Worlds Apart: Growing Up in a Bubble in Birmingham
A large Confederate flag filled most of one wall of my grandfather’s study in his Birmingham home during the 1950s and 1960s. It was always the first thing I noticed when I walked into the dimly lit room—a startling shout of hot red and star-studded blue against a dark stone wall.
On the opposite wall was a painting of the Princess Pocahontas, who, according to genealogical research by my great-grandmother, was said to be our direct ancestor. I heard once that my grandfather, proud of being related to royalty but uncomfortable with the darkness of the princess’s complexion, had Pocahontas’s skin lightened a bit before he hung the painting.
My grandmother used to take me with her to the grocery store in her old Dodge. When I was about six years old, I remember getting into her car one day and asking her the name of a Black lady we had seen earlier that day. She quickly reprimanded me, “Pam, you never call a colored woman a ‘lady.’” Actually, she probably didn’t say “colored woman,” but something else. I remember feeling smacked down by the reprimand. And I was careful not to repeat that grave breach of etiquette in the following years. (more…)
How separation and language distort our perceptions
[Alert: This piece includes language that may be offensive to many — the “N” word. We have retained the author’s original language, which reflects the ugliness of the Jim Crow years, since this is an eye witness account. The story contains important information on redlining, segregation, and the effects of these policies that persist today.]
My buddy and I had ridden our bikes several blocks to the northwest – farther than we were supposed to. The sun was going down, and we knew it was time to head home. But we looked at the forbidden land just a hundred feet or so away.
That was where they lived, and it was pretty much where they stayed. From years of hearing stories, I imagined streets where chaos ruled. Where knives flickered in every direction, and people lived in ramshackle huts. Where a white man would be dead in minutes if he dared stepped over the line. In my imagination, there was an eerie glow over the neighborhood. (more…)
A kind of “noblesse oblige” attitude
My family lived in Avondale, Alabama, until we moved to a farm on Lower Rocky Ridge (south Jefferson County) in about 1960. Our mailing address was Route 13, Birmingham, and I always considered myself as being born and raised here. I was just a little girl and was pretty sheltered from anything that was going on in 1963, but I do remember a few things. We had a maid who worked one day a week for my Mama. Her name was Lillie, and I have two distinct memories regarding her. (more…)