A little black girl is under arrest,” I said.

“She isn’t under arrest, dear. The soldiers are guarding her, so she can go to the same school as white children.”

With no black children in our school district at the time, I assumed kids went to whatever school was closest and that all schools were about the same. I never thought about schools outside our area. Why would I?

“She’s just a little girl,” I said. “Why wouldn’t they want her in their school?”

Grandma explained, “There are many people who believe white people and Negroes (current terminology) shouldn’t mix together, not even in school.”

She proceeded to tell me about Rosa Parks, who refused to give her bus seat to a white man. Grandma also told me how Negroes and white people had separate water fountains, and that a Negro girl had been arrested for drinking out of a white fountain.

What the heck? I had no idea any of this was happening. Why didn’t we learn about this in school?

Grandma used to teach in a one-room school house. She patiently told me about segregation and racial conflict without influencing my thoughts on the matter with her own.

I read and reread the Look article, learning new words, such as bigotry and prejudice. It still didn’t make sense. I knew kids could behave meanly; I was guilty myself. But it was adults threatening this young girl who simply wanted to go to school. Adults are supposed to protect children.

I’d gone to a new school in fifth grade and experienced firsthand how intimidating it can be. I pictured my first day surrounded by soldiers, with grownups throwing tomatoes and yelling mean things.

I wanted to tell-off those idiotic adults. And why weren’t the police arresting them?

The incident was far away and didn’t seem real, but it was closer than I thought—and very real.

Lesson learned: Not all grownups are created equal or know what’s best.

Now it’s your turn: What memories has my story stirred up for you?

© Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures, 2012 forward. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Mary Norton-Miller and 1950s Suburban Adventures with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


22 Comments

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, SS. I can recall the scene with Grandma so clearly.

    • I grew up in a rural area. My mom’s friend, one of probably ten blacks in the town, would often babysit us. Since I have a dark-complexion, the rumor started that she was my mom. I had to inquire what a “half-breed” was, but I knew, at 9 or so years old, that it was a very undesirable thing to be.

      • skinnyuz2b says:

        FP, It’s too bad that the negative feelings of some adults are allowed to affect the innocence of children. And children are very attuned to the vibes that adults send off.

      • I remember my mom telling me that our sweet 80-ish year old lady neighbor said she would appreciate it “if that nigger friend of yours didn’t come around.”

      • skinnyuz2b says:

        You know, FP, as horrible as that sounds, she is a product of her times and upbringing. But it doesn’t excuse what she said. I hope your mom did not oblige that lady’s wish.

  1. Elle Knowles says:

    We were homesteading in Alaska at the time and I had a black teacher in the 2nd grade. No big deal to me. We move back to Louisiana a couple of years later during the mid sixties and I couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about. It’s really sad. 😦

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Yes, Elle, hard to believe how it used to be. When I left for my junior of college in 1970, my mother took me aside and said, “If you should fall in love with a person of color, that is your choice. There will be opposition from both sides. But you shouldn’t bring children to live with not being accepted fully by either side.”
      Mom accepted all people, but knew the reality of the times. Bi-racial couples were not just subjected to vulgar words, but were often beat up or worse.

  2. spunkybong says:

    Excellent piece. It does make me think that, within all that bigotry, there was still a conscience, a guilt which ultimately led to the changes that we see today.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks, Spunky. I can’t believe the difference between now and when I grew up. I can only imagine the climate when my children are my age. Hopefully it is beautiful.

  3. C. Suresh says:

    That was a great piece, Mary! Only you could mix together nostalgia AND such a lovely message in one piece.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Thanks C.S. I do think MOST humans are good at heart. It does seem like the human race in general has always looked for ‘some group’ to be inferior or evil, when the real enemy is not tangible. It is poverty, illiteracy, illness, etc.

  4. parrillaturi says:

    Growing up in Brooklyn, I never experienced any prejudice. The same followed when we moved to (Ugh) California. Different story when we relocated to Texas, Another Ugh. We went to a drive in fast food place. We waited for about 20 minutes. No one came. We were not used to this type of behavior, so we returned home. Later on, we were informed that Mexicans were not allowed to frequent certain areas. Well, being that we were of Puerto Rican descend, we became quite angry. We lived there for only six months, so it didn’t really bother me.

    Quite a different story when I was stationed at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. We had a three day pass, and decided to go to Louisville. Three of us were New Yorkers, and two were blacks. We sat down to what we thought was going to be an exceptional breakfast. Lo and behold, the waitress gave us three menus, and did not even bother to address the the other two. We really got angry at that woman. Thankfully, we had the presence of mind to leave.We went to the what was called back then, The Negro Side. We had the best breakfast. For years, I could not address a Southerner with respect, due to that pent up anger. But then, along came Martin Luther King. He was God sent. A great man. Blessings

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Wow, Parrillaturi, it’s amazing the difference in experiences throughout various regions of the same country. I know prejudice is still around, but what a long, long way we’ve come. I don’t think our children can truly appreciate the difference between our childhood and now. We can’t let them forget how things were not so many years ago.
      Thank you for stopping by and sharing.

  5. Glynis Jolly says:

    I remember when the 2 first kids where were black started going to my school. I was 10 at the time. I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was. To me they were just 2 kids who happened to have darker skin than I did.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Glynis, talk about changing times. Now being of mixed race is so often considered a beautiful thing.
      And isn’t it strange that color only matters as people get older?
      Shortly after adopting my oldest daughter (at age 6 in 1993) from a secluded orphanage in Russia, she sat on our dock with a new neighbor girl who was black. Latoya came running up to me and said, “Mrs. Miller, do you know what your daughter just asked me? She wanted to know what other colors people come in!”

  6. mikesteeden says:

    That is a rather special piece you have penned there! Some many levels to it.

  7. Sunni Morris says:

    I grew up in the south too about the same time you did and I always wondered the same. The black peope in our rural town had their own side of the tracks in town and went to school, churches and grocery stores, etc on their side of town. We would see thm driving through town once in a while, but they had to be back on their side of town by sundown. I always thought that was so odd.

    We never had any colored people in the white schools until I was a senior in high school. Most of the kids shunned them, which was sad, but if you took up friendship with one, you were also shunned for doing so. Thankfully, our parents weren’t prejudiced.

    To me, people are people and I don’t care what color their skin is. I’ve got some very nice black friends. You are right in that people are a product of their upbringing. I’m sure this still goes on in parts of the country, but things have gotten better than they were fifty years ago.

    • skinnyuz2b says:

      Sunni, your post is more proof that prejudice is a learned thing. Little kids don’t give a crap about skin color, religion, etc. They only care about whether the kid is fun or nice.

  8. as it is said, no one is born with hate, it is something we learn. the people around us have such an influence on what we learn about life, having open-minded adults around is is such gift.

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