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Awareness of Black life apart from White life

February 26, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Economic history, Social history

The Maid Narratives

In the Maid Narratives there are a lot of reference to black life apart from white life and the barriers between race. As stated within the book, although there were definite ties between the white families and their black servants, there was certainly a distance that upheld the ideas of class within the home, which translated into the differences in society.

For me personally, this ties into my research about the West End Community Council. This organization was very prominent in the 1960’s and it worked towards open housing for blacks  all over, but especially in the south. The connection comes into play because even in cases where blacks could afford the same housing as whites, there was a lot of dissent when it came to them actually being able to purchase that housing. The Ku Klux Klan and other white segregationist groups would utilize scare tactics in order to prevent blacks from moving into the “white” neighborhoods. Another approach that was carried out was what is now deemed as “white flight” wherein white families would all move away when a black family moved into their neighborhood. All of these show that although blacks were finally finding small ways to move up in the world, in this case financially, there was this barrier that was being upheld by society to keep blacks and whites apart, even when the times were moving towards equality.

Referecnes:

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

“The Encyclopedia of Louisville.” Google Books. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://books.google.com/books?id=pXbYITw4ZesC>.

“Ku Klux Klan.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 26 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ku_Klux_Klan>.

“White Flight.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 22 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_flight>.

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Defying Norms, Ending Injustice

February 26, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Social history

In The Maid Narratives, there is a section containing interviews from white families titled “Defiance of the Norms to Stand Up against Injustice.” These narratives include stories from families who treated their help as if they too were part of the family. One man writes about attending his brothers wedding and how his maid, Anna, sat right next to his mother during the ceremony. Another narrative, From Elise Talmage of New Orleans, tells of how her family’s maid would enter the front door every morning and eat at the table with the family and their company. Though it was customary in the south for maids to enter the back door and eat alone, this family defied the boundaries of race by letting her act as only white people were expected to.

Similar the Talmages, Anne Braden was a woman who defied cultural restrictions and fought against prejudice. Among her many efforts as a civil rights activist, she promoted the desegregation of hospitals in Kenutcky, and was a leader as part of the Civil Rights Congress. However, Anne’s most notable act that involved defying norms and standing up against injustice involved the Wade Case. In the 1950s, the city of Shively in Jefferson County was primarily a suburb for whites, and African-Americans were not allowed to purchase homes. Andrew and Charlotte Wade, an African-American couple, had attempted to purchase a house in the neighborhood but had not been successful because of their race. Anne and her husband Carl decided to purchase the house for the Wades since they were unable to. This let to an enormous amount of violence towards both the Bradens and the Wades. The Wades house was eventually dynamited, and the Bradens were accused of communism and blacklisted from local work. These setbacks did not stop the Bradens however, and they continued to fight for equality.

The Wade’s bombed house in 1957.

After analyzing all of these stories, it is important that we realize all contributions, no matter how big or small, played an important role in changing cultural standards and promoting integration. Even the smallest acts, such as letting a black maid enter your home by way of the front door, made a big difference in someone’s life.

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“Anne Braden.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2013. Web. 26 Feb. 2013.

Fosl, Catherine. Subversive Southerner: Anne Braden and the Struggle for Racial Justice in the Cold War South. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. Print.
Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

“The Maid Narratives” and Cognitive Dissonance

February 25, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Political history

Cognitive dissonance is when a person feels different emotions about the same thing. The authors of The Maid Narratives encountered this when they were doing interviews of whites that had formerly had black maids.  They are conflicted with the way they felt when they were younger and the way they feel now.  When whites with maids were growing up they felt a sense of security from their maid.  Now, they feel a sense of remorse after learning the difficult conditions that their maids sometimes worked in.

I am currently researching Florence Thompson.  Thompson was the first female sheriff in the United States that had to carry out a conviction.  She was from Owensboro, Kentucky, where the last public hanging took place.  Rainey Bethea, the man committing the crime, was convicted of raping an elderly woman and was sentenced to hang.  Thompson conferred with a priest before the hanging because of the personal, internal struggle she was having.  She was faced with having to be a strong leader that her position required while still having terrible feelings about having a man’s death on her hands even though the man had already been convicted and sentenced.  Ultimately she decided to have a man from out of town perform the hanging while she supervised from a distance.

When people are placed in a conflicting situations they are required to look within themselves.  This reflection brings out thoroughly thought through decisions, considering the repercussions, particularly personal.  This dissonance sometimes occurs well after the fact, such as the whites in The Maid Narratives.  This is also beneficial because the reflection shows the next generation the flaws of the older generation’s decisions.

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http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

http://www.owensboro.org/

Defying the Norms of Racial Etiquette

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Oral history, Social history

In the 1960s, there was an unspoken protocol as to how African-Americans should act around whites. As maids or “help”, African-Americans were segregated, to an extent, in the homes where they worked. They were often confined to the kitchen, entering and exiting only through the back door, and use of a separate toilet or none at all.

Despite the binding rules maids adhered to in the decades after slavery, these African-American women sometimes overstepped the boundaries. In an experience by Elise Talmage in The Maid Narratives, she told an account of one of the maids who ate lunch with her and her friends and would often come into the house through the front door. In another account, a man recounted when his father allowed their maid to sit in the family pew during his brother’s wedding. Though these two stories were of maids who were either unaware of the rules or were helped by their white family, in each case, the norms often created by whites were shattered. This is especially shown in the reactions of whites being “absolutely aghast” or “completely stricken” by the unusual events.

The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

Although Audrey Grevious never worked as a maid, she also experienced segregation, but in the schools where she taught. Growing up, Grevious had not noticed the harsh effects of segregation, until she visited New York for a convention. The differences between New York—where there was more tolerance—and Lexington were made very clear in the treatment African-Americans received from whites.

As an educator, Grevious first decided to overstep the norms of segregation in the integration of the Kentucky Village in Lexington. At the time, the lunchroom was separated into two different dining rooms: one for whites and one for African-Americans. After about 6 months after joining the teaching staff in the late 1950s, Grevious decided to sit in the lunchroom designated for whites.  The reactions of the white workers were comparable to that of the whites who witnessed African-American maids defying the rules: they “threw their food in the trash can and on the floor […] and marched on out.”

Interestingly, looking at these two different stories of Grevious and the “help”, things did not change much in the treatment of African-Americans. Though they were no longer in subservient roles, African-Americans were still segregated in the workplace. The steps they took to defy the norms of racial etiquette were not in vain, however. Each bit of progress was but a stair in the walkway to equality.

Sources

Fosl, Catherine, and Tracy Elaine. K’Meyer. Freedom on the Border: An Oral History of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky, 2009. Print.

“KET | Living the Story | The Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.” Glossary, Audrey Grevious. Web. 25 February 2013.

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

Cognitive Dissonance in the Jim Crow South

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, Primary source, Social history

 

The Maid Narratives is a fascinating book that details the lives of servants and other domestic workers under the precedent of the Jim Crow laws in the South. The section of the book that focuses on the white folks’ narratives of the same time and in general the same experiences from a different vantage point, was very difficult for the authors to obtain. The reason for this lies in the difficult emotions that surround this hot topic.

A poem written by Elise Talmage, found on pages 254-255 of The Maid Narratives demonstrates well the sentiments and difficult memories that come with the knowledge that one (or in some cases, one’s parents) contributed to such oppression as occurred in the Jim Crow south. The poem begins:

 Were our sins so scarlet?

 Were our virtues so few?

We remember, we remember

Yellow heads on warm black arms

“Doe doe lil baby

Doe doe lil baby”

Rocking and rocking to soothe little hurts

But did you hurt too and did we know it?

This poem encapsulates the confusion and guilt that accompanies the fond memories of nannies and maids that white folk had as children. As adults, looking back, they can begin to understand that the people they remember fondly as someone who took care of them as they grew up were actually people being underpaid, mistreated, and generally oppressed. There is a cognitive dissonance between the fond memories they hold of their past and the truth that they now know as adults.

Cognitive dissonance is a term that refers to the difference between two ideas that a person holds. For example, frequently, it is difficult for people who were children in the Jim Crow era to comprehend that their parents, especially those whom they viewed as kind hearted Christians, took part in such a systematic oppression of Blacks. There are such stark differences between the ideas of segregation and Christianity, that many are unable to understand how someone could support both. Many whites in the Jim Crow South who supported the Civil Rights Movement did so because of the cognitive dissonance between their religion and segregation.

“The mother who taught me what I know of tenderness and love and compassion taught me also the bleak rituals of keeping Negros in their place.”

– Lillian Smith

Even for those who were not children in the South during this period, there is still a level of cognitive dissonance that occurs. Actions that people viewed as the status quo of the time period can now be viewed as criminal oppression of a race. The guilt associated with this realization is too much for some to handle, and many refuse to speak on the subject. For this reason, the interviews with white families for The Maid Narratives were difficult to obtain.

Anne Braden

Anne Braden came to the realization that segregation was not acceptable quicker than most of her white counterparts, but even she did not challenge the system that bothered her so until she arrived at college at Randolph-Macon Women’s college in Virginia. Her cognitive dissonance was found in the difference between the way she had been raised, in a strictly segregated community, and the teachings of her religion. Anne, a devout episcopalian, eventually realized she could not ignore the differences between what she knew was right and how the world she lived in, the Jim Crow south, functioned. This realization led her to become an activist and supporter of the Civil Rights Movement throughout the rest of her life.

Resources:

Wormer, K. S., & Jackson, D. W. (2012).The maid narratives: black domestic and white families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anne_Braden

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jim_Crow_laws

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cognitive_dissonance

http://news.iowapublicradio.org/post/maid-narratives

Working towards Equality

February 25, 2013 in 1950s-1960s, 1960s-1970s, Primary source, Social history

Throughout the civil rights movement many  white Americans have helped the cause by participating in sit ins, street demonstrations, protests, and helped integrate and desegregate schools, housing, and parts of town. In the book The Maid Narratives,

Picture of the

“The Maid Narratives”

there is an entire section that is devoted to the white family members’ perspectives. In this section, white members of the community recount tales of how they defied the social norms to work towards gaining social justice for African Americans in their towns. Just as the people in this book work towards social equality, Suzy Post worked to desegregate schools in Louisville, KY by defying the social norms that were in place at the time. Suzy Post and other Whites worked effortlessly to move the civil rights movement forward.

Suzy Post is a civil rights activist who works tirelessly throughout her life to end the inequality faced by African Americans. She worked to allow more open and fair housing, to desegregate schools, to gain more rights for women, and to campaign against the war efforts. However, one of her biggest accomplishments is her work to desegregate schools through getting the busing law passed in Jefferson county, Kentucky. This law was one wanted by many African Americans because the white schools traditionally had better resources, better facilities, and more opportunities for the children who went there.

Portrait of Suzy Post

Suzy Post

Naturally then most of the people who sat on the case were Black but Suzy Post defied the norm and was the only white person to sit on the trial. She allowed the community to see that white Americans could and did stand up for civil rights and worked towards ending the injustice experienced.

       The Maid Narratives tells of many white Americans that have stood up to the injustices experienced by African Americans. Elise Talmage, Flora Templeton Stuart, and Hal Chase stood up to segregation by picketing segregated institutions, blocked the streets with protests they were involved in, and taught on the subject of African American history and the civil rights movement to gain more awareness on the issue. Along with these people who actively participated in the more well-known actions of the civil rights movement, there were many Whites who fought against the pressures of the social norms in their everyday lives. One story told by a sixty-six-year-old man explains of how his family allowed their house maid Anna to sit in the front of the church by his parents instead of in the back pew. While the bride’s side of the church was appalled by this action, all of the groom’s friends and family saw this as a natural occurrence. Actions such as these showed that Whites worked to end the injustice faced by Blacks.

From the 1920’s to the 1970’s the civil rights movement has been one that has dominated our society and been a long time struggle for everyone in our communities. While most people mainly think of this movement dominated by African Americans, many white Americans worked to help move this movement forward and gain equality for Blacks. These white Americans participated in large scale community movements such as sit ins and protests as well as smaller scale movements such as treating their black maids as equals in community events. These movements helped to gain equality and civil rights for African Americans across the country.

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“Maid Narratives.” Iowa Public Radio News. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

“Hall of Fame 2007.” Kentucky: Kentucky Commission on Human Rights –. N.p., n.d. Web. 25 Feb. 2013.

Thuesen, Sarah . “Documenting the American South: Oral Histories of the American South.”

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestic and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

 

Lead by Subtlety: Viola Davis Brown

February 24, 2013 in 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Intellectual history, Social history

By researching Viola Davis Brown and her accomplishments to publish a Wikipedia page about her life, I have discovered one of the subtle leaders of the Civil Rights Movement. Viola Davis Brown, born in 1936, was certainly a pioneer of the movement in Kentucky, although not in the traditional context. The contrast in Brown’s involvement in the Civil Rights Movement does not exist in her outward protest and open discrediting of segregation, but rather in her career and her personal accomplishments.

Photo of Viola Davis Brown

Viola Davis Brown

My research, though not complete, has not yielded any indication that Viola Davis Brown was involved with any organization such as NAACP or other traditional movements promoting integration during her lifetime. I found no record of Mrs. Brown openly addressing her race as a limiting factor or protesting for equality. Rather, her achievements and perpetual promotion in the work place has led her to be an extremely prominent figure of the Civil Rights Movement in Kentucky.Viola Davis Brown became the first African American student in Lexington to attend and graduate with a nursing degree. She continued her education at the University of Kentucky, where she became a certified Primary Care Nurse Practitioner.  Mrs. Brown’s career was merely beginning when she was appointed Executive Director of the Office of Public Health Nursing for the Kentucky Department of Health Services in Frankfort, Kentucky. The accolades have not since halted.

Book cover, The Maid Narratives

The Maid Narratives

The most appropriate connection I was able to draw between the life of Viola Davis Brown and the ideas regarding the themes of The Maid Narratives fell among the ideas of Cognitive Dissonance and the Defiance of the Norms to Stand Up against Injustice. Viola Brown did not have to join strident organizations that proudly announced their cause within the movement. Brown’s actions, including the pursuance of higher education and career promotion at her own discretion, represent the subtle ability of an individual to overcome substantial barriers such as those dividing race in Lexington, Kentucky during her lifetime.

The descriptions in the text of The Maid Narratives carefully describes the acknowledgement of racial difference and the societal belief that two races, namely Black and White, are psychologically inconsistent. Viola Brown did not have to address this societal injustice head on. Rather, she committed herself to education and advancement within the sector of public health. Not only did she overcome the customs of her society and traditional role of the Whites to assume positions of medical care, she did so without personally addressing her race as a reason to see justice through. The textual example of the maid employer, Elise Talmage, would directly parallel, I can only imagine, the description of a white observer commenting on Brown’s progress in the field of health management. While it was entirely unheard of for a Black woman to hold such a position of prestige, Mrs. Brown continued to secure these positions and became a representation of triumph over segregation for the community and state, at large.

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Sources:

Van, Wormer Katherine S., David W. Jackson, and Charletta Sudduth. The Maid Narratives: Black Domestics and White Families in the Jim Crow South. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State UP, 2012. Print.

College of Public Health. “Hall of Fame Past Inductees: Viola Brown” University of Kentucky College of Public Health (2011): n. pag. Web. 11 February 2013.

 

Segregation in Kentucky

February 4, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, Oral history

Researchers are given an ever evolving view of segregation in Kentucky, and the rest of the United States, as more and more information comes to light. Recently, I have read two books highlighting women during the civil rights era, some of which are in Kentucky.  Freedom on the Border and The Maid Narratives both give insight to the life black women coming out of slavery faced.  Also included in these books are narratives from whites that lived at the time.

I am most fascinated with the role of African American women during the 1920’s at this point in my research.  My interest began when watching the movie The Help and further research continues to intrigue me.  Black maids were responsible for much more than just caring for the white home.  They were role models and status symbols.  (You can read more about post civil war black women and their contributions to white society in one of my past blogposts.)  Although black maids were imperative to white women, they were not always treated as well as maids today are.  Even after the civil war and the freeing of slaves, having a colored person working for you was a status symbol, particularly when that person was for help around the household.  Relationships between whites and blacks did not change until much later and after a lot of hard work.  Whites were highly attached to having a black maid but did not treat their maids like they were important to them or their children.

Being able to read stories from my hometown in Freedom on the Border rekindled my interest for the topic as a whole.  History becomes much more intriguing when it can be placed somewhere that is personal.  I had heard stories about some of the things that happened in my hometown, but seeing it written in a book and told by a notable person from my town helped to solidify details and an understanding of why the event was such a big deal back then and still is today.  Also, I came across a name that was very familiar to me while reading Freedom on the Border.  The father of one of my previous employers wrote one of the narratives.  The man died before I knew him, but knowing his family extensively and being able to picture the land that the atrocities was happening on makes me proud to know that so many people were standing up for what is right.

“Hope is a dream as the soul awakes.”  This quote from The Maid Narratives describes the time so well to me.  All of the stories told in these books are of men and women facing oppression or seeing oppression happening.  Their hope that the world will change is what keeps them fighting for equality.  The stories they tell display their passion and dedication to the cause.

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http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/oral_history_review/summary/v037/37.1.kramer.html

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/14-non-fiction/9004-maid-narratives-van-wormer

http://www.shmoop.com/the-help/summary.html

Jennie Hopkins Wilson Interview

January 28, 2013 in 1920s-30s, 1940s-1950s, 1950s-1960s, Oral history

After watching the Jennie Hopkins Wilson interview by KET, reading the first four chapters of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have found many overlaps.  The culture throughout the southern states was similar although states and parts of states were better or worse to blacks than other parts.  After the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the civil war conditions were not improved in most places. Blacks were chained to the same jobs and people as they were in slavery.

In Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, watchers learn that both her parents were slaves.  Her father ran to freedom in Paducah, Kentucky from Mayfield, Kentucky.  He made the twenty five mile trek so he could join the Union army.  Paducah was supposed to be a free city but when Wilson’s father reached the city he found a great deal of discrimination.  One of Wilson’s most feared moments was on third Mondays of each month.  Those were the days that some of the men in the got drunk and harassed the colored people in city.  Wilson recalls one occasion when some of the men came to her house.  Her parents knew their intent was to kill all of them so when the men called her father out of the house he would not go.  According to Wilson, harassment like this was not uncommon.  Wilson also recalled a story she had heard about lynchings in Paducah.  She said that before she was born (1900) lynchings had become so common in Paducah that the state threatened to take away their courthouse if they hung anyone else.  (After further research into this I did not find an official threat.)

Similar to Jennie Hopkins Wilson and her mother, women from The Maid Narratives held jobs similar to the ones they and their mothers had as slaves.  Many black women cooked and cleaned and took care of children for the white families.  Their role went further than that though.  The families the black maids, also referred to as mammies, worked for often formed special bonds with them.  The children felt especially attached to their maid and the adults of the household would ask for advice from the maids because of their greater amount of life experiences.  Besides their physical and emotional roles to the family, colored maids also had a larger societal meaning for the families they worked for.  The man of the household could prove how wealthy and useful he was by the amount of money he brought in.  Women, on the other hand, used household affairs to prove themselves.  This meant that the better, or larger number of maids you had, the richer you were.  Having a maid became an imperative sign of social status.

Through watching Jennie Hopkins Wilson’s interview, reading parts of The Maid Narratives, and other research, I have learned that stories from across the south are quite similar.  Commonalities include harassment, social status of both whites and blacks, and discrimination of all kinds.

 

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http://www.ket.org/civilrights/bio_jwilson.htm

http://www.litlovers.com/reading-guides/14-non-fiction/9004-maid-narratives-van-wormer

http://www.ci.paducah.ky.us/

http://www.cityofmayfield.org/

 

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