Maternal Family Memories – The House on Wentworth Avenue

I chose my blog as the platform to write about memories of my maternal family to preserve our African-American history after 1870.

Memories

For most of my childhood, I lived in a House on Wentworth Avenue on the Southside of Chicago.  My great-great-grandparents, Gilbert and Mary Shegog’s two sons, Uncle Buddy and Uncle Robert jointly purchased the home in the mid-1940s.

I lived in this house with my mother and an extended family of great-grand uncles and aunts:

      • BasementAunt Sallie and Aunt Willie;
      • First FloorUncle Robert and Aunt Edna;
      • Second FloorUncle Buddy and Aunt L.D.;
      • AtticMama and ME.

Uncle Robert was highly regarded by everyone in our family, neighborhood and church.  It might have been because of his non-domestic work status as an airport skycap who wore an official looking uniform.

Uncle Buddy and all the aunts worked as live-in domestic workers.  As live-in domestics, they left home every Sunday evening and returned on Thursday night.  One, or more, often returned home with barely used toys, games and clothing items for me.  My mother earned a minimum wage as a factory worker. I wore clothing bearing labels from some of the most expensive stores in Chicago.  They told me not to tell anyone what the “white folks.” gave me .  I believed the “white folks” would harm me for wearing “white folks” clothes.  It never occurred to me that I didn’t know any “white folks.”  Years later, I realized they were not concerned about the “white folks.” They didn’t want the “black folks” to know someone in their family wore second-hand clothes.

I am not exactly sure when my great, grand-aunts and uncles, the first generation born after the Emancipation Proclamation, left the Mississippi plantation and migrated north in search of a better life.

What I do know is these children of Gilbert and Mary Shegog, relocated to an unknown city, pooled their resources, and remained self-sufficient until they departed this life.  What they were able to achieve, as the first generation to migrate north, led to the next generation joining them to build upon what they started.

I will share further memories of the House on Wentworth Avenue in my next post.

 

 

 

Writer’s Quote Wednesday 2015

Thank you to Silver Threading for hosting this weekly event.

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My  Writer’s Quote this week is one by Gwendolyn Brooke:

 “What I’m fighting for now in my work … for an expression relevant to all manner of blacks, poems I could take into a tavern, into the streets, into the halls of a housing project.”

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The first African-American to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1950, Brooke published her first book of poetry in 1945.

Her awards and recognitions are many including a 1962 invitation from President John F. Kennedy to read at a poetry festival being held at the Library of Congress.

Though ten years younger and we never met; I grew up in Chicago, we lived in the same neighborhood, and we attended the same school (Englewood).

Yet, I didn’t connect with this distinguished, gifted and talented writer until 1970 as a college freshman.

Sadly, in the 1950s, the Chicago Public School System did not include the literary works of  Gwendolyn Brooke in their curriculum.  At least, on the South Side of Chicago where I grew up.

Gwendolyn Brooke died on December 3, 2000 at the age of 83.  The gift of her poetic words remain for us to share and reflect upon for generations to come.

 

Black Travelers

In honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I chose to re-publish this post from last year where I shared one of my personal experiences, as an elder, who lived through Jim Crow.  Let us not forget the suffering and indignities Dr. King and other civil rights activists were subjected to in the fight for fair and equal treatment in this country.

Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and

narrow-mindedness.”Mark Twain

One of my happiest childhood memories were family summer vacations.    Every year, we traveled by car from Chicago to my parents’ hometown in Coahoma, Mississippi.    Members of our closely-knit extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins joined us for this thirteen-hour drive.    We were journeying home, traveling by night, in a caravan of three to four cars through the states of Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi staying “visibly” connected to each car in the caravan along the way.    Why, because of the Jim Crow Laws in the 1950s.

  •  Reports of racial harassment and intimidation of black people while traveling were common.
  • Threats of physical harm, especially vulnerable, were cars with license plates from “up north.”

As a black traveler, you understood the restrictions and limitations under Jim CrowBlack travelers were:

  •  prohibited from using public facilities — water fountains and bathrooms.
  • barred from eating in restaurants or ordering food to go.
  • banned from staying in hotels and motels.

The children never questioned.  The adults never complainedWhy?  This was our reality.   We bypassed Jim Crow and survived.

  • We carried our supply of water, soda, paper plates/cups, napkins and plastic silverware.
  • We ate food prepared, with love, by my mother and the other women travelers.
  • We dined on homemade rolls, deep-fried pork chops and southern deep-fried chicken.
  • We consumed large bowls of macaroni and potato salad chilled on ice in coolers.
  • We lunched on ham, bologna and/or salami, placed between slices of white bread lavishly splattered with mustard and wrapped in tinfoil.   Along with the sandwich, potato chips, an apple, and cookies were packed in individual small brown paper bags.
  • We devoured slices of sweet potato pie, pound cake, coconut cake, and my favorite at the time, caramel cake.

As for using the bathroom, we carried a supply of toilet tissue, found an isolated area adjacent to the highway and the person would relieve themselves in the bushes.    However, there were times when the only option for privacy was to have someone stand in front of you.

Many of the inconveniences experienced by my family as black travelers might have been avoided had they known about The Negro Motorist Green Book:  An International Travel Guide.”   The Green Book was published by the Victor H. Green & Company annually from 1936 until 1964 when the Civil Rights Law was enacted.   An 80-page publication, it was considered as the black man’s guide to traveling.

The purpose of the Green Book is best described by the following statement from the publication:

  • “With the introduction of this travel guide in 1936, it has been our idea to give the Negro traveler information that will keep him from running into difficulties, embarrassments and to make his trips more enjoyable.  For many travelers, many places are not available, even though they may have the price, and any traveler to whom they are not available, is thereby faced with many and sometimes difficult problems.  The Negro traveler’s inconveniences are many and they are increasing because today so many more are traveling, individually and in groups.  There will be a day sometime in the near future when this guide will not have to be published.  That is when we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.  The Green Book with its list of hotels, boarding houses, restaurants, beauty shops, barber shops and various other services can most certainly help solve your travel problems.”     

                       

In a 2010, New York Times article entitled, “The Open Road Wasn’t Quite Open to All,” Lonnie Bunch, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture stated:

  • “The lack of knowledge about the Green Book also tells us about the lack of knowledge many Americans now have on how segregation really worked – how it had impacts dramatic and impacts small.  But all the impacts hurt.  The more people understand that through the Green Book, the more they’ll understand how things have changed. “

What a blessing it was to travel black, as a child, unaware of the Jim Crow limitations and restrictions.   Even though Jim Crow Laws are no longer in existence, my early experiences as a black traveler shaped how I view traveling by car today.   My phobia, as an adult, is the emotional and mental stress I may have to cope with as a black traveler on the highway.   

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired….

I struggled with writing this post; but I had to speak out after the Travon Martin trial.

A young military wife, in 1963, with two toddlers, sitting in our cramped living room, watching the March on Washington, listening to Dr. Martin Luther King’s speech; and, realizing, his dream was the “dream” I wanted for my son and daughter.

I HAVE A DREAM that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true

meaning of its creed:  We hold these truths to be self-evident,

that all mean are created equal.

I HAVE A DREAM that my four little children will one day live in a

nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by

the content of their character.”

Back then, I was hopeful and optimistic that a change was gonna come.  Today, fifty years later, I am disappointed and pessimistic wondering how long is it gonna take.”

I am sick and tired of being sick and tired[1]of the racial injustices where people continue to be Judged by the Color of their Skin.”    

Emmett Till

I lived in FEAR throughout most of my teenage years.  Though, only 13-years-old, even today, I vividly recall the murder of Emmett Till on August 28, 1955.  He was a 14-year-old African-American male, from Chicago, visiting his grandfather in Mississippi.  Two white men decided to end Emmett’s life.  Why, because he either, whistled at, flirted with, or touched the hands, of a white cashier at a grocery store.

Brutally beaten, mutilated, shot in the head; his young body was tied up with barbed wired and dumped in the river.  Despite overwhelming evidence, on September 23, 1955 his two assailants were acquitted.   The Jim Crow Laws allowed Emmett to be “Judged by the Color His Skin.” 

With the exception of gender, Emmett’s life pretty much mirrored mine.  I, too, lived in Chicago and visited my grandparents in Mississippi every summer.   During those visits, they schooled me on what was acceptable behavior for a young black girl in Mississippi.  On the first day of my visit, they reminded me to “say yes mam, no mam, look down, speak quietly, never question or talk back to white folks.  They don’t play here you ain’t in Chicago.”

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Travon Martin

On February 26, 2011, this seventeen-year-old boy was shot and killed at about 7:00 p.m. while walking home on a rainy night in the gated community where he was visiting his father.   Killed because “HE WAS JUDGED BY THE COLOR OF HIS SKIN,” Mr. Zimmerman assumed an African-American male teenager, wearing a hoodie was a thug; and, therefore, a threat to him and others who lived in this gated community.

Loud voices cried out for justice and after some 45 days he was finally charged.  A jury trial resulted in a Not Guilty verdict.   Under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law, Mr. Zimmerman had the right to shoot rather than retreat.

As the grandmother of three young African American males, ranging in age from 13-24, I identify with what happened to Travon.  Living in a gated community, about 20 miles from where Travon was killed, we now have “safety guidelines” for our three grandsons to follow when they visit.  I am frustrated that my grandchildren are forced to deal with the FEAR of DEATH because someone

  • Chooses to  Judge by the Color of  Skin; and
  • Understands the protection afforded under the Stand Your Ground Laws.

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Like Jim Crow, Stand Your Ground Must Go

“I am sick and tired of being sick and tired”


[1] Fannie Lou Hamer, Civil Rights Activist