Being Black Enough: Bullying and Race Discrimination

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

Story Summary

In kindergarten, Linda dressed in green for St. Patrick’s Day, was told by a teacher, “My, my, I’ve never seen an Irish N-word before!” In 7th grade, Linda was told by her classmates, “You act white! You dress white! You have white people’s hair…” And then, the taunting began, “Linda is a white girl, Linda is a white girl!” It took Linda a long time to understand what it means to be Black.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Being Black Enough-Bullying and Race Discrimination

Discussion Questions:

  1. What did Linda’s father mean when he said, “You must be three times smarter to be equal”?
  2. How hard is it for a child to fit in when she moves around a lot?
  3. Was Linda bullied?
  4. What does it mean to be ‘Enough?’

Resources:

  • Same Family, Different Colors: Confronting Colorism in America’s Diverse Families by Lori L. Tharps
  • Colorism Poems by Sarah Webb
  • The Color Complex: The Politics of Skin Color in a New Millenium by Kathy Russell and Midge Wilson

Themes:

  • African Americans
  • Bullying
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Linda Gorham.

Do you remember Ben Carson? Ben Carson was the African-American surgeon who ran for president of the United States back in 2016. Well, during that time, Ben Carson made a statement about President Barack Obama. He said that Barack Obama was not black enough. Here are his reasons. He said Barack Obama grew up in Hawaii with his white grandparents. Ah, Barack Obama went to private schools and Barack Obama didn’t grow up poor and in the ghetto.

When I heard that I wanted to scream. I wanted to go and talk to Ben Carson myself. I wanted to say to Ben Carson really are you going to go there? Are you going to do what people have been doing for generations and take an entire race and determine what it means to be black? Are you going to do that to the President of the United States? Are you going to do that to me? Are you going to take me back to every time somebody told me I was not black enough? Because my grandparents didn’t live in the south? Or because I didn’t wear an afro or African clothing? Because I didn’t grow up poor? Are you going to label me, like so many others, because my black parents looked black and white? Or because of the way I speak? Or because of the way I fix my hair? I know it’s cliche but if I had a penny for every time somebody told me I was not black enough, I’d be rich. But who wants that kind of wealth?

My father was in the service and he was a career Army officer. And he always said, “You, Linda, the oldest child, you are the one that has to set the example for your sisters. You have to pay attention and respect your sisters and take care of your family.”

“Yes, sir.”

He would say to me, “You have to always make sure you get good grades and graduate college.”

“Yes sir.”

And then he would say to me, “Linda, remember you have to be three times smarter to be equal.”

“Three times smarter to be equal? Three times smarter than who, whom? Equal to whom?”

“Number Ones, Linda. Number Ones,” my father would say.

My father and my mother did not want us to use negative terms when it came to race. My father was a brown skinned African-American man. My mother was a white, light skinned African-American woman. When they got married in 1945, people thought their marriage was interracial. Something very taboo, something very unusual back then. And they were called many, many names. And they didn’t want us to grow up with that.

So white people were number ones. Black people were Number Twos. It was casual. Like if I said a white guy and a black guy. My father would say a number one and a number two. OK. Well, you know, what I said to my father, “Why can’t we be the number ones and they be the number twos?”

And my father’s answer was always the same, “That’s the way it is, Linda. That’s just the way it is.” He was in the service. We had traveled everywhere. That’s what you do when you’re a career Army officer. My father, I would say, with his travels, by the time I was 13, I had lived in seven houses, on two continents. I had traveled 17,000 miles, not vacation miles, moving miles. And I had attended five schools in three states. And that’s the way it was. And that’s the way it was going to be. Number ones. Number twos. We are number two.

I learned what it meant to be number two for the first time when I was in kindergarten. It was 1959 and we were in jur… in New Jersey. And it was St. Patrick’s Day and my mother dressed me all up in green. I had on a green shirt. I had a green plaid skirt on, it was wool and itI had vertical stripes. Nice, beautiful stripes. And I had green ribbons in my hair. And I went to school that day and another kindergarten teacher, not my own, looked me up and down said, “Well, my, my, my I have never seen an Irish nxxxx before.

When I got home that day, I was behind my mother when I said to her, “Mommy, what’s an Irish nxxxxx?”

My mother turned around so fast. She had two long braids that hung down her back. When she turned around, one of those braids whipped through the air and smacked her on the other cheek. She smashed out her ever-present cigarette. And with the words and the smoke, came her feelings she said, “Well, that will never happen again.”

The next day she took me to school as she always did. She gave me a kiss at my door and she went straight to the principal’s office. I would love to tell you that that teacher apologized. She didn’t. And my mother never mentioned the incident again until St. Patrick’s Day rolled around next year and every year after that. She would stick her head in my room and she’d say, “Remember, Linda, no green today not even a speck.”

I know what she was trying to do. My mother was trying to help. You have to learn to adjust when you move around a lot. You have to learn to adjust when you’re number two or three or four or whatever you are. In my case, that meant we moved, we made friends, we moved on. And that’s just the way it was. My mother would say, “Think of every move as an adventure.”

From my father, “Linda, make every move work. Be an example for your sisters. Be a soldier, make it work.”

“Yes sir.”

And I did. My early schools, I was the only black student in the school or one of a small handful. And I made it work. But seventh grade was an experience I will never forget. My father was shipped off to Vietnam. It was 1965. My sisters, my mother, and I were shipped up to New Jersey to live with my grandparents. Another school. So what? I was used to another school. I was ready for it. Make it work. And this school was right around the corner. I didn’t have to go far. And this school was 100 percent black. Number twos, my people. I’m ready… Right?

By the end of the first week, the girls in my class were calling me, “white girl.” And it wasn’t just the two words, “white girl,” it was the way they said it. As if those words burned on the insides of their mouths. And when they said those words, they had to spit them out to get them out. It was a roll of the eyes and a roll of the head. It was, (mocking huh and sound), “White girl.” And the taunting was relentless. “You dress white, you act white, you talk white, you think you are white.”

“No, no, I’m just like you. I’m not white. I’m not!”

“Sure you are.” (Sing-song mocking), “Linda is a white girl. Linda is a white girl.”

I was dying inside. How could I not make this one work? What could I do? I tried everything that I could think of. I wanted to tell my mother what was going on. But my mother…Well, my father was in Vietnam. My mother was living with her in-laws. She had enough on her plate. So, I told myself to buck it up and be a soldier and fight my own personal war. But after a point, I couldn’t stand it anymore. And I sat down with my mother. And as I told her everything, three months of tears came out of my eyes. I told her everything. The taunting, the harassment on the way home from school, the pushing, the shoving, the names, the glue in my hair, the threats to cut off my ponytail. “White girl.”

My mother said. “Oh, Linda. These girls have been together since kindergarten. They all know each other. You’re new. You’re the new person. The other schools you went to, they were used to having kids come and go. This school isn’t. Soon as they get to know you, it’ll be fine.”

“Can I transfer? Please. Anywhere.”

“No. It’s your school around the corner. You were assigned.” Now my mother went to school the very next day. My mother went to school many, many, many, many, many days. My mother even came to pick me up after school. But I’m going to tell you the truth. Seventh grade was hell.  The good news, my father came home from Vietnam and we moved again, another school. Thank goodness.

Now eighth grade was in a school that was almost all black. Not quite there yet. And I was fine. And then high school was the same way. But in high school, in 1967, well, the, the, the, the Black Panther movement was going and there was a lot of activism. And so, my classmates started wearing African clothing. They started wearing Afros. They started greeting each other by saying, “Habari Gana,” which is Swahili for “Hello.” I didn’t do that stuff. So, they started saying to me, “You’re not black enough.”

Not. Black. Enough.

Ok. Where do I fit in? Who am I? I thought I knew but it doesn’t seem like I’m fitting in anywhere. I needed a plan. I was not going to fight another war. So, I decided, OK, I will join clubs where I know some popular kids are and maybe that will help. And then I tried out for the cheerleading squad. Cheerleaders are popular, right? It took me two years to make it on the squad and that helped a lot.

In my junior year, some of my friends, friends, were calling me by another name. And I liked it, Bubbles.

Here’s my mother. “Bubbles?” (Blowing smoke from cigarette.) “Sounds like a stripper name to me.”

“Mom, no, it’s not a stripper name. They call me Bubbles because they like me. They say I have a bubbly personality.”

(Blowing smoke from cigarette.) “Still sounds like a stripper name to me.” But for me, it was the first time in so long that I was acknowledged but being the same me I had always been. I had friends. And by the way, in high school reunions, they still call me Bubbles.

But some wounds…some wounds run deep. It was 17 years before I wore green on St. Patrick’s Day again. I had graduated college. I had my first professional job in a corporation. And that St. Patrick’s Day morning, when I put on a green scarf, I felt a surge of power over that kindergarten teacher, over those seven grade girls, over those high school girls, and everybody in between who had called me ugly names.

I am black enough. I am Linda enough. I am enough.

I AM SOMEBODY

video-of-the-month

I AM SOMEBODY

linda
A short story told by
professional storyteller
Linda Gorham

 

Reflecting on her family, storyteller Linda Gorham raises powerful images in celebration of her ancestors in “I Am Somebody.” Told in a relatable and interesting manner, Linda easily engages the listener with her words.

From a proud and determined father to a strong and devoted mother to a dedicated and intelligent grandfather, Linda shares bits of her life and family with listeners. As the story continues, it is clear that family has made her who she is. It is clear that family is most important to her.

As we celebrate Black History this month, Linda Gorham reminds us that the gifts of our own family and family tree evoke gratitude, whatever our ethnicity or identity.

Take time to reflect upon your own family and values. As Linda states in her telling, “We are all a product of those who came before us, and we are the preparation for the future.”

Linda Gorham is an engaging storyteller who regales listeners with poignant stories of her life. She believes that there are no limits to what people can achieve. Storytelling to adults and children alike, Linda is drawn to the power of story. She enjoys the creativity involved in her work, and thrives on the challenge of storytelling.

 

Take a moment to be touched by this beautiful tribute to family:
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I Am Somebody

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: I-Am-Somebody

Full Transcript:

I believe we all have a story to tell. We are all a product of those who came before us and we are the preparation for the future. I am somebody. And so is everyone else I know. As you listen to my story, I hope you are inspired to tell your own.

I am somebody.

I am the daughter of a man who believed that dinner was to be served at 6 p.m. sharp and every place setting was to have a fork, a knife, and a spoon, whether they were needed or not. My father would wake us up every morning on Saturdays and Sundays, by playing referrer, revelry. “It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up. It’s time to get up in the morning.” Try listening to that at 6:00 a.m. on the weekends. But my father believed that children should be productive and should get up early, have a good breakfast, and get on with their day.

He also believed that children were probably only one reason to be on the face of this earth and that was to get a good education, to go to college, and then to have a good career.

My father also believed that fried chicken and pizza should be properly eaten with a knife and a fork. Now, I can understand a deep-dish pizza but have you ever tried eating a chicken wing with a knife and a fork? In my house, there was something called the 1969 fried chicken rebellion. But that’s another story that I’ll tell you at another time.

My father told me his proudest moment was after I turned 18, and he took me to the polls to vote in my first national election. We had to get up early. We had to be there at 7:00 a.m. My father was always first in line. And that day we were too. And I will never forget the look on my father’s face when he stepped aside to let me, his oldest daughter, vote first. I will tell you I have never missed an election since.

I am somebody.

I’m the product of a woman who was a light skinned African-American who married a dark skinned African-American man, back in 1949. Now, black people have always known that we come in all shades and all colors but not quite then. And especially not with white people who thought that my parents’ union was an interracial marriage; something quite taboo and very rare back then. Well, I will tell you, it was a long time before I understood how hard this was on my parents, especially my light skinned mother when she would walk down the street holding the hands of her three brown skinned daughters. And it was even longer before I understood my mother’s disdain for people who judged her without ever getting to know anything about her.

I and somebody.

I’m the daughter of a career Army officer who graduated from officer’s candidate school in 1946. It was a proud day. He and five other African-Americans were among the graduating class. Well, that pride turned to utter disappointment when they learned that they would not be able to attend the graduation party because it was going to be held in an all-white officer’s club.

I am somebody.

I am the daughter of a woman who believed there were two keys to a successful marriage. Soft feet and long hair. OK, I’ve never had long hair but I’ve had soft feet for all 28 years of my marriage but it doesn’t matter. I have a wonderful husband. And we have two fine, young men as sons. And they’re full of intelligence, and creativity, and wit. And I can’t wait to see how our sons take on the world.

I am somebody.

I’m the niece of a woman who was a tireless, well-loved educator. And when she retired, an entire new wing was built on to her high school. And that wing was named after her.

I am somebody.

I’m the niece of a man who in 1952 won two gold medals in the Olympics in track: the 200 meter dash and the 400 meter relay. It was a proud moment when he came home to Jersey City, New Jersey and had a ticker tape parade. The first African-American man to ever have such an honor. And four years later, he went back to the Olympics and won a silver medal.

I am somebody.

I am the granddaughter of a matriarchal woman who was strong and proud and held her family together with good values. And during the one year that my sisters and I had to live with her, she made us take a teaspoon of cod liver oil, three times a week, in the wintertime. She said it would keep us healthy. Have you ever tasted cod liver oil? Swallowing it is horrific. I would rather chew on the head of a dead fish. But the worst part about it is, all during the day it keeps coming up as burps. You try to be in seventh grade, trying to make new friends, and burping cod liver oil. This was not pleasant.

But I am somebody.

I am the granddaughter of a Georgia man who had a white father and an African American mother. The mother was only 14 years old. Her family was forced to live on the father’s land as sharecroppers. It was not a consensual relationship. The mother died in childbirth and my grandfather’s father, well, he never acknowledged his responsibility as a father. And my grandfather was raised by, as they say, a village. And he only went to school until third grade. And he only went to school when there was no work to be done in the fields. But that man left Georgia. He went to New Jersey. He told us, he walked all the way to New Jersey. My grandmother said he took the train. And I believe the train because a train saved his life. Because my grandfather became a Pullman Porter on that train. And my grandfather, he learned by cleaning the, the that the train cars and by carrying the luggage and by listening to the conversation he learned about what it meant to be a family man.

And he turned out to be a fantastic father and an even better grandfather. And he taught himself to read as an adult. But this very proud, intelligent man, like so many other Pullman Porters was forced to endure being called, “George,” instead of his first name because the travelers refused to call him, “Sir.”

I am somebody.

I’m the granddaughter of another man, whom I don’t know much about, but I know he had a large family. I know he saved up to take his family to the circus and as they stood in line of the circus, he held his tickets up high and someone snatched the tickets and they never went to the circus. But I have a story to tell about him.

I am somebody.

I am the great, granddaughter of a full-blooded Mohawk Indian, whom I’m told, wore a red feather in her long, straight, jet black hair.

I am a product of a family who was intelligent and smart and witty and clever and creative. But a family who was limited in so many ways, will never know all of the potential they could have had, because they were not judged by their potential. They were judged by the color of their skin. But in spite of that, they did amazing things. And they and I are all related to and descended from people called many things African-American, Afro-American, Negro, black, colored, slave…and much, much worse.

Now, I don’t know all their stories but I know some. And I tell their stories when I can because that’s my past and I am creating my future. And I feel their pain. And I feel their angst and I feel their determination to survive. And I want to pass that on to my children.

And ironically enough, I am also the multi-generational granddaughter of Richard Stockton, proud signer of the Declaration of Independence, the very document that should have forbid slavery.

I am somebody.

 

Be moved by some of the other storytellers in our free line-up on our Showcase Page.

Plastic Glory

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s grandmother lived in what her sisters and she called “The Plastic Palace.” Her grandmother covered everything with plastic. Everything … chairs, tables, lampshades … and, of course, her living room couch, including the throw pillows. Plastic is fun, right? But who would suspect that it could also set off a painful memory of the Vietnam War for Linda’s father?

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Plastic-Glory

Discussion Questions:

  1.  What intrigues you about the home of your grandparents or other older people? What do you smell, taste, hear, or touch when you visit their homes?
  2. How does the description of food add to the visual image of the dining room scene?
  3. Were you surprised at the twist near the end of the story? How did her father’s reaction to the popping sound affect you?
  4. Do you know someone who has fought overseas in a war? Have you ever talked with them about their experiences? If you could, what would you ask?
  5. The term ‘shell shock’ has been changed to ‘post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). What do you know about it?

Resources:

  • The Things They Cannot Say: Stories Soldiers Won’t Tell You about What They’ve Seen, Done or Failed to Do in War by Kevin Sites
  •  Once a Warrior–Always a Warrior: Navigating the Transition from Combat to Home–Including Combat Stress, PTSD, and MTBI by Charles Hoge
  • What It Is Like To Go To War by Karl Marlantes

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Family and Childhood
  • Living and Traveling Abroad
  • War

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham and I remember my grandmother’s obsession with plastic. She covered everything with it: furniture, accessories. Now, I know this was universal. I meet a lot of people tell me that their family covered things with plastic. When I was young though, back in the 60’s, actually, I thought it was a black thing. But I learned that it’s pretty universal. I loved visiting my grandparents’ house because there was no dust. There was no dirt. There was no stain in her house, at least not under the plastic, you know what I mean.

But when I would go there, well, I would go on plastic hunts to discover all the ways that she had used plastic. It was really, really cool. In the living room, there were white lamps, you know. Regular lamps with big white shades? Those white shades were covered in plastic, of course. In the hall closet there were wooden hangers, all of those wooden hangers were covered with a plastic bag from the cleaners. I remember the hallway to my grandparents’ house. It was a long hallway that started at the foyer and it went all the way back to the kitchen. And covering that hallway was a gray hallway rug but to protect the rug it was covered in plastic. You see where I’m going with this, right?

In the dining room, there were dining room chairs. They were gorgeous and they had cushions on them that were kind of paisley. But to protect the cushions, they were covered in plastic. You know something cool about plastic cover,s dining room chairs when you sit down on them? They exhale. Aah. then, when you get up they inhale. Ooh. It’s kind of cool jumping up and down on them. Aah. Ooh. Aah. Ooh.

But the thing I remember that was the most fun, was the living room couch in my grandparents’ house. Yes, it was covered in plastic but this part I will never know how this happened, the pillows, throw pillows, they were covered in plastic too. But…I figured out a way to jump on that couch and to make a loud noise like POP. And I called it the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I loved making the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. I love saying the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My grandmother didn’t approve. But that’s another story.

Well, when I was about 12 or so, my father, who was in the military, announced that he was being transferred. No actually, when I think about it, I was probably more like eight. And so, we moved from New Jersey, where he was stationed, up to Alaska, and then to Fort Benning, Georgia – two transfers. And then while we were in Georgia, my father said to me that he was being, well, not transferred. He used the word I had never heard before – deployed. He was being sent to Vietnam and while he was gone, he told my mother and my two sisters that I had at that point, he said, “You’re all going to go back and live with my parents,” he said. My grandparents, his parents, my grandparents. And the next thing I knew, my father was shipped off to Vietnam and I was back in the plastic palace. That’s what I called it.

Now, I was a little bit older – that’s when I was about 12. But my sisters, well, they didn’t really remember all the plastic stuff so I took them on a hunt, you know, to show them that the things; the, the chairs and the, the plastic on the hangers and all the things that my grandmother covered in plastic. The best thing was that couch because you know what I taught them. How to make the ultimate, plastic, couch fart. My youngest sister, Carol loves being able to say “fart” out loud. But I was older, and truthfully, I was the only one who really understood where my father went. And I guess, it’s also fair to say, I was the only one of the children who realized that he may not come back or he may not come back the same. So, plastic took on a different, it just it was different for me. I wasn’t interested in all the other things that Gail and Carol liked.

I remember before my father left, he gave me a plastic globe and he showed all of us where Vietnam was. And I remember sitting in my room, at night, trying to put my finger approximately on New Jersey and try to stretch my thumb to Vietnam. It was a long way away. But somehow, just touching that plastic globe made me feel closer to my father.

I can remember every night, at 6 o’clock, my mother and I would sit on the living room couch, our bodies stuck to the plastic, and our eyes glued to the television set. Because every day at 6 o’clock, on the news, we’d watch. We’d watch to see if my father’s unit had been in battle. And we watched those names of fallen soldiers scroll down the screen. More names after more names after more names; too many names.

I can remember the day that my father came home. The doorbell rang his special code, three rings.  And my sisters and I screamed, “Daddy’s home!” And we went running and slipping down that long hallway runner and into his arms. I think, and I don’t really remember, but I, re, kind of think he picked all of us up at the same time. And there was so much laughter and joy and tears in that foyer. It must’ve lasted forever. But I remember when he finally put us down, and did all the kissing and hugging, he, he walked down the hallway runner hung, his coat up in the closet. And then he walked over to the dining room table ’cause there was lots of food on that table. macaroni and cheese. My grandmother made the best macaroni and cheese in the world! I didn’t know back then, the most fattening macaroni and cheese in the world. But hey, who cared. And a whole stack of steaks. My father sat down on those plastic cover dining room chair cushions. And cushions, exhaled. Aah. Daddy’s home.

We had so much fun that day! At the dining room table, we ate, we talked, we laughed. And when Gail and Carol were finished eating, I remember, they excused themselves, which is a good thing to do, you know, and went into the living room. Now I wasn’t going to go over there where that couch was… you know, what I’m saying? And it wasn’t long before we heard it. POP, the ultimate plastic couch fart. I started to laugh and a few other people did too. But I looked at my father. He had jumped up from his seat. His eyes had just grown in size and his head was gyrating from side to side and his whole body was shaking. And I was scared for him. And I was scared for me. I learned a new word that day, shellshock. And I learned that, well, my father had come home from the war, but, unexpectedly, the war had come home with my father.

Now, I don’t remember how long we had to be quiet around him. It was weeks or months. I don’t remember but he did recover. That’s the good news. But I will tell you that, that night after everybody went to sleep, I helped my grandmother take the plastic off that living room couch and those dining room chairs. Because at my grandmother’s house, even though plastic used to be cool, now, plastic took a back seat when it came all too real.

The Book

 

Story Summary:

 Linda’s father had a little black book. He said it was written just for her and he said it was full of all the values she needed for a successful life. Linda loved it. She believed in it. But it took time to understand just what a gift it was.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-Book

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Do your parents or caregivers have ‘words of wisdom’ they repeat all the time? What are they? What do they mean?
  2. Do you have favorite sayings? What makes them important?
  3. Linda’s father told her he had plans and dreams for her. What are your plans? Your dreams?
  4. Why is it important for adults to encourage young people?

Resources:

  • Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance by Barack Obama
  • The Arms That Are Needed: Daughters Reflect on Fatherly Love by Landra Glover
  • If: A Father’s Advice to His Son by Rudyard Kipling

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood

Full Transcript:

Hi, I’m Linda Gorham. I want to tell you about my father. He had a little black book. Now, my father told me that the little black book was written just for me. And he said it had all the rules and the values and the morals that I needed to grow up to be a responsible adult. And I believed in the book. And whenever I did something wonderful something that, you know, made my father proud, my father would smile the sweetest smile. His right index finger would rise up in the air and my father would say, “It’s in The Book.” And I believed in the book. I believed in the notes and the morals and all the sayings in that book. To me, they were like notes to beautiful songs. And I was determined to sing those songs for the rest of my life. Now, I didn’t have to remember those words and values and morals in the book. My father repeated them over and over and over again.

I’m going to tell you three of them. He would say, “Education is paramount to success.” He would say, “Go to church every Sunday.” Now you know something interesting. My father only went to church on three times a year Mother’s Day, Christmas, and Easter. But he insisted that my sisters, my mother, and I go every single Sunday. That’s something else my father used to say, “Don’t do as I do, do as I say.” Right? And then there was a thing my father said all the time. He said it all the time. “Proper prior planning prevents poor performance.”

My mother got so sick and tired of hearing him say that, that one day she whispered in my ear, “Pretentiously pompous planning, ticks me off.” The list went on and on and on. And I did everything I could to see my father smile and to hear my father’s famous four words of praise, “It’s in the book.”

But you know something? It wasn’t until I was an adult, married, and about to have my first child that I actually sat down with my father at the kitchen table. That’s where things happened, you know, the kitchen table. And I said, “Daddy tell me about The Book.” Oh, man, I’ll never forget it.

That smile came back on his face, his right index finger rose up. But this time he used it to adjust his glasses and he bit down hard on his pipe and he said, “Well, The Book. Did you know it came from my father?” He said, “Your grandfather?” And then my father said, “You know your grandfather was born in 1898 and died in Georgia.” And then my father went on to tell me a lot of other stuff.

Now, I knew everything he was telling me. I remember as a child when my parents would tell me stories, maybe this has happened to other people, you just sit and be quiet. You listen to them telling the story over and over and you hope that they one day add something new. And then he dropped it on me. He said, “Did you know your grandfather’s father was white?” Oh, boy! Now I was really listening. He said, “His mother was 14 years old, a black teenager. She and her family were sharecroppers. His father was the white landowner. It was not a consensual relationship.” And then my father said, “You know, his mother died in childbirth and your grandfather was raised, as they say, by a village of family members, assortment of family members.” He said, “You know, he only went to school until third grade and only when there was no work to be done in the fields picking cotton. Did you know your grandfather never learned to read until he was an adult? He taught himself.”

Now, I have to tell you, my brain was racing at this point. All these details coming into my head. Fourteen years old, died in childbirth. Father never acknowledge his responsibility. Raised by assorted family members. Third grade. Taught himself to read, only after he was old.

But I remembered something. Because you see, when my grandfather would leave the kitchen table after eating breakfast, he would go into the dining room. And he would spread out two newspapers, “The Jersey Journal” and “The New York Times.” And he would read them every morning cover to cover. And also, in the corner of the dining room, there was a great, big stack of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines, you know, black people do not throw out “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. Oh, no they don’t! And I can remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Education is paramount to success.” Reading the newspaper every morning.

And then my father went on with his story. He said, “You know how your grandfather told you that he left Guyton, Georgia, about age 15, and walked all the way to New Jersey? It’s not true. He took the train. And it’s a good thing,” my father said. “He got a job as a Pullman Porter. It was hard work. He had to carry the luggage of all those travelers. He had clean cars, railroad cars and sometimes he even worked in the kitchen and he didn’t get much respect. But he managed to eke out a good life for all of us.”

And then I remembered something else about my grandfather. You know, I remember him sitting on the front steps of 4075 Oak Street in Jersey City, New Jersey, his long legs crossed. And my grandfather would sit there in his rocking chair on the front porch. And anyone who walked past that house, he would smile and he would tip his hat, “How do?” he would say. “How do?” And I remember my grandfather turning to me on more than one occasion saying, “Treat everyone with respect even if they don’t treat you that way.”

Well, my father went on with his story. He said, “You know, your grandfather had no one to teach him. He learned by watching the men on the train, and the men in his neighborhood. He watched how they interacted with their children and their wives. He watched how they talked about investments and life and living and learning. And he wrote it all down in a little black book. Your grandfather passed that little black book on to me,” my father said. “And now, I have passed it on to you.” Now I never held that book in my hand. The way I looked at it, my father passed that book directly to my heart.

Now, I have to tell you something, I didn’t always live too close to my father because of where, you know transfers and things, so I would talk to him all the, all the time while our sons were growing up. And now our sons are 27 and 28. They’re, they’re great! They’re warm, they’re witty, they’re friendly, they’re smart and, yeah, they’re handsome too. But I will tell you, every time I talk to my father and I tell him about his grandsons and all the wonderful things they’re doing. Now, I can’t see that smile because we’re usually on the phone, and I can’t see that index finger because I know it’s a little shaky from Parkinson’s, but I can…I can know it’s there. Because I, I can sense that finger going up and I can sense that smile in his voice and he says, “Of course, my grandsons are doing well. It’s in The Book.”

ROSA

By Storyteller Linda Gorham

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Story Summary:

 Rosa Parks is best known for her refusal to give up her seat to a white man on a Montgomery, Alabama bus in 1955. Her action galvanized the growing Civil Rights Movement and led to the successful Montgomery bus boycott. But even before her defiant act and the resulting boycott, Ms. Parks was dedicated to racial justice and equality. Linda Gorham tells the story of those times through the eyes of three people: Claudette Colvin (a 15-year-old who refused to give up her seat nine months before Rosa Parks), James Blake (the bus driver), and Rosa Parks herself.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Rosa-Parks

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Given the climate of violence Rosa Parks faced, would you have had the courage to do what she and the other people of the Civil Rights Movement did? Have you ever stood up for something you believe in? What happened?
  2. Would you have been one of the people involved in the Civil Rights movement? How would you have helped?
  3. Many Whites thought things were unfair in this country and supported the Civil Rights Movement yet were afraid to say so to their own spouses, families or neighbors. When have you felt afraid to share your beliefs?

Resources:

  • Film – Mighty Times: The Legacy of Rosa Parks by Hudson & Houston produced by
  • Teaching Tolerance and Tell the Truth Pictures.
  • Rosa Parks: My Story by Rosa Parks and Jim Haskins. In this straightforward, compelling autobiography, Rosa Parks talks candidly about the civil rights movement and her active role in it.
  • Rosa Parks: A Life by Douglas Brinkley. Historian Douglas Brinkley follows this thoughtful and devout woman from her childhood in Jim Crow Alabama through her early involvement in the NAACP to her epochal moment of courage and her afterlife as a beloved (and resented) icon of the civil rights movement.

Themes:

  •  African American/Black History
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination
  • Taking A Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

“If you miss me at the back of the bus and you can’t find me no where, Come on up to the front of the bus ’cause I’ll be riding up there.” Those words come from a song written by James Neblett. And he said, in that song, that he was celebrating all the accomplishments that African-Americans had made during the 1950’s and the 1960’s in the civil rights movement. And one of the very basic accomplishments, which is unbelievable that it was not possible to do, was for African-Americans to be able to sit anywhere on a public bus. You know, for 68 years in this country, there were laws called Jim Crow laws. And those laws, well, they were mandated to separate the races. Now, they did a good job of keeping the races separate but they sure didn’t do a good job of keeping things equal. Separate but equal, they called it. No way. Not at all.

Well, all that changed in 1955, especially on the buses. The buses, you know, they used to have the front rows for the white people and African-Americans had to sit in the back and if the white section filled up and a white person was standing, well, don’t you know, an entire row of African-Americans would have to get up and move to the back. It was totally unfair.

But in 1955 that’s when Rosa Parks, a 42-year-old woman, from Montgomery, Alabama, she was ordered to stand up on the bus and give up her seat. And Rosa Parks refused. Now I will tell you, her dignity stood up. Her commitment to ending bus segregation stood up. Her inner spirit and, I’m sure, her soul stood up. So, Rosa Parks could make the difficult decision to remain sitting down. Now, there have been many books written about that day and the ensuing year. But I think Rosa Parks said it best herself. So, from excerpts from her autobiography and the many interviews that she had, I’m going to tell you Rosa Parks’ story in mostly her words.

When that bus driver came back at me, waving his arms, yelling at me saying, “Make it light on yourself. Give up your seat.” I was ready. I was not going to give up my seat. I had prepared for that moment for a long time.

You see, it was December 1st, 1955. Ha! The newspaper reporter said that I didn’t give up my seat because I was tired.  Ha. I’ll tell you what I was tired of! I was tired of seeing men, women, and children disrespected because of the color of their skin. I was tired of Jim Crow segregation laws. I was tired of being oppressed. You see, my feet were not tired, my soul was. The United States of America was supposed to be the land of the free; the land of equality. But it seems to me, the only people who are equal, well, are people with white skin. And I too am an American and I too deserve respect.

Hmm. Those newspaper reporters… well, they said that I was just a seamstress. No, I am a tailor. I work downtown for the Montgomery Ward Department store. I tailor men’s clothes so they fit nice. I do a great job! But that’s not all I do. You see, I’m also a volunteer secretary for the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. We call it the NAACP. I’m also the head of their youth group. I will tell you, many times I’ve sat in those meetings taking the minutes and I hear about all the horrible crimes against Negro people. White hate crimes we call them. Where Negroes are cheated, and abused, and harassed, and murdered, and lynched, and much, much more.

You know that young girl, Claudette Colvin? She was 15 years old when she didn’t give up her seat on the bus. Oh, I was very proud of her. What she did was hard and brave. She could have gotten killed for that small act of defiance. I invited her to talk to my youth group and we talked about her case many times at the NAACP meetings. And you know, after hearing what she did and after thinking of all that I’ve been through, well, I’ve made up my mind I was never again going to give up my seat on any bus.

Now I will tell you, I rode that bus to work, five mornings a week, five evenings a week, four weeks out of every month. And each time I try to sit as high up as I could in the Negro section and each time I said to myself, “If I’m asked to give up my seat, I will NOT.”

Hmm. When that day came, and that bus driver came running after me waving his arms, I rapped my determination around me like a quilt on a cold winter’s night. And when the police came on that bus, I looked up at one of them and I said, “Why do you push us around?” And I’ll never forget what he said to me.

He said, “I don’t know, but the law is the law and you are under arrest.”

Now I will tell you, they didn’t push me around like they did with Claudette. They were very polite. One took my purse, one took my shopping bag, and they escorted me off the bus. And once off the bus, we got to the squad car, and they opened the door, and I got inside. And actually, once inside, they gave me back my purse and my personal belongings.

On the way to City Hall, one of those policemen turned around and he looked at me and he said, “Why didn’t you give up your seat when the bus driver asked you to?” I didn’t tell him a thing. I was silent all the way to City Hall.

Now let me tell you, after my arrest, the NAACP called for a boycott of the buses. And all the Negroes in Montgomery, Alabama who had been silent or who had been afraid or who had been fearful or who had been angry, we all came together. And we said, “We’re going to boycott the buses until the laws change. We’re just not going to ride.”

Hmm. You know, there were 17,000 Negroes that rode those buses every day and they made up more than three-quarters of the ridership. And when we stopped riding those buses, the bus company lost money. It was hard on them. But let me tell you that, was nothing compared to how hard it was on us.

We walked. We walked everywhere. We walked to church. We walked to school. We walked to work. We walked to visit friends. We walked to buy food. Now, the NAACP did set up carpools – 300 of them. And they did run on a regular basis and that was helpful, especially for those who were older or infirmed. Most of us, we just walked. No matter what the weather. No matter how we felt. No matter how many bundles we had to carry. No matter how many children we had in tow. We walked and not for a day, and not for a week, and not for a month. We walked for 381 days. Three hundred and eighty-one days.

Well, finally after all that walking, the Supreme Court of the United States declared that segregation on public transportation was unconstitutional. Look, I have to tell you, what took them so long. Well, in any case, the   Negroes of Montgomery, Alabama walked for 381 days so that Negroes throughout the United States of America could sit anywhere they wanted on any trolley, any train, and any bus. It wasn’t easy.