Very much like it is today more than 70 years later, Black women shared only to a limited extent in the bounty of white mainstream publishing’s discovery of Black writing — Alfred Knopf…
Katy Mae, tall, attractive with thick dark eyebrows and very slender and her husband, Freddy, jolly, ambitious and full of fun lived in a nice apartment building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It …
Very much like it is today more than 70 years later, Black women shared only to a limited extent in the bounty of white mainstream publishing’s discovery of Black writing — Alfred Knopf published Nella Larsen, Boni and Liveright published Jessie Fauset, and Christopher Publishing published Mercedes Gilbert. However, the vast majority of Black women writers found outlets only in the pages of race magazines, and they ofen had to publish their work privately.
The patronage of wealthy white women such as Charlote Osgood Mason, who subsidized a number of young Black writers including Louise Thompson, Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes, was not available to most of the fledgling female writers. Further, many female writers felt there was too high a price to pay for the support of white patrons. Lousie Thompson felt that her patron restrained her creativity. She did not like the dependancy of the arrangement to continue the relationship very long. Louise stated that “…she felt that the good woman was indulging her fantasies of Negroes. Her Black guests were primitives, savages, or not being themslves”. Louise knew she was not the pagon savage that pleased the good woman to imagine. She got out for her “womanness”. Louise was especially sensitive to the crippling dependency of paternalism. The white hand of philantropy working through the Urban Leaue made it very difficult for her to work on the staff of Opportunity, which was financed by the Urban League. In contrast Zora Neal Hurston seemed to thrive on this kind of dependency. Her character made her into the “exuberant pagan” that pleased her white friends. Louise Thompson remembered her talking on the phone: “Here’s your little darky” and telling “darky” stories only to wink when she was through so as to show that she had tricked them again. (Harlem Renassance p.129&130)
Lanston Hughes reported about Zora in The Big Sea that “To many of her white friends, no doubt, she was a perfect “darkie”. In the nice meaning they give the term — that is a naive, childlike, sweet, humous, and highly colored “Negro”.
Further, the patron knows what was good and right. They took away the right of the artist to decide and find his or her true self. Hughes claimed “White and Negro — as do most relationships, because of where they were, the Negro was naturally patronized in his art to serve a white dream and fancy.” Hughes learned that when patrons claimed their fee it could be humiliation.
The Negro character that was acceptable to whites was extremely circumscribed. The Negro in print was pathetic or humorous, loyal or trecherous, serville or savage. This created a delicate prolem for the Black writers who had patrons and wanted to develope Negro character. Black writers had constraints until after WWI, any such literacy effort would have to conform to genteel dogma: a focus on morality, and uplift, a faith in progress conveniently linked to morality, and the aspiration of a learned culture. The Black hero could not be agressively critical of the order of things, North or South. The fledgling female writers were faced with these and many different constraints than those experienced by men. To be continued,
Author, J. Keel
Katy Mae, tall, attractive with thick dark eyebrows and very slender and her husband, Freddy, jolly, ambitious and full of fun lived in a nice apartment building on Michigan Avenue in Chicago. It was a three story brick building and they had a two bedroom apartment on the third floor. They welcomed Otis and I into their home and gave us our own private bedroom that was very comfortable. Freddy had his own business selling medicine and herbs which allowed Katy Mae the priviledge of not working outside the home. Freddy knew many herbal remedies that had been passed down through the generations of his family that could heal most ailments. People believed in him and his remedies and paid for his medicines, tonics and consultations. They flocked to him from all around Chicago. He was a good provider and they lived a good life. We enjoyed living with them, but we needed to find a place that would accept our children, so we never lost sight of our goal.
Soon after moving to Chicago “pop” we both got jobs. We had never been in a big city in our lives. Katy Mae got the newspaper and told us all the details on how to find an ad for a job in the “Want Ads” and how to get the streetcar to the businesses, but she sent us out alone. I got a job in a hat factory, and Otis got a job making tanks for the government.
Otis worked in the painting division. He was so accustomed to hard work that he could spray paint a tank without any effort, and so quickly that the other guys hated him. They called him that “country boy” who is up here working like a slave. He was a source of irritation for many of the other workers. He continued to work hard because that was all he knew and it did help him receive many pay raises and bonuses. The other workers were held to a standard set by the amount of work he did. Spray painting tanks was so easy in comparison to what he knew . The work was like a vacation after digging coal out of the hard ground and then loading it manually on a train car. They brought him a car load of tanks and he would have them all spray painted before lunch time. The other men thought he was working them to death. He sprayed tanks and I made hats.
At the hat factory a worker brought me a large box filled with hats that had no form, and my job was to place each hat on the form in front of me and then put the hat in a box for the next person. We made ladies hats. The girls that worked on the steam irons had to stand all day and were hot and uncomfortable because they steamed the hats before they came to me. After the hats were steamed they would take the shape of the form on which they were placed. The steam iron girls grumbled because ” new” girls usually started on the steaming job and then worked up to the comfortable job of sitting in a chair placing the hat on the form. “How did she get that job” and “she just walked in the building”, they complained. I believe God was looking out for me and I was blessed. They were angry at me and wanted me to work on the steam table. My employer was happy with my work.
It was uncomfortable working at the hat factory with so much animosity that I searched and found a better paying job as a bus girl at the International Restaurant. Black women were not allowed to wait tables in those days. Fortunely, we would not live in Chicago for very long. We had to find a place where our children would be welcome.
Work was plentiful in Chicago and we saved our money to purchase a home so our children could join us. Katy Mae was correct that it was virtually impossible to find an apartment that would accept children. We were still living with Katy Mae and Freddie becuase we could not find a place big enough for our family that would accept children as residents, and we would not accept less.
We found a place for our family when Gary (a friend of Otis’ sister) was on his way to Vancouver, Washington to work. He told Otis that there were good paying jobs in Vancouver and that he would be building ships for the government for great wages. Otis asked him to find out if there would be housing for families in Vancouver because he wanted to bring our family with him if he was hired. Gary promised he would write and it was not long before a letter came to Bernice from Gary that said “Tell Otis he will have everything he wanted”. There were houses and plenty of jobs, and not only could Otis get a job but that I could get one. He wrote that there are good schools for the children and that Vancouver is a beautiful place to live. Once again we were planning a move, but this time it would be Vancouver, Washington. What would our parents say now?
We had not lived in Chicago for six months, when our dream seem to take us to Washington state. Our goal was to find a place to raise our children. We needed a place where we could work and have a decent home and schools for our family. We talked very late that night and Otis decided that he would go to Vancouver and then send for me and the kids, but I thought about it later and decided that I was going with him. I told Katy and Freddy about Otis’ plan to go to Vancouver without me and that I wanted to go with him. Freddy told me “Little Bit”, if you want to go with Otis you should tell him”. I told Otis that I wanted to go with him and he told me “you can always go where I go. I thought you wanted to go get the kids”. I asked Otis if it would be ok to give the money to Mama and have her bring the kids. He agreed that was a good plan, and told me to get ready; we would be leaving soon. I looked into his handsome face and felt loved, secure and safe with the wonderful husband God had sent to me.
I told my boss at the Restaurant that I was leaving and she asked me why I had to go? I told her my husband was moving on to look for better living conditions where we could raise our children. She asked if I would let him go alone. “You are such a smart girl”, she said and “I have great plans for you”. I could not believe she cried and asked me to stay. She told me “Arlene, if you ever come back to Chicago you have a job”. I could not understand why she thought I would separate from my husband because she liked my work.
In 1942 we could deposit money in the post office for safekeeping. When we arrived in Chicago we sold our car and saved that money and we were saving money every week at the Post Office from our pay checks. We had more than enough money to get the train tickets to Vancouver for us, Mama and our three children. I went to the Post Office and drew out all our money and bought train tickets to Vancouver, so we could leave the next day. The migration continues.
Glen Alum, West Virginia was so far up in the mountains it did not appear on the map, but World War II came to Glen Alum. In 1942 the draft board was formed and they began to draft young men from …
My Mother, Janie married again shortly after the birth of my first child, Walter. She marrried Bob Davis, a guitar playing, blues singing family friend. No one in the family wanted her to marry Bob, but she did. Mama had a mind of her own, and made her own decisions. She moved to Welch, West Virginia with her husband. The marriage to Bob did not keep her from visiting with us often. Bob loved my children and he enjoyed having us around.
Uncle Isaac married Marguerite and moved here in with him, Mama Carter, and Uncle Wesley soon after I married Otis. When I left Norfolk, Marguerite took care of Mama Carter during the day, and over time she and Isaac fell in love. We were like sisters and Otis and Isaac were like brothers. We visited them often because we had a car. Marguerite and Isaac had their first baby, Melvin around the same time I had Otis, Jr. Isaac worked in the mines near Rolfe, West Virginia. The coal mine was the only employment for people living in the mountains of West Virginia.
I remember not feeling well about a year and a half after Walter’s birth. I felt terrible and went to the doctor for advice. The doctor gave me three large pills and told me to take the pills and all my sickness would go away. I showed Mama Carter the pills and told her what the doctor told me. She looked at the pills and told me not to take them. “Throw those pills out”, she said, “You are sick because you are carrying another baby. If you take those pills you will kill your baby.” I listended to Mama Carter and did not take the pills and later found out that I was indeed pregnant and had a very healthy pregnancy. I was so blessed to have my grandmother near me and have her advice. I thought about how my life would have changed if I had lost my second baby boy.
My second child, Otis, Jr. was a very easy delivery. No noisy visitors waiting in my house for me to deliver. The doctor, Mama and Mama Susie helped me through the delivery in a very quiet house. Otis, Jr. was an eight pounds, chocolate baby boy with black curly hair. My husband told me he prayed that his boys would have beautiful hair because the girls in his family had beautiful hair and the boys were left out. He said “Girls can go to the beauty shop”. His prayers were answered because both our boys had a full head of beautiful baby hair.
Papa Starghill had a special affection for our second born son, Otis, Jr. After his birth he began stopping by to see the baby on his way home from the mines. When he arrived he looked inside his lunch box and found something special to give the baby to eat. I loved my father-in-law but was not happy that he gave my baby some stale food that had been sitting in his lunch box all day while he worked in the coal mines. However, I knew it was out of love for my baby, and that he saved my baby something special. Otis, Jr. loved it smiling, waving his fat little arms around in excitement the moment he saw Papa and gobbled us whatever morsel of food my father-in-law stuffed into his mouth. After Papa left, I asked God to please protect my baby from any illness related to stale food. The food did not hurt him; he was one of my healthiest children and grew strong and tall. Many years had passed when Papa came and asked me to bring Otis, Jr to him so he could bless him. I was happy that he wanted to bless my children and told him I would bring all my children for his blessing. He said, “No, Arlene I am here to bless Otis. Please do as I say and bring him to me for my blessing” I did as he said and he prayed a special prayer over Otis and bestowed his blessing on his life.
After Otis, Jr’s birth our family settled in as part of my husband’s larger group of kin living in Glen Alum. It was nice having all the family living near. I could visit with the ladies, Lillian, Molene, Kitty and her daughter, Katy Mae who was my age and Mama Susie. Our children played together while we chatted. At that time the cousins were all boys, Earl, Albert, Jr., Walter, and Otis, Jr. My boys would get alone with the other kids for a while and then one of the other boys would tell me that my son, Walter beat up one of the kids. “Arlene, Walter hit me with his fist” one would say. I would always chastise Walter by spanking him and we would go home. Now, I wonder if they were all fighting and then blamed Walter when things did not go their way. Otis, Jr (Teddy) was the youngest of the group, so he was too young to be accused for the fray. Mama Susie told me that Otis, Sr. was a fighter when he was a young boy, so I did not know what to believe.
Two years after Otis, Jr. (Teddy) was born I finally had a daughter on a beautiful, sunny April day. The doors were open and the weather was great. Mama Janie came to assist as always, but this time she wanted me to hurry to have the baby because she had a trip planned for early May. Her church had an assembly in Nashville, Tennessee and she did not want to miss it. She told me, “You better hurry up and have this baby. I am going to the Assembly.” I said “You are going to leave me for the assembly?” I felt so hurt. I wasn’t involved in her church in those days. I felt hurt becuase she was putting her meeting ahead of me and my baby. She pressured me to have the baby soon. Lucky for me the baby came the last week in April. I had no problems with my third delivery and had a fat, creamy colored, 8lb, 6oz., baby girl with a little brown hair but mostly bald. She made me happy. I had my girl and I named her Janice. I thought Janice was a pretty doll, but Otis teased me because she was nearly bald. After my daughter was born Mama stayed with me for one week and left me in the bed. She usually gave me two weeks to get on my feet and take over for myself. Just so happened, Margarite, Isaac’s wife was visiting from Norfolk and came and helped me for the second week. She told Janie she could leave me and that she would stay and take good care of me. Margarite stayed until I was on my feet. Margarite was a special, loving person. She had her baby girl, Seretha, two months earier and here she was helping me. Our daughters became very close, because we had a special bond.