My memories of growing up Black
|REMEMBERING MY BLACK HISTORY
Today is February 1, 2021 -- the first day of Black History Month.
When I was a child, we celebrated Black History Week. My teachers told me that based on the number of contributions made to America and the American way of life, Black history should be celebrated every month! I have always agreed and actually believed that true Black history should be in every history book in America.
One of the biggest losses in my basement disaster was the Black history books that I have been collecting since high school in Waycross, Georgia. I cried as they were placed in bags for trash. Out of more than 1,000 books, I have about 40 that are worth saving. My entire Mandigo series -- gone. My encyclopedia of Black America -- gone. My Richard Wright collection -- Native Son, Black Boy, Uncle Tom's Children, Rite of Passage, White Man Listen, A Father's Law, and a few others -- gone. My entire James Baldwin collection is gone. But most of all, I lost my John Hope Franklin books -- From Slavery to Freedom, Run Away Slave, The Free Negor in North Carolina, and In search of Freedom, just to name a few. John Hope Franklin was required reading at Saint Augustine's College (now Saint Augustine's University)! You paid through the nose for Black books back then, and they were often hard to fine. Now, they are just gone. TEARS and more tears.
The lesson for me is to be a lot more protective of my collections -- cups, elephants, state spoons, and BOOKS!
I am also reminded to share my Black history more often with my children and grandchildren. They were amazed to see all of the Black history collections going in trash bags to be permanently disposed of and probably never collected by me again.
During this Black History month, I plan to post a Black historical fact from my past weekly (maybe even daily) to ensure that it is preserved for my future generations.
FACT 1 I was born and raised in Screven and Waycross Georgia where at seven (7) years old, I was placed on a tractor in a tobacco field and taught to drive a red Ford tractor between tobacco rows with a sled where workers cropped and placed tobacco from 7:00 a.m. until knock-off time around 5L00 p.m. or when the field was finished.
FACT 2 Even though the law required it, social security was not deducted from wages, and if it was, Black folks didn't know it, and there were no records. So, when Black folks got old, there was no social security for them. Most did not know about social security.
FACT 3 The pay for an entire day was minimal $3.00 for handing tobacco, $4 for stringing tobacco, $5 for cropping and hanging tobacco, and $2 for driving that tractor (LOL). -- that was for working all day long in the hot sun.
FACT 4 Before even getting to the field to work in the tobacco and the hot sun, Blacks were always stopped at a store (owned by Whites) to buy their lunch/snacks. Most got their food on credit and had to "settle up" after work on their way home when they were again stopped by the store. Most owed the store more than they made all day.
FACT 5 This cycle was repeated every day during tobacco season, cotton season, peanut season, and on and on every year.
FACT 6 Not all Black children had to work in the fields at such an early age, but my Mother wanted my brother and me to learn to earn our "keep" because we lived with our grandfather.
Black history has always fascinated me, and like Michael Dyson in his Sermon to White Folks, I wonder why Black folks never rose up and just said no to the foolishness of White folks!
The first book I attempted to write was titled "From the Cotton Filed to Crack Cocaine, a journey from the South." Never finished. Now, lost with the rest of my writing that pre-dates computers.
Footnote to a friend from NEA/Facebook:
, I thought I had died and gone to heaven when I got my first job in Maryland at Welex Electronics. They paid me $1.87 an HOUR! I called my Mother and told her, and she too was in total disbelief. When I got my first check for more than $200, I could not wait to cash it and send her a money order for $100. I had promised her that if I ever made $200, I was going to give her half because that was her standard when we worked in the field -- half of everything was hers --except for cotton. She required the first 100 pounds and we could have everything over 100 pounds. LOL I always got 200 pounds plus -- learned my work ethics from that woman.
Tomorrow, working in the cotton fields of Georgia.
Today is February 2, 2021, he second day of Black History Month, and an opportunity for me to talk about working in Georgia's cotton fields.
The work was hard, and the cotton field transportation was always early. You knew going to bed at night that the truck to pick up the colored folks would be in front of your house by 6:00 a.m. You were never mad about that because you wanted to get some of that wet cotton on your sheet to help with the weight at weigh-in time.
Of course, if granddaddy was the overseer, you lived in the house with him, and he made sure that you were on the truck first. We had to set an example for everyone else, plus, you got to claim your seat on the tailgate of the truck (I did not know them, but it was the most dangerous seat on the truck).
Also, granddaddy nor Mother would allow us off the truck at Hub's Grocery Store in the morning. We had to fix and bring our lunch with us. Most everyone else got off the truck and purchased their lunch, bologna, bread, mayonnaise, soda, and whatever else they wanted to eat for the day. Their purchase was almost always more than they were going to make picking cotton that day.
The truck would leave Hub's and take us straight to the cotton field. Once we stored our food for the day, we picked our row of cotton and went to work. There was always lots of laughter, shucking, and jiving when we first got to the fields, but cotton picking got serious after about an hour.
Fact 1 You learn quickly how to pick cotton and not hurt your hands. The cotton burrows were sharp, and you wanted to get all of the cotton out of it quickly and into your sack.
Fact 2 You never wore your Sunday go to meeting clothes to the cotton field. We wore overalls, raggedy jeans, a long sleeve shirt, a hat of some kind (to protect our brains, LOL that is what they told us), and always carried a handkerchief or rag to wipe away the sweat when the sun got hot.
Fact 3 If you had small children, sometimes they went with you to the field, and periodically you had to go check on them. Most times, the little children were left home with a grandmother or other children.
Fact 4 Cotton rows are long. There were no bathrooms, toilets, or even outhouses for the workers to use. NOPE, no toilet paper either. The nears tree, brush, or building had to do, OR you learned to hold it all day long until you could get back home.
Fact 5 If you did not look like you were working fast or hard enough, you were given a warning. Two warnings and there were consequences -- adults that did not meet the strict work requirements would not get picked up the next day to come to work in the fields; children (only came with their parents or another adult) would get the daylights beat out of them in front of everybody, and made work next to their parents or the responsible adult.
Fact 6 Everybody usually ate lunch under the tree or out in the sun together around 12:00 noon. If you did not bring any food, someone would always share theirs with you, but most often, you had to have your own food and water.
Fact 7 No lotta gagging around. When it was time to work, you worked. Lunch was hurriedly done so that you could go back to picking cotton.
Fact 8 Around 5:00 p.m., it was time to start weighing the cotton. Each person's cotton was weighed by a very large scale hooked to a tractor. Once weighed, each person was told what their cotton weighed, and that determined how much they got paid by the paymaster.
Fact 9 There was always some kind of cheating going on, at least that what everybody said. Some people put rocks in their cotton to increase the weight. This was frowned upon because if the rocks remained in the cotton, it could cause the cotton gin to burn down by the blades hitting a rock and setting the dry cotton on fire. Others stopped picking early and pour any remaining water in their bottles on the cotton to increase the weight. If they didn't get caught, who was the wiser? AND then there were those who stole cotton from other cotton pickers. The worse sin or crime of them all. If they got caught, not only was there a big fight in the field (and yes, other family members would also get in the fight -- blood is blood -- right or wrong, and if you didn't see them do it, they didn't do even if everybody knew that the person probably did it). If proven, the person could not come back the next day.
Fact 10 No one was really above the cotton or tobacco fields, but mostly the poorer people went to the fields to work in cotton, tobacco, peanuts, peas, beans, and other crops. Preachers' children, teachers' children, factory workers' children, as well as their husbands and wives, worked in the fields.
Fact 11 Because of the clothes we wore to the fields back then, I am often appalled to see Black folks in raggedy jeans, overalls, etc., that they pay hundreds of dollars to wear. Most of my folks in my generation from Georgia would not be caught dead in them even if they were free!
Fact 12 Folks back then did not look down on you because of what you were wearing, but they show checked out your character in a hurry, and if you came up lacking, everybody knew it. Honesty, integrity, trust, and respect were often learned and demonstrated in the cotton fields (tobacco fields did not lend themselves to that kind of scrutiny).
Fact 13 When your long day was over from picking cotton, you paid off your debt at Hub's Grocery Store, you got dropped off where ever they picked you up from that morning. Then your day started -- chopping wood to cook dinner, helping with the children, and doing your chores around the house.
Fact 14 I don't know if cotton was truly king, but I do know that the cotton-picking season was long, the work was hard, and the pay was little -- $3 per HUNDRED (100) POUNDS. My best weight ever was 250 pounds. Of course, Mother got the first $3, and the rest was mine. So my goal every day was to make sure that I picked at least two hundred (200) pounds. My brother, Jimmy, bless his heart, could barely pick more than a hundred (100) pounds. He was always broke because his first 100 pounds belonged to our Mother. I always felt sorry for him, but not enough to give him my money or help him pick more cotton. Besides, Jimmy liked to play rather than work.
Fact 15 Not everybody in Screven, Georgia, worked in the cotton fields. Eventually, granddaddy retired from being the overseer, and Miss Johnnie Ruth Thomas became the overseer in charge of gathering and picking up workers for the field. My Mother eventually trusted Jimmy and me to get on the back of the truck without her, count our money, and bring it home to her for distribution.
Did I like picking cotton? Yes and no. Yes, because it provided me with income. My Mother did not give out allowances. You earned your keep. Picking cotton was a job I could do and do at my pace and get paid. No, I had other skills, but White folks' kitchens were never my cup of tea, and Mother made sure that I never worked in one because young budding Black girls in White folks kitchens did often have good experiences, and of course, they were never believed even when the "half-white" baby showed up.
Eventually, I graduated from the cotton fields, and my next working paying job was in JR's restaurant -- the first restaurant ever in Screven, Georgia, during my early years. Another story for another time. I was fourteen (14) when JR Aspinwall hired me, and he protected me like I was his daughter. He also owned a grocery store where we were allowed to shop, run a tab, and be treated like people, not "colored" people.
Tomorrow, coming of age in Screven, Georgia, being threatened in the cotton field and being shipped off to Waycross, Georgia!
FOOTNOTE: Many years after leaving Georgia, I took my children to Georgia and North Carolina to share with them the experience of a cotton field. I also allowed them to pick a few boles of cotton to experience the process.
And still... we survived! And here you are telling OUR story. For the Cotton Field. (((Hugs))) I remember those trips to Georgia and the feeling of oppression that filled the air. Driving through small towns where our kind was not welcomed and dreading being stopped by the police. I remember getting to Screven and turning left to go over the railroad tracks to the "black" side with the dilapidated housing and looking back to the "white" side with the well manicured homes and yard. I remember burying my Grandmother in the Colored Cemetery that was not well kept, and yet that's where many of our ancestors are buried. Lots of memories and pain from a place and time that I NEVER lived, but because I understood the plight of my family, it was painful just the same.
, the lessons learned, helped us to remember how we got to where we are at this time in history. It was not only the colored cemetery (Screven's Colored Cemetery), but there was also Screven's White Cemetery. And, before your time, there were White only bathrooms, water fountains, and colored windows outside the drugstore where you could buy ice cream if your mother would let you. We got our ice cream from Mag Grey's store (a Black woman) and from another Black-owned store.
is still oppressive to me. Still, I always remember what my Mother, your grandmother told me -- "How will it ever change if the smartest, best-educated, and most forward-thinking always move away and only come back to visit?" Then you are forced to ask, "what or why would I ever go back, unless it was to visit?" There is running water and gas heat now, but what else has change? Oh, I'm sorry, folks, there are just getting older like the rest of us, and even with the bad times, we still remember the good times, and those are the times that keep us sane.
February 3, 2021, the third day of Black History Month.
One of the things I often say, and I believe, Black folks are always mad about not being in the history books. We are also angry that when we are in the history books, the story is told from White-eyes and White experiences. My answer to that dilemma is that we, Black folks, should write and tell our own stories. We are the ones living the experiences.
We do not need to speak for the other twelve million Black people, but just tell our story, our mothers’ and fathers’ and uncles’ stories. We live with them. We know what they do to survive in this unfriendly and unremembering society.
So, over the years, I have written.
I was devasted and always upset during America’s crack cocaine years. I watched Black folks try to fly out of high-rise buildings. I watched old women stand in one place and go down to their knees, and then spring up as if coming out of a daze and walk off like nothing had happened. I know women who sold and gave their bodies in exchange for some crack.
Okay, I am ahead of my Black History Month story.
Today, I am writing about coming of age in Screven, Georgia, and getting shipped off to Waycross, Georgia!
My entry into adulthood was swift and fast OR long hard, and tedious. I can never decide this one.
Before I was seven (7), I had the task of babysitting my younger cousin Isaac Lee while everyone else went to work in the fields. By the time I was seven (7), I was given the task of cooking and making dinner for granddaddy and aunt Mozelle. My fondest memory of being seven (7) was my decision to give my hard-working Mother a birthday party (a relatively successful one at that). Other chores included:
Learning to milk old Daisy.
Cleaning soot out of the store to make sure it would burn evenly.
Raking the yard.
Picking up pecans.
Other fruits (grapes, pears, peaches, persimmons, and yellow plums) that we grew.
Of course, we ate some of them, but I was also allowed to sell them and keep the money.
Did I mention that washing and ironing clothes as part of my chore list? Well, they were, and if you can only imagine getting the clothes washed with no running water, you could see the struggle.
Granddaddy made troughs out of pine trees. They were cut out of the middle so that they could hold water. We had two of them, one tin tub and a rubboard. More often than not, we made our own soap in a big black kettle in the backyard from old lard and potash that we used on the clothes with the rubboard. Then the clothes had to be rinsed twice before hanging up to dry with wooden clothespins.
Fact 1 We made our own soap from old lard, potash, and essential oils if we had some. More often than not, the soap was brown and hard. We also purchased Octagon soap when we could afford it.
Fact 2 Chores had to be done before going out to play, and Saturdays were work days for taking care of our house, yard, and clothes.
Fact 3 Sundays were for going to church, Sunday school, morning service, lunch, afternoon service, and evening service. Yes, we also went to church during the week after working in the fields or going to school, and we were required to help clean up the church and the church grounds. For big services or the AAUW Convention, we practically lived at the church. We also housed all of the attendees in our various houses/homes for the entire week. We had to give up our beds and sleep on pallets or with other family members.
Fact 4 By the time I was fourteen (14), I had mad skills. I could cook, bake, clean, write, recite poems, sew, crochet, a salesperson (sold Colverine Salve), and a host of other things.
So, what did I get to do for work?
I got hired at J.R. Restaurant as a short-order cook. I cooked hamburgers, hotdogs, French fries, and other fast foods for customers – Black and White. I also got tips that I could keep. Lawd today, no more field work, well except on weekends to help scrap cotton or pick peanuts. This was all good until I “sassed” a twelve-year-old White boy who called my Mother out of her name.
Yep, I got in his face. My Mother was ordered to make me apologize. I refused. My Mother had raised that little wiper snapper, and there was no way I was going to let him disrespect her. So, yep, we got marched out of the field with a stern warning that “Florence, if you want to come back to work here, you need to beat her and make her apologize.” Never happened.
The next thing I knew, Lillian and I were living in Waycross, Georgia, with Cousin Mable Davis. We were twenty-eight (28) miles from home with people we barely knew. I was told that I was to look after Lillian and to “mind” Cousin Mable.
Fact 5 From age fourteen (14) to seventeen (17), Waycross became our home. We lived in one-bedroom for two years until Cousin Mable asked us to move because she wanted her granddaughters, Arthur Lee and Dorothy, to come live with her.
Having made friends with a substitute teacher, Settie Howard, Lillian and I were moved in with her, where we remained until we finished Center High School. We would sometimes go to Screven on the weekends, but Waycross, Georgia, became home, and I gained my independence and entered adulthood.
Note: Miss Settie Howard and her sister Jimmy Young lived in a huge house with lots of rooms, a kitchen, sitting room, dining room, sun porch, and two-stories tall. Had it been kept up, it would have been a mansion. Instead, it had become that scary house that people talked about but never wanted to come to visit (not even our cousins or friends, BUT I had my sixteenth coming out party there. Go figure!)
The house was directly across from a cemetery, and if you know anything about me – I and death for years were indeed at odds with each other. I did not do funerals – any. Then my Mother died, and death did not scare me as it had during my formative years – we are still not friends, but I can survive a funeral without absolutely losing it.
Fact 6 Lillian, Dot, Arthur Lee, and our other cousins were considered thugs and hooligans at our new school in Waycross. Of course, we (Lillian and I) were country bumpkins with no cityfied social skills. We were straight from the farm, and we acted accordingly. Dot and Arthur Lee were from Miami, big-time City kids with City skills. We came together like fire and oil – we clicked and built off of each other’s strengths – and I could lead them and us anywhere, and I mean anywhere. By the time I was in the eleventh grade, I had helped to lead a strike on the cafeteria to change the food menu and lower the prices; worked in a bar selling drinks, playing pool for cash, and stealing cars to get from one place to the other – we always returned the car. Usually, it was my Mother’s car or another relative. However, most of the time, we walked to our trouble and ran like hell to get away.
We never got caught, and I am always thankful for that and have asked for forgiveness often. I always had trouble with certain cousins who always seemed to steal my boyfriends and marry them from elementary school through high school.
Fact 7 At least twice in my life, I had to draw straws with someone else to determine my class placement. As a result, I ranked third in my high school class, and I ranked second in my college class. It seemed that I could never be first in school after I left Screven Elementary – my home turf. However, I always thought I gave it my best. I made sure that Lilliam and I did our homework and turned it in. I made sure that we had breakfast and dinner.
She became my little sister and my responsibility. I am sure there was a village out there to help us, but they never showed up, and yet in still, we made it.
Fact 8 I was dead set on going into the Air Force, but my Mother would not let me. She honestly believed that I would not make it in the Air Force for lots of reasons.
Thank God for Igall Spraggins (also known as eagle eye Soraggubs), a recruiter from Saint Augustine’s College (now University and aka as St. Aug) who offered me a full scholarship and work-study to go to Saint Augustine’s College. I was also offered a full scholarship to go to the University of New Mexico, and Mother said over her dead body, and that was the end of that.
I finished St Aug and really entered adulthood.
Fact 9 Between fourteen (14) and seventeen (17), I was reintroduced to my father, who lived in Pompano Beach, Florida. I also met a number of my siblings (I still have some to meet – LOL) That is another whole story all by itself. In Florida with my father, I was introduced to plumbing, drilling wells, running a juke joint, and purchasing supplies for the plumbing business and the juke joint.
Got my first taste of Pineapple Wine.
Not bad. My dad was brutal, not to me, but his wife and his children.
He always carried a gun. He always chewed on a Prince Albert cigar, and he did not take any lip from anyone, Black or White. He was charming when he wanted to be. He loved women, and so he had a lot of children. For some reason, he also liked me, but we fought like cats and dogs. I think he saw himself in me, and he was always challenged by it. I saw his brilliance, skills, strong work ethic, ability to get things done, and yes, his stick to itness! LOVED IT. He, like my Mother, was always helping somebody out. They would carry bags of food to the sick, those less fortunate than we were, or they would sit and talk with the elderly and make sure that they were alright.
Note: My Mother lived in Georgia, and my father lived in Florida, but their love and care for others were the same – Mother with everybody, daddy with everybody but his family. These two people – my Mother and my father shaped my view on life. Because of them, I am who I am – good or bad – a combination of good and evil, all wrapped up in one with only God to save my soul.
Note: When my Mother met my father, he was a preacher. Later in life, my Mother became an evangelist, teacher, founder of a kindergarten, and much more. My father was the first Black master plumber in Florida and owned real estate all over Broward County. My Mother and some of her other siblings were college graduates and saw education as the way out. My Mother and father believed in hard work, earning your way, and ensuring that you reached back and brought someone else with you. Serval of my siblings (sisters and brothers) never went to college but are some of the best plumbers I have ever seen or met, thanks to our father.
Fact 10 I have lived in Mount Rainier, Maryland, longer than anywhere else on earth. I have also lived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Waycross, Georgia, Raleigh, North Carolina, Lawton, Oklahoma, Washington, DC, and Baltimore, Maryland. However, Screven, Georgia, will always be called home. Over the years, I have frequently gone back to Screven to remember, to rejuvenate, t reaffirm my very existence. Screven, Georgia, represents where I have been, how I got started, and how I became the person I am today. The lessons learned there have kept me, carried me, defined me, and, yes, hindered me at times. A few days ago, one of my daughters asked me why I always needed to be validated by something or someone, and I have been puzzling over that for a few days. So far, I believe that I still must be validated because it is hard to believe some of the things, I have had to endure in my 74 years. I need to be validated because it is hard to believe what others have done and will do to a child just because they can. I need to be validated because sometimes, the memories that flood back in are hard for even me to believe. Who would think that someone would beat a child of seven (7) with no clothes on until their backs bled, and then turn around and put salve on it while praying for that child to be a better person? Who would allow a fourteen-year-old to stick their hands into wet cement to try and mix it up and watch the cement burn their hands so severely that they had to go to the hospital, but you wouldn’t take them because they should have known better? Who would beat a child with a switch that still had thorns on it and leave the thorn in the thigh after beating them? All of this and more from people who love you, so what do you expect from those who do not love you? Your goal -- aim to please and get confirmation. OR learn very quickly that you do not give a damn and go for the gusto. Note: I also believe that validation now is critical to me because many of those who could verify my truth are dead, dying or have Alzheimer’s disease, and their voices have been silenced.
Stop seeking approval and approve yourself – no faking it until you make it. You better make it because you know that your grandfather has already betted on you never finishing high school, on you being a whore or something worst or because you are reminded daily that you are a bastard because your Mother had you out of wedlock. Validation that you are better than all of that and them is necessary just to get through another day!
Hard facts, but true facts, but guess what, I have always told myself that I am one of God’s favorite people, and I know this because I am still here. I also know that others know that these are hard cold facts, and none of them ever did a thing to help me. I know many of the names that they were allowed to call me to my face, and even as adults reminded me of what they used to call me.
Growing up Malinda in a Black world was a helluva lot harder than growing up Black in a White world.
In my White world, I always knew who the enemy was, but not so clear in my Black world. It is like living in the south, you know the rules, but then you go north, and the rules are the same, but they are wrapped in lies and covered up with legalization. “You can live anywhere you want, but not in my neighborhood.” Everybody can apply for any job, but you never get hired or promoted for “all good reasons,” but the primary one is that you are Black.
Same qualifications, same skills, same performance reviews, but you get paid less (please do not throw in White women in this conversation, because that is another subject entirely).
America is my Country, and for years, I never wanted to leave it for fear that I could never come back.
Well, I left it and visited other countries, and I always returned, thanking God that I live in America – the good and the bad – and always vowed to work to make it better.
Tomorrow, my journey toward making America better and, in the process, making me better.
LOL, I have had one hell of a ride!
Today is February 4, 2021, and the 4th Day of Black History Month.
It seems that this task of writing something every day has consumed me and appears to be more important than ever. I spend the day trying to organize my thought to tell my story in some growth fashion – the early Screven, Georgia years, the Waycross, Georgia Years mixed in with the Florida time. Kind of hard to do, but it is a path forward.
Well, I got accepted into a college that my Mother approved of – Saint Augustine's College, Raleigh, North Carolina – a Christian school. (I don't think that she even had a clue that it was an Episcopalian College, she just knew that they had curfews, made children go to church, and had strict discipline. All bases covered. Really?
When it came time to go to Saint Aug, Mother borrowed money from everyone she knew, and a few White folks gave her some money to help get me off to college. My father gave me $100, and never another dime. My grandfather contributed his usual "she want make it bullshit" and went on about his business. Everyone else just knew that Miss Florence had sent "Linda" off to college.
Well, Miss Florence did not really send me off to college. She took me to college on the Silver Metpr train out of Jesup, Georgia, after finding and packing one of the largest chifforobes she could find. That's right, chifforobes – not a trunk, a chifforobe -- a piece of luggage with drawers on one side and hanging space on the other.
Fact 1 After being accepted at Saint Aug, I was sent a list of MUST read books before arriving – James Baldwin's "A Fire Next Time," Richard Wright's "Native Son," John Howard Griffin's "Black Like Me," W. E. DuBois's "The Souls of Black Folks," and Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man." None of which was a struggle for me to obtain because if you did nothing else at my Mother's house, you had to read books AND the Bible.
The Bible, you had to learn by heart and would be called upon to recite passages at the drop of a hat in church, YPWW, conferences, conventions, and revivals. It was an honor to compete with other youth and bring the banner back home to Saint James Holiness Church (yes, those holy rollers who taught me my values and love for Jesus Christ and my fellow man). Those other books just added to my repertoire of books that Miss Florence had in her collection. She loved Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson, Paul Lawrence Dunbar (I always thank him for my name "When Malindy Sings." Mother changed the "y" to an "a" after first reading and promised to name one of her children Malinda. Yep, I got that name.) Booker T. Washington, George Carver Washington, and a host of other Black writers, scientists, teachers, and scholars. She was also very interested in world history and inspired me to read about other worlds and lands. Her famous saying was that you might not be able to travel like the White folks, but you can visit all those places through books. In my pair time, I read books. When Mother went to work in one of the White homes, and they discarded their Reader's Digests, I got them. They always carried a list of ten (10) words with definitions, and you guessed it, but Saturday, I had to know the ten (10) words, spell them, and know the definitions.
My Mother and the old folks in my community back then understood that education was the way out for Black folks.
They also taught us that we had to be twice as good as any White person just to get a decent job, let alone keep it.
Mother also hammered into me that education was a lifelong journey and that I would never be able to stop learning and hope to succeed.
Fact 2 My first week at Saint Aug was not for orientation!
My first week at Saint Aug was for my Mother to get to know the teachers and "properly" introduce me to them, give them their marching orders about what I could and could not do. She lived in the dorm with me for an entire week before the other students arrived. Before she left the college grounds, I was officially turned over "Momma G," our dorm matron, with firm instructions to kick my butt if I got out of hand and to be sure to call her if I became a problem. Momma G took her job seriously, and because of her, I did not go completely crazy with my new found freedom. Okay, I was definitely not a saint at Saint Aug. I quickly figured out how to get done what I needed to do and still have a blast. I learned how to play cards, chuck-a-lug, and that wine was fine, liquor was quicker, and that gin would make you sin. LOL, I also learned that my "colored education" could compete with anyone anywhere and that my holy roller's biblical education was an easy "A." Gosh, those Christian had really taught me something. Still, there was so much to learn.
Fact 3 Did not know a thing about fraternities or sororities, but the education came fast – Alphas, Kappas, Sigmas, Omegas, Deltas, AKAs, Sigma Gamma Rho, and so on. It seemed that all of the smart folks wanted to be in one or the other of the Greek organizations, and you had to have at least a "B" average even to be considered, and oh yea, they had to want you to be in their group. NOT A GROUPE. Very used to doing things with my peeps, and none of them were my peeps. Then there were those Ford sisters – all Deltas and very tight-knit, and yes, there was that red and white/crimson and cream. I am in. Please let me in. I became a Delta after a year of pledging on December 12, 1965 – eons ago – well, it feels like it. My advisor Ms. Wright is still living in North Carolina, and some of the Ford sisters are still living in the DMV. Momma G used to come and visit me often when she was living, and some of my children got to meet her and hear stories (not lies, LOL) about my tenure at "The Aug." Momma G was from Burner, North Carolina. Igal Spraggins also was entrusted with my care, and his mentorship followed me all the way to Washington, DC, to Dr. John Epps, and the Saint Augustine's Alumni Chapter.
Igal Spraggins provided references and spoke to people to help me fit into my new found home. Members of the Devine Nine stood behind me, in front of me, and beside me during my work years and supported my endeavors.
Fact 4 – I ran through jobs. My first real paying job was at RCA in Florida, where I could only get a job as a welder even with my college degree. Yep, I welded circuits on circuit boards for televisions and other electronics that required circuit boards. It was also in Florida where I was encouraged to put my outstanding typing skills to work and learn keypunching. Did I mention how fast I could type? I could accurately type almost 100 words per minute with less than five errors. I passed my typing test at the National Education Association (NEA) with 89 wpm and three errors after not having to type anything for more than three years. I left Florida for Lawton, Oklahoma, in December 1967 to marry the man of my dreams, my college sweetheart.
While in Oklahoma, I became an army spouse and met Pat and Johnny McElwey (sp). We got married in their aunt's house. August 20, 1968, I became a mother. September 1968, the packers came, packed up all of our stuff, and shipped it to Conway, North Carolina, never to be seen again. YEP, lost everything except what we had in our car. To my knowledge, we were never reimbursed or otherwise paid for our loss. Washington, DC was our final destination, and we arrived there to nothing and having no place to live. HaHaHa. Who was thinking about where to live?
I wasn't. So we moved in with my husband's sister, husband, and baby in a shared housing situation. We were later asked to leave and ended up in a room at 14th and Upshur, where we were allowed to use the kitchen. No utopia. The room was over a store that got robbed almost every night. I was always scared, and uncertain, and unhappy. Time to get a job and find a decent place to live. Enters Welex Electronics Silver Spring, Maryland. Thanking God for my RCA experience, I applied and was hired on the spot at $1.87 an hour! I had died and gone to heaven. But wait, someone saw my resume and asked if I would be their clerk/secretary for more money. Yes! Yes! Eventually, I got restless and started checking out the advertisements for jobs, and what to my wondering eyes did appear, a job paying much more to be a printer at the American Association of University Women (AAUW)! A printer. I could do that. I had lots of experience using mimeograph machines – who knew that they were talking about AB Dick printers, and even larger. I applied and got the job. I did not have a clue, but someone already working there told me not to worry. He would teach me everything he knew.
I became a great printer and learned how to use the printer, collators, folders, postage machines, etc. I was working in the mailroom with my bachelor's degree, but I was getting paid big money – almost $3,000 a year. Tragedy struck when one of the printers went home, shot, and killed his wife. Thank God they offered me a job upstairs with the administrative staff and still more money.
I learned how to operate the switchboard, sell AAUW paraphernalia, and served as a receptionist. More than $4,000 a year. Who knows, I would have stayed at that job if I had not had a significant run-in with my boss about being late to work. Bad, bad day! I got to work early (real early) because parking in foggy bottom was a monster, but not early enough to get a parking space. I ran inside and notified staff that I was there but had nowhere to park.
Eventually, a parking space became available, and I went to work. Well, not really. I was called into the office and read the riot act. I was told that they would be deducting two hours from my pay even though I was only 30 minutes late. No discussion. PISSED.
Highly pissed even. Next move – resign now. Take this job and shove it. I was out the door and on to bigger and better things. Mouth in action before putting brain in gear, a lesson my Mother had tried her best to drill, beat, cajole and otherwise get me to understand, and no, counting to ten (10) did not help. I was out of there. It took me two weeks – two whole weeks to find another job, a job that would last for almost twenty-six (26) years. I applied for every job available and took all those crazy tests only to learn that I was overqualified for everything. The rent came due. The babysitter wanted to be paid. I walked for blocks to get to interviews from 14th and Upshur to Virginia Avenue, Pennsylvania Avenue, and other places daily because we had no money. My husband was a student at American University on a "Black" scholarship and had to keep his grades up.
At my wit's end, I remembered one of my co-workers at AAUW telling me about the NEA and one of her relatives working there. 3:00 p.m. I arrived at 16th and M and, once again, no place to park. Yep, I parked illegally and went in hoping and praying that I would get hired doing anything that would pay money. They were near closing (4:30 p.m.) but agreed to give me a typing and shorthand test while they watched my car to make sure I did not get a ticket. Typing was a breeze, even though rusty. I had never in my life taken or knew anything about shorthand, but I took notes like crazy for every one of my classes at "The Aug." I told her I could do, and she told me she did not care how I took it so long as I got it right. DONE DEAL.
I passed the shorthand test and was told that there were no jobs available now, but they would call if something comes up. Hopeful, I went home still without a job. The very next morning, I got a call from NEA to come in by 8:15 for a temporary assignment. I could not make 8:15 a.m, but I could be there by 9:00. My first job there was a clerk/secretary b. My last job was Employment Manager with responsibilities for hiring, firing, affirmative action, EEO, relocations, and the famous job description system that lasted for years even after I was gone.
After retirement, I held a job with the Woodbourne Center in Baltimore. There I served as the Human Resources Director in charge of Payroll and all other HR functions. There I met Dr. Robert Clinkscale, who invited me to serve on the Board of Directors for the Prisoners Aid Association of Maryland, Inc. Within a month or two, I was asked to become their executive director, a job I held from 1996 to 2005. After leaving PAA and getting restless at home, I spotted a job in my back door (Brentwood) at the Family Crisis Center, Inc. My job. I was hired at the FCC from March 2009 through April 2013.
My work history seems choppy and limited, but the accomplishments during that time in history were enormous. This brief writing omits those other facets of my life that were simultaneously going on – going back to school to get two masters, raising a family as a single mom, running for and holding political office, and yes, trying to have a personal and meaningful life.
Next time a glimpse into the political side of my world and then onto those fabulous children that I call mine, and let me not forget, my vow to be the house by the side of the road to be a friend to man. My children will love that one, but it is a little further down in the month of February.
February 5, 2021, the firth day of Black History Month.
WOW! I have written something for FIVE (5) days in a row about my life and times.
Initially, I thought that I would write something every week at a minimum, and if I were lucky, I would write something a little more often. The beauty of this project is that the more I tell, the more I want to tell. LOL
I find myself thinking about what I will write for the next episode all day long—organizing my thoughts. It is hard to remember sequences, and yes, tell the story without name names or get stuck in the details. Well, I promised to write about politics and my grand entry into politics. This is a hot smoking mess because I have no clue where to start, and I am having trouble defining politics as I see it.
If the truth is told, my grandfather and my Mother introduced me to politics, but no with that label, and then maybe it was negotiations. Also, not with that label. Granddaddy would sit on the front porch, either smoking a pipe or a hand-rolled cigarette. Both came out of that red Prince Albert tobacco filled can. Granddaddy would talk about getting along with the White man and what America should do to solve the race issue. He firmly believed that we all needed each other but did not know how to get along with each other. His solution, divide the nation in half, put Blacks on one side and Whites on the other. Post guards on the border wall with orders to shoot anyone trying to cross to the other side.
Mother's counter to that discussion (which happened often) was that was not a solution because if we needed each other and a wall separated us, and there were standing orders to shoot any trespassers, how was that going to work out? Mother said that there had to be compromise, boundaries set, and work relationships established that both sides honored. It could never be all of one side or the other.
These debates and discussions would go on and on with no one winning, but with lots of ideas bounced back and forth. In the end, granddaddy would sit on that front porch with his rifle across his lap, smoking, and watching. Everyone knew what "Son Anderson" was watching far on those days – the word was out that the KKK would be riding, and granddaddy was prepared to die protecting his home. The women knew to get inside and stay low. No venturing out to church or visiting neighbors, but a day to stay home cook, sew, or other "women's work."
I learned how to negotiate with everybody. I learned how to get things accomplished when they seemed almost impossible. I learned how to shoot a b-b gun, then a 22, and end a Winchester.
Yep, I had to negotiate with the rabbits, coons, possums, and other animals that would help provide food on our table. I was taught that you only killed to eat or protect yourself and the family. Guns were not your enemy but a necessity.
Those lessons often came through in a crisis like the night the KKK came to take away a young boy that was heard talking to a White girl on the telephone – back then, it was called a party line. Everybody was on the same line (number), and you could just pick up the phone and listen in.
Great for gossiping. Well, nothing happened between the two, but of course, the KKK was not going to stand by and have that ______ disrespect one of their girls. That boy disappeared that night and was never heard from again; at least I never heard about or from him after that night.
Fact 1. In my town of Screven, Georgia, White folks firmly believed in segregation and separation of the races. That railroad track really meant something in the daytime and the nighttime. White lived on the good side of town, and Black lived on the other side of town and was only allowed across the tracks to work and spend their money in their stores. I learned early that "Black folks" had a place, and it was not with the White folks unless invited. Granddaddy and the other adults would talk about family members who ran afoul of White folks like Uncle John, who served as a conductor on the train and got smart with a White person. Uncle John was later found dead on the railroad track with no explanation.
On the other hand, my Aunt Janie was a mid-wife who mostly delivered "colored" babies, but also, in an emergency, would be allowed to deliver White babies. Let me not be remiss; those same White folks would also bring food to the "colored" folks during challenging times such as failed crops or a very tough winter. Of course, granddaddy, Mother, and the others would be grateful. You would be surprised at how happy a bucket of chitterlings and other vittles would make you when you were at your wit's end on how you were going to feed the children. Those couple of dollars handed out made a big difference, and you learned not to cut off your hand to spite your face. Politics.
I have often heard the question of "why didn't Black folks rise up and fight back?" Well, think about it – rise up and fight back with what?" Blacks were freed, but they were not freed with money, houses, clothes, bank accounts, or other of life's necessities. They were viewed as ¾ of a person. They owned nothing. They worked for massa. They lived on massa's land. Even the animals had more to look forward to, and yet Blacks found a way to survive.
Blacks mastered the politics of staying alive in a White world, and Screven, Georgia was no different. Every day you were able to stay alive, find work, get paid something (sometimes in food, hand-me-down clothes or whatever) you had an opportunity to get out. The nice name attached to getting out in most books is called "the Black migration." We migrated alright – running to what we believed to be a better future.
Fact 2 I hate it when people talk about the "N" word. Living in Screven, Georgia, Florida (West Palm Beach, Pompano, Belle Glade, Riviera Beach, Fort Lauderdale, etc.), there was no "N" word. Whites used it to offend and to demoralize, but Blacks used it too, sometimes for the same reasons, but many times for a thousand other reasons, many of which were not put-downs but ways to encourage, show humor, mark White folks, and even to lift up.
Blacks have always fought the battle of getting rid of the "N" word, and many still find it offensive. I do not accept it when it comes from White folks who use it for the soul purpose of hurting Black folks. When folks talk to me about using the "N" word, I frequently ask what "N" word?
Why? Because a lot of words start with "N," and I need to be clear on which "N" word are they referring – nice, number nuisance, never, etc. I am sticking this in this section because it is part and parcel of my introduction to politics. I have never in my life heard of a Georgia Cracker being called a Georgia "C," but I have heard even White folks refer to themselves as Georgia Crackers. What's my point? Even words are political and are often used for political and social reasons, and yet, we are told to be politically correct. Yep, I learned my first politics in Georgia, but the "almost" north gave me my polish. Y'all do know that DC, Maryland, and Virginia are not "up north," right?" At least that is what your history books and geography teach me.
Fact 3 Following those old folks from Screven, Georgia, I was told and taught to be a "credit" to my Race. Damn, what in the hell does that mean? Well, southern and northern, and Eastern, and Western, and Central America knew exactly what that meant whether espoused by White folks or Black folks.
So, I had to get a good education, mind my manners, stay in my place, and for God sake do not mouth back at White people. This was the hardest thing on earth for me to do. Instinctively, I knew that this was wrong. I had to do all these things to be a credit to my Race, and White people did not have to do a damn thing but be White. A twelve-year-old boy raised by my Mother had to call him MISTER, but he could call my Mother auntie or any other name he chose. Why? What gave him the right to do that? I was made to call all grown people Mr., Mrs., Miss, Sir, Ma'am, etc., but White children did not have to do that to Black people no matter how old they were.
What did I miss? Boy did I have an education coming – I could not do that because I was Black and a "N" word. Really?
I beat the hell out of that little boy, and that is when my Mother decided Waycross, Georgia would be a good place for me to live. LOL
Hello Waycross, and a new kind of politics.
Fact 4 Waycross, Georgia was a big city compared to Screven, and many Blacks in Waycross had arrived. They had nice homes, running water, indoor bathrooms, televisions in the living room, and many of the same amenities that Whites had. WOW! Black folks can really live like this? I wanted it.
I had to continue my education so that I could have this. Oh my gosh, I missed something. I was still living in the "colored" section of town with that big invisible sign that separated Blacks from Whites. The radios and televisions were blasting about civil rights, desegregation, and White people were sicing dogs on Black children, and George Wallace was standing in front of schools and government buildings with axes, and the federal government was sending troops, all hell had broken loose. Then my politics took shape! Enter John F. Kennedy. WOW. I could follow his politics. I got wings; I knew exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to become president of these United States. Now, folks could stop asking me what I wanted to be and do when I grew up. I would tell them before they asked.
Everybody, except my Mother and Mrs. Johnny Flucker said that a Black person could never be president of the United States. Thank God I got to live to see Barack Obama become President and now Kamala Harris as Vice President. Regardless, of my reality, I am not and probably will not ever be president, I understood the importance of politics in America. I became energized. There was a White man in the White House that I could relate too. I also wanted to be a secretary, a lawyer, but never ever a teacher – that is what my Mother was and that is what she wanted me to become. Great job, probably one of the most important jobs on earth, just not for me. Okay, I can't go into the air force, so let's go to college. Saint Aug, here I come.
Fact 5 Saint Augustine's College (now University) was my pruning ground, and my real lesson in politics. I can't remember his name at the moment, but he taught me American History, and introduced me to politics and local politicians in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Mr. Jon W. Winters, a Black man, sat on the City Council in Raleigh, North Carolina, the state capitol, and children went to Saint Augustine's College. Did I say that his daughter and I became friends, and I got to live in his house during some of the college breaks? Yes, Mr. John Winters, was my formal introduction to real-life politics.
To this day, I cannot tell you whether he was a democrat or a republican, but I can tell you that he became my inspiration to make the laws and rules that govern people. He was the man! He knew his stuff. I wanted to be just like him when I got out of college. Mr. Winters worked for and built up the Black community. He believed in Black homeownership. He supported Blacks in business and was a leader in his community. I had my work cut out for me, and politic or as I often say, community advocacy would be my way of life. Now, if I could just figure out how to do it.
Fact 6 Washington, DC was as good of a place as any to get started on my political journey, but how do you get in? My ex-husband and I arrived in DC September 1968. No place to live, so we lived with his sister, and then moved to 14th and Upshur. We came right after the 1968 riots. The Black neighborhoods on and off 14th Street were burned and blighted. They stayed that way for years as White neighborhoods continued to flourish. I managed to stay in DC from September to December 13, 1968 when I found the little-known City of Mount Rainier, MD. It was instantly home. I moved from DC to Queenstown Apartments, where I stayed for five years or until hurricane Agnes, came along and displaced us. Flood water came all up in our home. FEMA gave us a check for $2,500 for our lost – everything we owned.
Hooked on the neighborhood, I went house hunting with that money, and purchased my first property with the help of Cindi Kaiser, and Dr. Dwight David Darland – two White people that I will always owe a debt of gratitude. Although FEMA promised the money, they did not get it to us for months. Cindi Kaiser put up the money. Years later, she and her ex-husband, Rob came to live with us in that same house. That house also became home to a few more NEA folks over the years. I digress.
Politics entered my life in Mount Rainier via the school system. Put my child in Mount Rainier Elementary, and low and behold, they did not have math books. Really! Well, that will not work. Joined the PTA, became PTA president. Then in 1980, I ran for School Board after learning that my school board representative, Chester Whiting, slept through most of the meetings and was not doing a darn thing to help my child. I lost that election, but I had gotten my entry to Prince George's County politics. I met Senator Tommy Broadwater, Nathaniel (Nat) Exum, Frank Santangelo, Georgia Scott, Cora B. Woods, Cora Rice, and Al Scott, just to name a few.
My next time out, I ran for the Democratic Central Committee and won. Mind you, I was active in City politics, but just could not get elected. Finally, in 1987, I ran again, for Mount Rainier's City Council and won my seat in Ward 4. Terms for the Mayor and Council were two years. Thanks to some NEA folks like Barry Abel, and Mary Faber, I put together a campaign and beat my competition in almost every election thereafter.
During my journey into politics in Prince George's County, I worked with now Congressman Steny Hoyer, Senator Ben Cardin, County Executive/Governor Paris Glendenning, Senator Mike V. Miller, Senator Joanne Benson, School Board Chair Bonnie Johns, and Senator Decatur Trotter, Delegate Carolyn J. B. Howard, Senator Gloria Lawlah, and so many others. We envisioned Prince George's County long before we became the riches Black County in America. We created the Enterprise Zone, we laid out Mitchellville.
Howard Stone, Richard (Dick) Castaldi, and others poured money into our communities through CDBG funds, long before those funds were taken over by County government and given to non-profits.
Yes, I was there during the infant stages of Prince George's County, worked hard to make it a place for people, not White people, but all people.
Fact 7 I have served as Mayor of Mount Rainier, Maryland from 2005 to present. Property values have gone from $28,500 (the price of my house in 1972) to over $500,00. Mount Rainier has gone from a sundown town where Blacks had to be out of the City limits by dark to being one of the most diverse cities in the State of Maryland. Mount Rainier, Maryland, my new hometown has become a destination, not just a suburb of Washington, DC, but a recognized City in its own rights.
This is just my entry into politics in Prince George's County. Over the course of many years, I have run for County Council, State Senate, and School Board. Some I ran for knowing that I could not win, but I could not stand by and let someone less qualified just walk in.
I ran for other positions because I strongly believed that Black people needed a seat at the table and that we should not be taken for granted. The political portion of my life span almost half a century, and I am still writing it. Part two of my adult politics will be written later but know that it is not over until the fat lady sings. LOL
I should have posted this when I wrote it earlier this morning, but I did not, so here are a few afterthoughts.
Why didn't I run for president of the United States? Besides being told that no Black person would ever be president, the only person who stopped me was me – win, lose, or draw – a decision I made.
What influenced my decision to never go for the gold – maybe I knew from the jump that it was an impossibility. Unlike Bill Clinton, who said that as a child he wanted to be president, I knew that it was not obtainable even when I wanted it. Maybe, just maybe, my support base was not there, i.e., cash or people with cash.
I will never know the real answer to that question, but what I do know, that given what I know about qualifications for jobs, offices, etc., I was probably over-qualified. You know that is the standard answer for Black folks when being turned down for most jobs.
However, my human resource background from over the years has taught me that you will never know if you will get the job if you do not apply for it. Thank you, Mr. Obama, for applying for that particular job – President of these here United States.
And the political life matured or did it?
This month seems to be dragging its feet. If I had not taken on this task of writing something about my Black history experiences, it would already be the middle of February. Instead, this is only Saturday, February 6, 2021, and I still have 22 more days to write. Thank God this is not a leap year or I would have 23 more days to write. LOL
I ran for other positions because I strongly believed that Black people needed a seat at the table and that we should not be taken for granted. The political portion of my life span almost half a century, and I am still writing it. Part two of my adult politics will be written later but know that it is not over until the fat lady sings. LOL
What does holding a political office mean? It means a lot of different things to many, but to me it means getting actively involved in every aspect of service needed by a community. From the moment I became PTA president, more jobs were piled on my plate. But, I am a few positions ahead of myself.
Fact 1 Upon buying my first home in Mount Rainier, I became interested in the neighborhood. I wanted to meet my neighbors. So, I took my happy self to visit. Some were glad that we were there, our next-door neighbor was one of them, she was a seamstress and her husband worked for the government and drove taxi in his spare time. They had one child who became my oldest daughter’s best friend. Others informed us of the Mount Rainier Civic Association. Joining in. My ex-husband and I attended our first meeting at Saint James Episcopal Church in their community room. You should have been there. We were the only Blacks in the entire sea of White faces, and yep, we were sitting in the middle. Mayor Roy Calloway was the president or master of ceremony, I have no idea, but when he started the meeting he said “I see we have two monkeys visiting us tonight!” Two monkeys! Two Fing monkeys, can you imagine. Well that should have been my last meeting, but no, it was not. I became a regular, not my ex. He was too through. About five (5) years later, I ran for president, and before I could get elected, the Mount Rainier Civic Association disappeared and never resurfaced again. I wonder what I did? LOL
Fact 2 The Concerned Citizen of Mount Rainier (CCMR) is born. Some White guy from Montgomery County found a great old big house on 29th Street in Mount Rainier and thought it would be a great idea to convert it to three apartments. The house was near the Wendell’s and another family and very much NOT wanted. So, we had a block meeting once we so the notice of a hearing about making an exception to the single residential zoning to allow for three apartments. Oh no, not in my block. Well, I along with the Wendell’s, that other family, and my Mother called a meeting of the block and the CCMR was up and running. We attended the hearing in Upper Marlboro and I was the spokesperson. We packed that room, and when we were called upon to testify, Councilmember Conzula asked who we were, and why we where there. I told him. Then he asked about the CCMR. He said that he was familiar with almost every group in Prince George’s County, but had not heard of us. My answer was simple, until Mr. Man from Gaithersburg decided to come to our neighborhood and start turning our houses into apartments, we had not heard of us either. The room busted into laughter. Lord, the Country in me just rose up and let lose. There was no other reason for that response. Needless to say, Mr. Gaithersburg was ordered to restore the house to a single-family home with orders to remove all of his three apartments of furniture! Victory was sweet, so why not go after some of the other issues in the City. Our next major issue was the WMATA bus that shook my house every single time it went by, and it went by a lot. The CCMR contacted WMATA and asked the to re-route the bus, but that was a definite no go. If not WMATA then whom, of course, the City of Mount Rainier. What did we want? Stop signs at every intersection so that the bus would have to slow down and stop. It worked, and those stop signs are still there. The CCMR did not live forever, but was instrumental in creating the next organization, The Neighborhood United Project (Mount Rainier, Chillum, Brentwood, North Brentwood, Cottage City, and Colmar Manor) also widely known as NUP. These neighborhoods formerly combined to get the attention of the Prince George’s County Council because no money was coming in to fix up the inner beltway communities, but lots of money was going outside of the beltway to build new communities.
Fact 3 NUP was instrumental in getting revitalization started inside the beltway, and out of it grew Betterment for United Seniors (BUS) that led to the creation of the Cora B. Woods Center in Brentwood. As one of the community activists in the area, I was elected to the NUP Board and later served as vice president of NUP. My mother served on the BUS Board. Out of these organizations, Mount Rainier got the Nature Center (the first one was in a house on 29th Street) that was an abandoned house. As a compromise for not building a real recreation center in Mount Rainier, MNCPPC built the new nature Center in the mid to late 80s after making the decision to build Rollingcrest and the North Brentwood Center. All of these came about after the Prince George’s County School Board decided to close several schools throughout the County because “enrollment” was down. The closing of Mount Rainier Junior High was a major blow. My daughter was attending that school. What the heck?
Okay, catch up. I was active in the community, active is a very mild way to put it. I was president of one or more PTAs, working full-time (I got divorced in 1978), single mom, and now I am running for office on the school board. I served as PTA president at Hyattsville Middle School with the President from another school that was dumped into Hyattsville Middle with Mount Rainier Junior High. Enter Prince George’s County into the “middle school” concept – only for 7th and 8th graders. Now, that concept includes 6th graders. This is crazy – getting rid of schools, bussing our children to where? On the bus by 7:00 a.m. NOT GOING TO HAVE IT. Time for Chester Whiting to go. So, I ran for school board and won the primary. Lost the general election to Cathy Burch because of being accused of foul play – nothing I did but done on my behalf – accused of using non-profit money to support my campaign. Investigated and found innocent, but the public had a reason not to vote for me in the general and that was enough. I lost. That was also the election when a very old White man came up to me and stated emphatically that he thought I was the best candidate, but that he had never voted for a Black person in his life, and he did not intend to start now. A sentiment that seemed to permeate most of the White neighborhoods.
Fact 4 NUP died, but I was just getting started. The 24th Legislative Team (Senator Tommie Broadwater, Nat Exum, Frank Santangelo, and Dacatur “Bucky” Trotter), had made me Precinct Captain for Thomas Stone Elementary School a few years earlier, and I attended most of their meetings. My Mother was one of the precinct judges, so we were covered inside and outside to observe voting and who voted. Fertile ground to take on my next political step. Hot dog, I am on the ballot to serve as the representative for the democratic central committee. I WON! I became the “Honorable Malinda Miles” – my mail said so. My Mother would watch for the mail just to see letters addressed to the “Honorable Malinda Miles.”
Being on the Democratic Central Committee was no easy ride. Meeting were held in all the darkest places you could find in Prince George’s County. Going to meetings in Upper Marlboro and some of the other small rural areas were the worse. Getting lost looking for the meeting place was bad, if you were driving by yourself while Black.
I managed to get elected to ensure full representation amongst the delegate to the Democratic National Convention. This coincided fully with my job, my training, and passion. I went across Prince George’s County recruiting and explaining how important it was for our representatives to represent the Prince George’s County population. Some of m\My central committee members included Carolyn J.B. Howard, Gloria Lawlah, Gary Alexander, Jim Rosapepe. Mary Davis, Russell Butler, David Valderama, and others whose names escape me at the moment – 1982-1986 was a very long time ago. However, this group of people made history back then and have gone on to continue to make history in Prince George’s County.
Fact 5 When you become “The Honorable” people seek you out for stuff. They appoint you to more committees. They invite you to places you never even dreamed of, and now you have to really know who you are because you can easily get caught up. While on the Democratic Central Committee I figured out my politics. A vacancy occurred and the Central Committee had to advertise the opening and then appoint a successor. This happened at least twice while I served. The first one was not so hard, we agreed to appoint the wife of the deceased. The second one was a political fiasco. It was a circus. I got wined and dined by Bucky to support him for the position. I got threatening calls to get my support for Bucky. Even members of the Central Committee tried to get my vote for Bucky, but I knew in my heart of hearts that Bonnie Johns was the best candidate then, I still believe that now. I was the lone opposing vote to Bucky Trotters appointment, and I have never regretted it. Others of that Central Committee bartered their votes into other positions (I know this, I was there and I watched), and went on to higher positions. Some ended up doing good things, and many of us remain friends to this day, but they also know that Bucky was not the best candidate, but he got the job. My lesson, and I still live by it, is to vote my conscience and that of the people I represent who have no voice and depend on me to do the right thing. It is a hard lonely road, but I sleep well at night. I also learned that lesson over and over again at the National Education Association where I served in a number of leadership roles in the union and negotiating teams. My Mother taught me well – “A good name is rather to be chosen than all of the riches of the world.” A very true statement for me. My Mother’s other statement that I live by is “What profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” I still sleep good at night, and can drop off to sleep almost anywhere.
Fact 6 Okay, I leave the Central Committee promising to never run for that corrupt body ever again. LOL Who knew that was just the beginning of the craziness of holding office. No, I did not quit being active in my neighborhood. I just could not get elected in Mount Rainier. The Mount Rainier City Council remained all White until 1985 when Otis Hayward ran and got elected as the first Black person to ever hold that position in the history of the City. WOW! He just moved here, and he got elected? Damn. I have run and run, and I have been here since 1968. The quiet soul, my Mother, said, “Well, what are you going to do about it? I hope you are not planning to quit. I suggest that you get started running now for the next City election. They might be ready for you.” LOL Yeah, right. Not doing it. With her help, I did run for a seat on the Mount Rainier City Council, AGAIN, in 1987 and was sworn into office as representative for Ward 4. Then my political education took off running – well it was already running as the honorable because I got invited to parties, the Governor’s Mansion, the County Executive’s parties, and how about those election parties. Did I mention that I drug my kids and my Mother to almost all of those things, and yes, those children had to work the polls with me? They had to run all over the County putting up and taking down signs. It was a family affair. All and all, I served on the Mount Rainier City Council for several years with a break here and there. The City Charter got revised. CDBG money became a staple, revitalization became the outcry, and let’s get rid of those abandoned buildings. Recycling was my baby, and do not forget the call-a-bus for seniors. The City needs to go green and we need to be more environmentally friendly. How about finding ways to reuse paper? Over the years Mount Rainier became a role model for how to go green, and then Edmonton get’s newspaper coverage in the greenest City! Really! Not on my watch. So, I invited the head of the Environment Protection Agency to Mount Rainier and give him the grand green tour! I bet I put a stop to that greenest city mess, and I created a green Mount Rainier brochure (I have no idea where that pamphlet is today).
Mount Rainier became my passion and my love. I raised my family here, and we went through the abuse, name calling, and even being threatened by the White Power of Mount Rainier when I along with Otis Hayward pushed to hire the first Black City Administrator, Condie Clayton. Talking about being crazy, folks were crazy. They left messages on our answering services. They called and threatened my Mother. They promised that Otis and I would never make it to or leave the Council meeting if we appointed that “coon.” Well, we did! We were asked to cancel the meeting or cancel the vote. We did not. Otis and I have lived to tell this story. Police records exist to prove its authenticity, but my children bear the scars. My son pulled together all of his friends, they found guns, and knives, and whatever else they could get their hands on to “keep” me safe. Those boys, now young men, surrounded my house day and night to watch over me. The FBI, Fire Arms and Tobacco Protection units, as well as Prince George’s County Police guarded Otis and I for months. It was a very scary time, but I decided that if I did not go to that meeting, I should resign because they “the White power” of Mount Rainier would have beaten me. So, I went.
I believe that some people, particularly White people were ashamed and embarrassed by the actions of a few because after those very tense days, running for office in Mount Rainier got easier – so long as I did not run for mayor. I had run, but I’d lost. In 2001, I even lost to a guy named Michael Lawson, who had only been in the City a short time, about two years. As it turned out he did not really live in the City (they said that he lived in Colmar Manor, but the former Mayor had gotten him to run against me). Two years later (2002), he resigned. Okay, again, I am ahead of myself.
My next addition will move us into getting me elected as mayor and all those other offices that just kind of presented themselves in such a way I just could not say no.