Hey, I’m Black Too! So, Where Do I Fit In?

By Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary

Because she had grown up in a predominately white community during the turbulent Civil Rights years, when Mama Edie’s new friend, Renee, went to college she learned the pain of being treated as an outsider by some of the other African American students.  But Mama Edie and Renee both learned that a strong sense of identity can combat bullying, provide a sense of direction and belonging and create meaningful bonds that can last a lifetime.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Hey Im Black Too So Where Do I Fit In

Discussion Questions:

  1. Have you ever been in a situation where people made you feel that you were unwelcomed and that you didn’t belong? Describe the situation.  How did it make you feel?  How did you respond to it?  Did anyone stand by your right to be there?  If so, who?  Did you continue your friendship?
  2. Have you ever been a “pioneer,” the “only one” or one of only a few like you in a situation, in your neighborhood or school? If so, what was the situation and describe what it was like.
  3. Are you comfortable in the skin you’re in? Are you proud to be a part of your cultural group?  If so, why?  If not, why not?
  4. Have you ever had the opportunity to stand up for someone who was being bullied or treated unfairly? Did you?  How do you feel about your decision and what was the end result?  Looking back now, might you have responded differently?

Resources:

  • African American Wisdom Edited by Reginald McKnight. Famous proverbs and anonymous quotes by African Americans from the time of Reconstruction through the 1990’s to inspire courage, pride, self-love, a strong work ethic, discretion and a thirst for knowledge.
  • The Importance of Pot Liquor by Jackie Torrence. Especially useful for children (and adults) who did not grow up in typical African American communities and may have missed out on some of the cultural wisdom and humor that has helped this culture to survive in especially trying times.
  • Brown Girl in the Ring: An Anthology of Song Games from the Eastern Caribbean Collected by Alan Lomax, J.D. Elder & Bess Lomax Hawes. A celebration of Afro-Caribbeans through songs and games that serve to keep African Descendant cultures connected, proud and alive.
  • The Life & Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar Collected by Lida Keck Wiggins. Poems written in African American Dialect and Standard English that demonstrate the creative skill required of African Americans not formally educated to bring feelings and images to life using blended linguistic influences of various cultures.

Themes:

  • African Americans/African
  • Bullying
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neighborhoods, Identity
  • Stereotypes/Discrimination
  • Taking a Stand

Full Transcript:

Hi, my name is Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong. Going away to college in the 60s was so exciting. So much was going on. There were all kinds of things: political ideas, and spiritual ideas, many ideas to explore, new ideas to explore, but also old realities to reckon with.

For example, as a child growing up in a racially changing neighborhood, every now and then I didn’t feel quite like I quite fit in. And sometimes it was very difficult. Even sometimes the way the teachers would pit the black children against the white children. Ah, I mean, there was nothing that was spoken, but you felt this favoritism being shared towards the white children, which made us feel kind of bad. And I was seven years old or so, you’re not quite understanding what’s going on. All you know is that it just doesn’t feel good.

And the same kind of thing happened in high school. But even sometimes as the white children were leaving the neighborhoods, then they started pitting the lighter complexioned children against the darker complexioned children so that the lighter complexioned children got favoritism, which caused a rift and a problem. And sometimes even the lighter complexioned children were beaten up and called words like “high yella,” which made them feel bad. And all they wanted to do also was to just fit in.

Well, in high school, sometimes there were specific things that would happen that just let us know that some of the teachers were just not happy that we were there. And they seemed determined to put blocks in our way.

For example, having a session of guidance, a counseling session with my guidance counselor in high school, she suggested that, um, I not consider college because she didn’t think I’d make it there. So, she suggested that I try secretarial school. Well, I went on and I got accepted into Northern Illinois University anyway.

But even while there, in another guidance counseling session, the director of my program at that time told me that speech pathology, audiology were really not fields for black people but I was a nice person, and then I might want to consider social work. Now social work is a noble profession, and, in fact, I had considered it at one time but it wasn’t what I had selected then. I went on and got my Master’s Degree in Speech Pathology anyhow. Sure wish I coulda come back and found both of those teachers, show ’em my diploma, my degrees. But it was an interesting time too, in that I was starting to meet children who were coming from places I had never heard of. I guess I thought that most black people in America lived in cities like Chicago, and Detroit, and L.A., and down south. Then I started hearin’ about places like Rock Island and Cairo. Well, I had actually heard about Cairo because clearly the Welcome Wagon was not rolled out for children of African descent in cities like Cairo. And, in fact, cities like Cairo were those places, uh, uh, that we called, sometimes “up south”
because of the attitudes that were still there.

But meeting some of the students from those places helped me to understand, as I was learning more about the great migration, that African-Americans ended up in all kinds of places: west, and to the north, and cities large and small. Now the great migration was a period that took place roughly between 1914 and the 1970s. And what had happened, you know, (as the kids say what happened was) the European American immigrants were being sent to war. And with the rapidly building industry, there was still a need for people to fill those positions for cheap labor. And so African-Americans were typically not welcome in the military services. So, the opportunity was there. So, they came in droves from all over the south, all over the slave south trying to escape situations like, uh, the Jim Crow laws. Those laws that kept us separate… that had us in separate schools, and separate swimming pools and, and unable to even attend theaters where we might perform.

And it was a difficult time, even once they arrived up in the north, and tryin’ to find some place to live was also challenging because many people in cities like Chicago, and, especially, in Chicago, only wanted to welcome in people who we would normally call white Anglo-Saxons. Now that was a problem for African-Americans. There was nothin’ about most of them that resembled the white Anglo-Saxons. However, in an interesting way, those very, very light-complexioned African-Americans who managed to purchase property in certain areas because they passed or looked like they could pass, actually opened the way, opened the door for others to move into some of those communities. And what a surprise that was when these little brown complexioned people started showing up in the neighborhood.

But there was a policy called redlining that was intended to keep children of African descent, and other minorities as well, from being able to purchase property in certain areas. And so, it was decided in 1990… in 1966 that there would be a march in a neighborhood of, on the South Side of Chicago called Marquette Park. And I remember that day, um, and it was really an amazing situation. Um, and… but many things happened as a result of the march in Marquette Park that opened up doors, opened up the doors of the universities as well as the neighborhoods.

So, enter my friend Renee. Now, Renee was a person who had been born in Chicago. But at the age of nine, her father had gotten transferred to another city, one of those cities I had never heard of, but she was the first African-American in her elementary and high school. Pioneering, definitely! And so, uh, understandably, she learned to speak like her white contemporaries. Uh, she even moved and, and danced like them. But when it was time for her to come into college, she was so excited because she had many good friends among her Euro-American counterparts in her town. However, she was hungry for interactions with children of African descent. So, she was so excited about going to Northern, and meeting, and mixing, and mingling with these kids.

But here she comes. “Hi. My name is Renee. What’s yours?”

Well, people were kinda looking at her like, “So what’s with her?”

And so, it’s easy to assume that she was what we would sometimes call a “wanna be,” somebody who would prefer to be white. And that just wasn’t the case. She was, when I first met her, she was warm and bubbly. And she was friendly, and she was very smart, but that even became a problem because sometimes we’d be in class, and she was sometimes a little bit too eager to be the first one to answer. “Oh, well, that’s because such and such, and, and what have you.”

And so, some of the other students would look at her like, “Okay, so now not only is she a “wanna be,” but now she’s a Miss Know-It-All too!”

Poor Renee. Her popularity was taking a serious nose dive. Well, one particular day, we were having a meal together, which we often did. And you have to consider the timing. In 1969 when I went away to school, this was the time when we had just lost people like Dr. Martin Luther King, John and Bobby Kennedy, Malcolm X. Um, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark of the Black Panther Party were brutally shot in their beds as they slept on the West Side of Chicago under the inspiration of J. Edgar Hoover by 14 Chicago police officers. So, there was a lot of anger at that time. So, the idea of a black girl comin’ along lookin’ like she’d rather be a white girl was not going to get any points. So, here we are, Renee and I sitting there at the dining, in the dining hall of the dormitory, and we were just about to finish our meal. Now I had noticed some other African-American students a little bit in the distance at a table beyond Renee, but she couldn’t see them because they were to
her back. But I saw them with their heads together, whispering, and talking, and pointing, and gesturing, and I was like, “Oh, Lord. Here comes trouble.”

So, I was hoping that they wouldn’t say anything. But just as we were about to leave, they got up, and they came over. And without even looking at her, they looked directly at me, and they said, “Whachoo doin’ witheh? She thank she white. She don even know she black. You know, I, I don even know, understa… understand… why you talkin’ to her?”

And I was just about to respond. But Renee in her very direct and confident way, she stood up and she said, “I do so know that I am black. You just don’t know that I am black. And Edie is still here because she’s my friend, and I could be your friend too. But it’s your loss.” And then she said, “Come on, Edie.”

Ha, ha, ha! And so, it’s like, okay, she took care of that. So, ha, ha, so I got up and I was about to leave, and they looked at me, and they said, “So, so, what’s so… why are you with her?”

And I say, “Like she said, we’re friends, and she’s a nice girl. So, if you would prefer not to look into that and to see her as the person that she is, that is your loss. So, um, I’ll see you all later.”

Now I was pretty well liked, and what have you, among many circles on the campus. So, we didn’t have any problems. So, I walked away ca… uh, Renee and I walked away, but she was fuming. We went back to the dorm, and I managed to kind of decompress her. And we talked about the situation, but then we went on, and prepared to go to the dance at the University Union that night. And when we did, we had a good time. And I watched her doin’ her little white girl dance, eh, heh, which was really just kinda comical to me, but she was a sweet girl.

She continues to be a sweet girl. And, in fact, she moved away to a state far away, but she came back to Chicago to be in my wedding. And 40 years later, we’re still friends.

Finding Light in the Dungeons of Ghana with Mother Mary Carter Smith

By Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary

When Mama Edie and Mother Mary Carter Smith, Co-Founder of the National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc. enter the dark dungeons of Ghana, West Africa, where people were imprisoned for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, unexpected things begin to occur.  This story speaks to how one can perceive and be guided by just a small beam of light, finding strength, hope and direction despite barbaric and seemingly hopeless situations.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Finding Light in the Dungeons of Ghana with Mother Mary Carter Smith

Discussion Questions:

  1. What do you think life was like for Africans before the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
  2. Slavery existed for many centuries in countries around the world. How was the Transatlantic Slave Trade different from the others?
  3. Name at least 5 rights that Africans were stripped of when they became enslaved.
  4. Are children of African descent still being impacted by slavery today? If so, how?
  5. Name some of the countries other than the US where African people were taken as slaves.
  6. How is the wealth enjoyed today by Europeans, North, South, Central and Caribbean Americans a reflection of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade?
  7. Have you ever found yourself in a terrible situation but then found a little glimmer of hope or direction that helped you to find your way through it? If not too personal, please describe.

Resources:

  • Henry’s Freedom Box by Kadir Nelson. The story of a young man who escaped to freedom from the slave south in the U.S. by shipping himself… in a box.
  • Of Thee I Sing: A Letter to My Daughters by Barack Obama.  Message of Past U.S. President Barack Obama in a beautifully illustrated book, teaching and encouraging his daughters to embrace all the diversity, unity, challenges and triumphs of living in the United States with strength, hope and knowledge, knowing too that they are unique and well-loved gifts to the world.
  • The African Origin of Civilization by Cheikh Anta Diop (high school and older)
  • Classic Slave Narratives Edited by Henry Louis Gates.
  • World’s Great Men of Color by J.A. Rogers. Vol 1: Asia and Africa, and Historical Figures Before Christ, Including Aesop, Hannibal and many others
  • A Child’s Garden: A Story of Hope by Michael Foreman. Story of a young boy in a war-torn land where he finds hope in a barely surviving vine that he coaxes back to life.
  • The Wisdom of the Elders by Robert Fleming. Reflections “from the heart of African American Culture” on relationships, community, values, self-esteem, politics, self-determination, race and racism, healing love, laughter and change.

Themes:

  • African Americans/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong. In 1996, I went to Ghana, West Africa for the very first time with my friends Betty and Wadiya. Oh, the feelings I had inside me! I was so excited, and there was so many things that we saw. We saw beautiful, tall, towering, palm trees wavin’ in the breeze, and beautiful, white, sandy beaches all along the highways. And the stunning beauty and strength of African women, who were carrying huge, and often heavy, baskets on their heads, with their babies tied firmly on their backs. And the bright and beautiful eyes of children wearing uniform after school, carrying their books, carrying their backpacks on their backs, and laughin’, and talkin’ on their way home. And even goat herders guiding small, little herds of goats across a busy street right in the center of the city.

But among the most profound experiences that I had there, was going into the dungeons of Cape Coast Castle. This was one of many forts that dotted the western coast of Africa, along the Co… Ghos… along the Coast of Guinea. And it was in these dungeons that African men, women, and children were held there, captive in chains, awaiting “shipment” to other places around the world. Now, this was something that occurred during a period of business called the Transatlantic Slave Trade.

Now, granted, slavery was a practice that had been used in many countries for centuries. However, none, none was ever as brutal, inhumane or pervasive as this one. In fact, in quiet ways sometimes, it continues to destructively impact the lives of children of African descent worldwide, even to this day. Now, one might think that once a person had gone into one of those dismal dungeons that a subsequent visit might be a little bit easier.

Let me tell you how it happened for me. On my first trip in ’96, that white stone castle loomed ominously in the distance as our car approached the fishing village of Cape Coast. And we were greeted in the fishing village with warm smiles, and the smells of fresh fish and salt sea air. We saw brilliantly colored blossoms and birds, and saw people busily going about their daily work. There were men mending fish nets, and women on their way to market, or to the bank. And there were children laughing and running in play. One would never imagine that amid such beauty and normal life that anyone would ever have perpetrated something as horrific as the slave trade on such a kind and gentle people.

Well, we first went up into the castle, and we saw these comfortable accommodations that the British governmental representatives had for themselves. And, oh, such pomp and decor that reflected the high esteem in which they held themselves. Even the dark and rusted cannons that still sat on top of the roof, still poised out at sea, daring anybody to come and take what the British had already stolen. It was really something. It was quite something to behold.

Then we started going down into the dungeons. And once we got there, our guide had taken us to an opening that looked something like a cave. And as soon as we got inside, it went almost immediately pitch black. And we had to duck our heads because of the low overhang, and it was difficult to walk on the uneven path. And as our eyes were getting adjusted to the darkness, and as we were peering around that space, we were able to see bloodstains and shackles still hanging from the dungeon walls. The guide spoke to us of many horrific crimes that had been committed there. It made me sad. It made me angry and very, very frustrated. But more than anything, I was really, really so very sad that anyone would have to go through something like that.

Then my second visit, that was in 1997. This time, I had gone with a research study group from Medgar Evers College in New York. It was an amazing experience, a very eye-opening experience led by Kofi Lamotey. Again, there was a trip into the dungeons that was planned. And I’m thinking, “Well, that was painful but I’ve been there, I’ve done that. So, I got this, right.” Hmm. It was harder than the first time.

Then my third time going to Ghana was the first time that the National Association of Black Storytellers had gone, in order to participate in Panafest. Now this is a royal, regal celebration where the kings, and the queens, and the chiefs, and the princes, and princesses all come out in their golden, royal regalia. And they welcome children of the African Diaspora to “come back home” and to meet each other, and to plan, and to celebrate our victories. But more than anything, to look forward to how we can uplift the lives of our people.

Of course, another trip to the dungeon was planned. Now this time, I’m on the bus. I’m on the tour bus, and we’re riding along. And I see that castle in the distance comin’ up – palm trees, glistening sea. But my stomach started to tighten, and I, suddenly, felt like I didn’t think that I wanted to go there again. So, I went inside myself, into that space within me, that space of light where you go sometimes to ask for guidance. And it was as though I heard a voice that said, “You’re not finished. This is a necessary pain.” So, I took a deep breath and I said, “Okay.” I was obedient. Now, I had the option I could have gone to a restaurant there on the sea, had a little drink, and enjoyed the seaside, and waited for the others to come back. But I was obedient, and I went.

Well, by this time, I couldn’t assume that it was gonna be any easier than it was before. But I did wonder how this time might be a bit different. Well, one of the differences was that I ended up escorting one of our cofounders of the storytelling organization, Mother Mary Carter Smith, who herself was an elder. Now MamaMary was a spitfire! Little, bitty, tiny thing but a spitfire, nonetheless. And so even though she was small in stature, she was really big in her influence on us. And along with co-founder Mama Linda Goss, they were our Queen Mothers. And like all African Queen Mothers should, they provided a bit of guidance, a bit of light whenever we needed it.

So here we are, we’re about to go up the stairs, those broken stairs of the slave castle. And once we got inside, we’re looking around the space. And we found ourselves in a room where the guide had mentioned to us served as a chapel for the governor. And Mama Mary looked at me. She looked so confused. She said, “Wait a minute.” And she said right out loud, she said, “You mean to tell me that while my people are down in the dungeon suffering, the governor had the nerve to be up here praying? Now what kind of nonsense is that!” I understood her position. I wondered the same thing the first time I went to Ghana.

Eventually, we go back downstairs, down these broken stairs, and we start to go inside the dungeon. Now Mama Mary didn’t have too far to duck because she was so short. But her walk, her gait, was a little bit unsteady. So, I was holding onto her hand as we came down the stairs, and as we went inside the dungeons.

And then as we were first in the men’s dungeon, and then in the women’s dungeon, the tour guide was going on about the atrocities that had happened there. And we looked around and saw all these shadows and artifacts of a horrible time past. And I saw Mama Mary’s frail fingers going along the edge of the walls where he saw dried blood. And she ran her fingers over shackles that were still hanging there. And I saw the profound sadness in her face.

And then as the tour guide was continuing to go on and on about things that had happened, I noticed that Mama Mary was suddenly starting to stiffen. And her fists clenched, and her arms shot straight down by her side. And, and her head tilted back, and there was a low rumbling sound coming from her throat. And she was rocking back and forth, and the rumbling sound in her throat got louder and louder until she screeeeeeeeamed (weeping sounds).

She screamed and in her scream, you can feel the pain and the agony of those ancestors who had been there, whose pain we can still feel today. I went close to her, but not too close, ’cause I saw what was happening. She was in deep communion with the spirits of those ancestors. But I wanted to be there for support and, all of a sudden, she just collapsed right in my arms. And other storytellers also came around, and there we were, crumpled on the floor, trying to support Mama Mary so she wouldn’t hurt herself. And she just cried, and we rocked her. And some of the other storytellers cried too.

In time, she was able to stand back up and when she did, she seemed to stand a little bit taller than she had when we first walked inside. And I noticed this small hole, way up high, in the roof of the women’s dungeon, where a little bit of sunlight was shafting through. And that was the only sunlight that the Africans who were imprisoned there had for weeks and sometimes months, until they were piled onto ships, and sent away to other places.

So, after we all collected ourselves, we were guided to the final portal. That final doorway, where the Africans left and went out onto the sands, onto the beach, to be loaded up like so many cattle onto the ships and taken away. That was the Door of No Return.

So, we, the storytellers, also took that trek and walked through the Door of No Return. And as we got onto the beach, some of us were praying, some people were singing with their arms outstretched to the sky. Some had their arms around each other’s waists with heads touching, and just rocking, and humming together. Some just rocked back and forth and prayed.

As we were standing there, I thought about that light, that little shaft of light that came through. And I was reminded, as I saw Mama Mary standin’ taller and walkin’ stronger than she had when we first came to that place. I was reminded that often, even in our darkest hours, every now and then, when we… quiet ourselves, we can go inside ourselves to that little place of light, and ask for guidance. And it comes, and with it, we can lift ourselves up and find a better way.

Stand Up! Redlining During the Great Migration and Marching in Marquette Park with Dr. Martin Luther King

by Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary:

Take the journey with 14-year old Mama Edie as she relives her 1966 experience of marching through the violent streets of Marquette Park in Chicago, Illinois with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  Ride the back of the train “up north” in the “Negro section” during the Great Migration from the slave south in search of a better life to only find the practices of “redlining” and Jim Crow blocking your way to a better life for your family.  NOW take a serious look at someone who would tell you to “just get over it.”  How do you heal?

50 years later, Mama Edie was in Marquette Park again to commemorate the original march!

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Stand-Up-Redlining-During-the-Great-Migration-and-Marching-in-Marquette-Park-with-Dr-Martin-Luther-King

Discussion Questions:

  1. What was the “Great Migration”? What were its benefits and its dangers?
  2. Discuss the differences between people who immigrate to another country in relative comfort with their own names, belongings, family members, languages, religions and freedom to practice their own cultural ways and those who immigrate by force in deplorable conditions, stripped of clothing, dignity, names, respect, family, land, religion, language and where the practice of one’s cultural ways may even be punishable by death. How might people’s lives evolve over many generations depending upon their first step away from home?
  3. Why was the march held in Marquette Park in 1966 with Dr. King significant and did it only benefit African Americans? Was its impact felt only in Chicago?
  4. Imagine how you think you might feel if you had been a Black person who was not allowed to buy housing in many parts of Chicago? What impact would it have had to be told where you and your family could and couldn’t live?
  5. Imagine how you think you might have felt as a White person on those streets of Marquette Park. Write a short essay about it. What were whites fighting for or against? What kind of information did they have or not have? Describe what happened while you were there, what you saw, what you heard and how it made you feel. Address how it makes you feel now about yourself, your own culture and about African Americans and their lives today, whether you are African American or not.
  6. How does a person become open and sensitive enough to understand someone else’s feelings or situation? What makes a person care enough to let go of ego, judgment and fear and want to listen and learn?
  7. When you see injustice, when is it time to stand up? Consider one scenario of injustice and describe how you might go about addressing it. How can you safely affect a positive change?

Resources:

Article on The Great Migration and its socio-political and economic evolution from 1916 to 1970: http://www.history.com/topics/black-history/great-migration

IMAN (Inner-City Muslim Network), a collaboration of intercultural and interfaith groups who have worked together to improve the quality of life for people in the Marquette Park Community.  This organization spearheaded the 50th anniversary commemoration of the Marquette Park march: http://www.mlkmemorialchicago.org/

Redlining – This link guides the reader to a digitally interactive map describing the existence and “reasons” for redlining, the discriminatory practice of limiting housing opportunities and related services for so-called minorities across the country.
http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/10/19/498536077/interactive-redlining-map-zooms-in-on-americas-history-of-discrimination

Themes:

  • African Americans/Africans
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • European American/Whites
  • Family and Childhood
  • Housing/Neigborhoods
  • Taking a Stand and Peacemaking

Full Transcript:

My name is Edie McLoud Armstrong. It was August 5th, 1966 that I was 15 years old. I remember waking up feeling so excited. I was joyful, a little bit scared, and brave, all at the same time. I’d never felt quite that way before. I remember, as I was eating my breakfast, I was deep in my own thoughts. And my father had made me this wonderful breakfast of bacon and eggs, and toast, and fresh, squeezed orange juice. But as I was eating, I kept replaying in my mind the newscasts that my parents and I had been watching over the previous days and weeks, that were leading up to this very special time. You see, there was going to be a march in Marquette Park, one of the neighborhoods on the southwest side of Chicago. And this was one of the areas where they used the practice of redlining, which was intended to keep African-Americans and other, so-called minorities from the housing market.

Well, this was going to be a bit of a problem because this was also right in through with the time of the Great Migration. And the Great Migration took place roughly between 1914 and the 1970s. And this was a time when waves of African-Americans were coming from the slave south. They were trying to escape situations like the lynchings. Those Sunday afternoon, after church, kind of lynchings, where men, women, and even children sometimes were hung from trees. They were trying to escape church and home bombings. They were trying to escape the Jim Crow laws that barred them from restaurants, restrooms, from playgrounds, and swimming pools, and churches, and in movie theaters, and play theaters, where even they performed but they weren’t allowed to go and enjoy them. They were coming to northern cities and western cities, both big and small, in search for a better life. But it was difficult.

For one thing, they needed to find someplace to live. So, when they came to a city, for example, like Chicago, and many of them actually managed to get enough money to ride the train in the colored section, or the negro section, which was actually right behind the engine. Now, that might sound kind of exciting but in that section, that’s where the soot and the ash came. So, you got these people dressed in their Sunday finest. And they had to sit in an area where they knew that they would probably just have their wonderful clothes all dirtied up but they didn’t care about that. And they had their lunches packed in shoe boxes and brown paper sacks, sometimes even including a loving piece of homemade pound cake. They were on their way to find a better life.

But, again, they needed somewhere to live. Now, in cities like Chicago, there were many neighborhoods where people only wanted as neighbors, people who looked like them. So, when the African-Americans were coming in droves, I mean they were really coming, there was so many that they ended up crowding into areas that were getting quickly overcrowded. And the services, the landowners, were no longer providing the services to maintain the hygiene and the safety that they once did. Even the trash, the trash wasn’t getting picked up on a regular basis. And so, the communities ended up turning into what we now call slums.

Now, it was an easy thing to try to blame the residents for the conditions that were allowed to take place. But churches, like Quinn Chapel, were very, very instrumental in helping the African-Americans find someplace to live. They found them little tenement places and sometimes they were able to rent a room or they got little kitchenettes, until they could find a place of their own and send for their families to join them. So, there was a lot of support there. And that was a good thing because in other communities, for example, in Marquette Park where that march was going to take place, that was a neighborhood where African-Americans only went through in order to get to Midway Airport. Because it was very clear that we were not local there.

Hmm. So, the day came. The day of the march. And Dr. Martin Luther King had been invited to Chicago to lead that march. Now, some of the nuns from my elementary school in Inglewood, St. Carthage, had asked some of our parents if they could escort us to that march. That was kind of a risky thing for a parent, especially my father, who was from Georgia, who knew about what life could be like. But they prayed on it and they decided to let me go. And I’m really, really glad they did because I felt like it was my turn to stand up for justice. And I wanted so much to do that and to do a good job.

Well, what happened was that, that morning after I finished eating, I went to my mother’s room to say goodbye and she started asking me all the practical things. She looked at me and she said, “Now, now, did you, did you pack your lunch?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Did you get your jacket because you know it’s going to be a little bit chilly out there later on?”

“Yes ma’am.”

“Now, did your father give you a little piece change?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

And she was just asking me all these questions. But then she said, “Now, Edith, stay alert and make sure you stay right close to the nuns and to your other friends. And make sure that you don’t look in their faces. Don’t look in their eyes. They don’t like that because they’ll think that you’re challenging them.”

“Yes, ma’am.” I had never heard that before. And so, my father even though St. Carthage was only like two blocks away, he insisted on driving me to school that day. He talked quietly with the nuns off to the side for a while and then when it was time for him to go to the car, he turned and he looked at me. And he came and gave me a big hug.

And he just gave me a quiet smile that said, ‘I’m proud of you, girl.” It didn’t even need any words. And so, he got in his car and he was gone.

And within minutes, we were on this specially chartered bus. They were maybe about 20 of us. And while we were going along, we were kind of chatting and, and, and joking even a little bit, trying to break the tension because we were nervous. We didn’t really know what to expect. None of us had ever had an experience like this before. But then, as we got closer to where the march was taking place, we started hearing the crowd. The noise of the crowd, the voices were getting louder and louder. And we heard these angry shouts and these chats. And we looked out the windows and we saw people throwing their fists up into the air. And we could just imagine what was coming out of their mouths. And suddenly, we weren’t real sure if we actually wanted to get off that bus.

But then we knew we did because it was our turn. Our ancestors had marched. They had died. They had struggled for hundreds of years. It was just our turn. So finally, it was time to get off the bus. And as we were moving towards the street where the marchers were, I suddenly felt like I was in an old movie where we were being led to the Lion’s Den, with these throngs of angry people on both sides of us surrounding us. I searched the crowds on both sides and there were no kind faces there.

And as we continued to walk down the street, I remember there was one particular woman who came up to me. A mother. She was shorter than I was and she began to curse me right up in my face. And then her young son who looked to be maybe about nine years old, he came up and started cursing me too. I had never even heard a little boy curse like that before.

I’d never looked into the face of hate. I saw it that day and it was ugly and it hurt. But I was frozen stiff. I was so shocked with the way I was being accosted. I just stood there and so finally, one of the nuns came to get me. She got my hand and she guided me. I don’t even remember which nun it was but it didn’t matter. All I knew was that I wasn’t going to let go of that hand. And as we made our way to the rest of our friends and to the other nuns, we continued to move forward. And, and I still heard the jeering crowds but all of a sudden, the intensity of that jeering, of their sounds, began to become a little bit muted. Because suddenly, I started hearing the san… song of the marchers up in the front. And the sound was getting louder and louder. And they were singing the song, “We shall overcome, we shall overcome. Someday.”

And I feel that somehow, through the music, we did overcome. There was a lot that we’ve overcome. There’s a lot that we have yet to overcome but we on our way. I cannot give up hope on this country. I will not accept that this country is hopelessly adolescent, and le… and bigoted. That there is no chance for us to heal. That healing is already taking place. And in fact, there was a celebration on August 5th, 2016 that honored the 50th celebration, the 50th anniversary of that march in 1966, again, in Marquette Park and I was there.

I had been invited as a special guest along with other people who had also been there 50 years ago. And when I went over there, I can still feel some of that hate floating in the air. Wasn’t as intense this time but I could feel it. It was, it was like a ghost that didn’t want to go away. A spirit that didn’t want to rest. It’s still there but is starting to dissipate.

And I’m grateful for that. And this time, a very special treat was that I was able to march this time with my sister storyteller, and friend, Susan O’Halloran, who is the producer of these videos. Now 50 years ago, Susan was 15 too. (Sue, I hope you don’t mind me telling your age, girl.) But anyway, she wouldn’t have been able to march with me at that time because she lived in one of those red lining neighborhoods. So, her parents wouldn’t have allowed it. But now here we were.

I called her up and said, “Girl, you would not believe what’s happening. You got to be there.” And so, the organizers of the march, they contacted her, and we were able to march side by side. There were poets and songs and speeches by people like Reverend Jesse Jackson, Senator Jackie Collins, who I went to St. Carthage with. There was Rabbi Capers Funny. There was Brother Rami Nashashibi, who’s the executive director of the IMAN, which is the Inner-city Muslim Action Network that spearheaded this great celebration. This was an intercultural, interfaith collaboration of people who knew, that we had it in us, to make this country live up to what it purports to be, what it promises to be. That we’re here to require that it fulfill the commitment of truly being the land of the free and the home of the brave. And I’m just grateful I was there.

Complexions of Love: Biracial Children and Folks Who Are Just “Too Dark”

by Storyteller Mama Edie McLoud Armstrong

Story Summary:

This story speaks to the cruelty of the imposed mental conditioning that inspires people to come to despise their own natural attributes. Mama Edie refers to her father who was considered “too dark” to marry her mother by Mama Edie’s great aunt. Mama Edie also reflects on her Mexican American cousin, who thought she looked “too light” or “too Mexican” to feel like a truly loved member of the family. The story explores how this toxic conditioning has often led to people seeing themselves as being “less than,” not as “beautiful” or well-loved. It further explores the impact this can have on family and other relationships, such that Mama Edie’s cousin felt that she didn’t quite belong anywhere.  It ends with a song segment sung in Spanish by Mama Edie that celebrates the beauty and strength of so-called “people of color.”

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here:  Complexions-of-Love-Biracial-Children-and-Folks-Who-Are-Just-Too-Dark

Discussion Questions:

  1. Consider these statements: “She’s dark but really pretty,” vs. “She’s dark and really pretty.”  What do you think the inferences are when stated either way?
  2. Discuss the pros and cons of interracial or intercultural marriages.
  3. Discuss the pros and cons of interracial or intercultural adoptions.
  4. Would you find it odd to see a European-American girl with locks, African braids, corn rows or beads in her hair? Do you find it odd when you see an African American girl with straightened hair when you can tell that it’s probably not her natural texture? Discuss the implications of your responses to both.
  5. How might the way that people see themselves affect their sense of personal value, empowerment, their relationships or success in life, however that success is defined?

Resources:

This article in the April 2016 issue of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychology speaks to the rapidly growing number of mixed race families, as well as cross-cultural adoptions and the psycho-emotional needs these families face:

http://www.aacap.org/aacap/families_and_youth/facts_for_families/fff-guide/Multiracial-Children-071.aspx

Collection of 88 Games and Activities to Celebrate Diversity Month (for youth and adults): http://www.sbhihelp.org/files/Diversity88Ways.pdf

This excellent 4 ½ minute film begins with President Barack Obama speaking on his pride in claiming all of who he happens to be. It is followed by several young people of various cultures who speak to their experiences of being of mixed heritages in America. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=21H9lA6MLHM

This 4-minute film features a mixed heritage couple raising twin boys and their aspirations for the children to grow up happy and well-supported. They speak to the artificiality of “race” as it is often referred to. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pa3Ospkeyng

This is a 1 ½ minute slide show with background music that features photos of mixed heritage couples that demonstrate the attraction of men of other cultures to African American women.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iOAW4SH-2Vk

This TED Talk on YouTube was performed by Mama Edie’s niece, Kelli McLoud-Schingen, and is entitled “Identity:  The Story of Me”.  It is 18 minutes long and helps to sensitize the viewer to possibly unfamiliar issues of identity for African American women. Kelli happens to be married to a German American. The couple has two children.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n2nKENGttB0

Themes:

  • African American/Africans
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Family and Childhood
  • Identity
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

My name is Eddie McLoud Armstrong.

My first home in 1951 was in a neighborhood called Bronzeville. It was named Bronzeville because of the varying hues of the people who lived there. It was a predominantly African-American community on the South Side of Chicago. And Bronzeville was actually considered the Mecca of African-Americans in this city. And there were many areas in major cities around the country like Bronzeville because during that time, during the Great Migration when African-Americans had been coming to major cities and even smaller cities. This was a time of great promise. It was still a time of struggle but there were people who were able, they were able to find jobs. Some of them, they weren’t that happy with but they were happy to have a job. They, and they were willing to do anything. They were willing to do the laundry, sweep the floors, open the doors, raise white children, and see their own children whenever they could sometimes only on weekends. But some people were even able to start their own businesses. And that was a wonderful thing as well.

Well, in the midst of this resurgence, this renaissance, if you will, of African-American life, there were people who were also great performers. There were writers and authors who were informing us and inspiring us, to lift ourselves up. To lift each other up. To hold on to hope and to keep on keeping our eyes on the prize. And that was a wonderful thing but, you know, we had a little something going on within the African-American community. And this was not only within African-American communities. This was something that happened among children of African descent around the world. And it had to do with color.

Now, one might say, “What does color have to do with anything?” Unfortunately, it can have something to do with a lot of things. We had been conditioned to believe that the lighter you were, that the straighter your hair was, the more beautiful you were. So that means that if you were dark and your hair wasn’t so straight, that means what? You couldn’t, you could never qualify for being beautiful? That thinking was not very healthy. And for generations, people grew up thinking that way.

Sadly, we have to acknowledge that there are people today, especially among women, who have never become comfortable enough to allow other people to see the natural texture of their hair. They will wear a wig. They wear a weave. They’ll put chemicals in there to get it straight, to get it curly, to look like somebody else’s hair. Now, seeing situations like that have now become normal. Would it be as normal to see a white woman or a Euro-American woman with cornrows? Little white girls with beads in their hair? Some of them are doing it these days with locks, with an afro wig. Oh, yeah. There are people who would buy afro wigs. But would it be as normal for us to see white women emulating the kind of hair that we had. And if not, why not? In my mind, it should be no more normal for one than the other. The color thing, the hair thing; it’s the surface of what goes beneath. What, it has everything to do with how one feels about one’s self.

Now, when you have a situation, for example, where there are people of color, who are biracial. And even not just biracial, who are obviously mixed, though, with other heritages, when it becomes a big deal, it makes a person uncomfortable. We put too much focus on the exterior of the per… person. And when you have so much focus going on the outside of the person, then you shift focus away from the things that really matter. And that’s serious. So, this color situation has social, psychological, and even economic ramifications.

I have a cousin whose father was Mexican and her mother, my mother’s sister, was of course African-American. Now, on my mother’s side of the family they were very light complexion. Now, my dad was very dark. And so, in fact, my dad was one of those examples of people where, for example, when he came to talk to my mother’s great, great aunt, who cared for her because my mother’s mom had passed away. And so, she had brought Daddy to the house to let him talk to her because he wanted to propose. But Mommy had Daddy wait in an adjoining room but he could hear part of the conversation. And my aunt told my mother, “Well, you can’t marry Jackie. He’s a nice man but you can’t marry Jack.”

And mommy said, “Well, why not?”

She said, “Because he’s, he’s just too dark.” My mother was crushed and she thought that it was a cruel thing to say. My father happened to be handsome. But it’s an interesting thing because sometimes we may hear people say something like, “Well, he was dark but he was handsome.” You get a different spin on things if you say, “He was dark and handsome.” Saying it differently means something. If you say he was dark but handsome, it means that you don’t expect that he can be handsome because he’s dark. And again, there’s something wrong with that kind of thinking. And so, my father, I feel like my father, ended up feeling for the rest of his life that he had to prove his worth, to prove his value because of the color of his skin, because of the complexion of his skin. And it really had nothing to do with it. I can tell you that my father stayed married to my mother who came to be a rheumatoid arthritic and could not walk. Raising four children, putting them through Catholic schools, working two jobs. They stayed married for 47 years, until my mom passed away. If he had something to prove, he did it. I’m just sorry for the reason why.

I was starting to tell you about my cousin. Now, my cousin was a little bit of a different story. Kind of the same story but just from another direction. Because I didn’t realize that, first of all, she looked more Mexican than she did African-American. We didn’t care about that. We thought she was pretty. I thought she was beautiful. Of course. I was one of those people who thought, well, she light, she got long, straight hair. I know she’s beautiful. So, I felt like I wanted to look more like her. I didn’t find out until years later she wanted to look more like me. She even told me that she wasn’t comfortable at all with the Mexican side of her heritage.

And I told her I said, “Well, why? I don’t understand.”

And she said, “Because I guess, it’s because I don’t really look so much like anybody else in the family. And I, kind of, feel like I don’t belong. And maybe not as well loved.”

I said, “Carlotta, did we ever say or do anything to have you not feel loved?”

She said, “No.”

And I said, “Well, what make you say something like that?”

She said, “Edith, I really don’t know.”

I said, “Well, girl, we got to do something about that.” I said, “Now, I live in a community where there are a lot of Mexicans. There are a lot of people from African countries, from Caribbean countries, we’ve got Asians, we got everybody up in my neighborhood.” And I said, “I have Mexican friends. You need to come to Chicago.” She was living in Niles, Michigan at the time. I said, “You need to come to Chicago, meet some of my friends. Let’s explore the Mexican side of your heritage so that you can find the things that there are to love about that part of who you are. This is sad to me.”

And she said, “Well, I guess so. I guess, maybe, I’ll come now.”

Now, we were both adults at this time. I guess I was in my early 30’s and she’s about six years my senior. But she never came and eventually she moved to Denver, Colorado with her three children. Her marriage had dissolved and she was married to a very light complexion young man. And, but she went to Denver, I suppose, looking for some place to be comfortable with herself and who she is. And somehow, we lost track of her. We can’t find her anymore. She became so uncomfortable with us, in being part of our family, that she really just kind of disappeared. And that’s a pain that I have. I feel like there’s a hole inside my heart. I miss her. I still love her. And I’m very sad that we live in a nation that would have media participate in the kind of propaganda that would pit us against each other – light skin against dark skin.

And it was almost going back to the slave times, you know. The slave, the field worker versus the, the house worker. Divide and conquer, doesn’t get it for anybody. And children from biracial families, who are struggling with this, they need to know that we love them no matter what their complexions are. And nobody is too dark. Nobody is too light. We can just be too little loved.

And so, I share that story to remind us all that love really shouldn’t have any complexion. And wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could just be the flowers in a garden? Like a song, by Tite Curet Alonso, “Las Caras Lindas,” he talks about the beauty of my black people. Just a tiny bit, I’d like to share.

(Singing)

Las caras lindas de mi gente negra

Son un desfile de melaza en flor

The beautiful faces of my black people are like a parade of molasses in bloom. How beautiful. Let’s be the flowers and let’s encourage each other to bloom.

An African Native American Story

 

Story Summary:

 Many Africans and First Nations People bonded together during and after slavery in the Americas and in the Caribbean for protection, acceptance, friendship and love. As a result, many African descendants in these countries also share Native American ancestries. Mama Edie learns while watching old Westerns on TV with her grandmother, Nonnie Dear, a new perception of who the “good guys” or “bad guys” were.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: An-African-Native-American-Story

Discussion Questions:

  1. Why does it matter that we learn to know and to love all of who and what we are?  What often happens to people who don’t?
  2. Does it really matter what we call ourselves?  If so, why?
  3. State two potentially lifelong benefits of knowing the history of your ancestors.  Can you feel or experience any of these benefits at work in your life today?  If so, which one(s)?

Resources:

  • Circular Thought: An African Native American Traditional Understanding by Nomad Winterhawk
  • Medicine Cards by David Carson and Jamie Sams (A non-fiction book explaining the wisdom that First Nations people have gained by the observation of animals, insects and other creatures of the North American continent.)
  • Tell the World!  Storytelling Across Language Barriers by Margaret Read MacDonald

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Family & Childhood
  • First Nations/Native Americans
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people simply call me Mama Edie. You know, when you are identified as someone other than from a European heritage, sometimes the way your people can be presented in history, can make you feel categorically small or flawed or ugly or useless and even invisible. And when you’re a child, your childhood perceptions when blended with images from your history as that has unfolded can actually haunt you and can leave you feeling mentally in bondage forever if you allow that to happen. And what becomes important is for us to then realize that there is some healing that needs to be done. I have had my healing to be done and I continue to do so.

I remember, though, one of my first recognitions of how people can perceive things differently (I mean, the same event! They can see the same event. They can all be there but they see it differently.) was with my grandmother, my paternal grandmother. Her name was Estella Hunt McLoud. And she was born around 1890 and her people were from the Seminole, Cherokee and Blackfoot tribes. And so she is, actually, our most familiar branch to those lineages. And she taught us many things. Now, her people were from Florida and she married my grandfather Quilla McCloud from Georgia somewhere between those borders. Now, although she did die when I was young, I do remember her and I cherish the relationship that we had.

I can remember her firmly set square jaw. I remember her thin lips as she talked. I remember her eyes, her large warm eyes, and, you know, it was almost as though she could look straight through you with those eyes. And, you know how, oftentimes, people talk about how mothers and grandmas have eyes in the backs of their heads. Well, my grandmother also had eyes in the back of her head. She saw everything.

We loved her very much. We called her Nonnie Dear. Now Nonnie Dear was kind of quiet even though she was firm but when she spoke, she ended up saying something that most people were going to long remember.

And she also did some things that were pretty memorable as well. I can remember a particular time when I had gone over… (I must have been about five years old or so, so this must have been… say about 1956) and I’d gone over to spend the night. I used to enjoy spending the night with my grandmother and we would watch television together for a while. But this one particular day, this was the first time I had ever had this experience with her. We were watching an old western on TV. Now keep in mind that these were the programs that depicted the U.S. Cavalry and also the invading frontiersmen as the good guys. And the Indians or the Native Americans who were fighting to keep their homes and their lives were depicted as the bad guys. Well, now, needless to say, Nonnie Dear didn’t care for that particular percept… perception or portrayal that she offered… that she saw there. And what she would do sometimes? Once the soldiers and the frontiersmen came charging in and they were shooting up everybody and they were setting fires to the village and you saw young children scattering, looking and calling for their parents, my grandmother Nonnie Dear would get so upset she would take off a house slipper and she’d throw it at the television set. And she’d say, “Leave ‘em alone! Leave ‘em alone, you dirty rascals! Leave ‘em alone!” I wasn’t quite sure what was going on and I’d thought it was a little strange. It was kind of funny and I wondered if maybe Nonnie Dear had been out in the sun a little bit too long. But as time passed, I came to understand what made her so angry. And those things started to make me angry too.

And, in fact, I can even remember when I was younger and I had gone to St. Elizabeth, the Catholic Elementary School in Chicago where I grew up. And also, later at St. Carthage. And while there, the nuns always seemed to have a ready arsenal of patriotic music to arm us with and to teach us. Well, one of the songs that they taught us was the one that repeatedly states, “This land is your land. This land is my land, from California to the New York Island. This land was made for you and me.” But as I got older and as I started to experience the responses from different people simply to my presence and as I began to see how the country really functioned and what was important and who was important and who was not, I wasn’t really so inspired to sing that song because I didn’t feel like this land was made for me. But actually the whole world is made for you and me, isn’t it.

I mean that it is intended for us to share it and to honor the humanity in all of us. But that’s, that’s not the way it happened here. That wasn’t the way it happened so I came to understand my grandmother’s anger.

And sometimes as I’m driving across beautiful rolling meadows in my car, when I look out in the distance across those hills, it’s as though I can almost see horses running free across land that at one point had no gates, no fences. People understood how to honor each other’s boundaries. And I can almost see the shadows of young children at play, running to and fro. I can see fathers talking with their sons and explaining to them what it means to be a man. I can see mothers talking with their daughters, teaching them how to weave blankets and how to braid hair. And how to cook and just laughing and giggling and having a good time being girls.

But I’m also haunted by the image of my ancestors who crossed too many trails of tears. I understand that even though I still feel the pain, I still feel the wounds of my African ancestors, of my Native American ancestors, somehow, through it all, I’ve come to appreciate and to embrace the totality (or as much of it that I know) that I happen to be.

Don’t know too much about our rather obscure relative, Bezhati, who was from Italy but who apparently really, really loved my great-great grandmother and bore many children.

But I think that the important thing is to continue this story on because I’m a part of this continuum. And, as such, I will continue to tell the story. And I’ll continue to try to heal my wounds. And I will continue to try to encourage my daughter Aiyana and anybody else – anybody else’s children, even grown folks, to try to heal those wounds that we hold inside and to try to see a little bit of God in each and every one in all of God’s creation.

And I think that this would be our greatest achievement. This would be our greatest gift that we can give back to those ancestors who loved us. We need to remember that we’ve got the strength to do it because we are the children of those who survived.

Hauntings: Journey of an African American Teenager to a Southern Plantation

 

Story Summary:

 This is a true story of the writer and the haunting experience she had at age 13 on a southern plantation near an old tree by the side of the road.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hauntings-Journey-of-an-African-American-Teenager-to-a-Southern-Plantation

Discussion Questions:

  1. Imagine ways by which the existence of slavery, with all of its imposed conditions and traditions legally ending over 150 years ago, might still be culturally, socially, politically and spiritually impacting the lives of Black people today.  Please describe.
  2. What are some of the differences and similarities of how slavery and colonialism in general affected the lives of Black people in the US as compared to enslaved people in places such as Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad, Mexico, Venezuela, Puerto Rico… and Africa itself, even to this day?
  3.  How can being a descendant of enslaved Africans – born in ANY country – affect the ways in which Black people see themselves and others outside of their cultures today?
  4.  How do you think Black people might feel when repeatedly over the years they hear, “Slavery?  Oh, that was so long ago.  Why don’t you people just get over it?”
  5.  Have you ever felt moved, affected or “haunted” by a person or situation that existed before you were even born?  If so, please describe this experience and how it affected or even continues to affect you to this day.

Resources:

  • The Book of Negroes, a novel by Lawrence Hill that describes the life of a young girl born into a Muslim family, living happily in a West African village.  While enjoying a walk with her father through the forest, showing off her ability to balance the Qur’an on her head, they come upon people who looked quite different than they do.  Little Aminata Diallo’s life was forever changed…
  • Pre-Colonial Black Africa, by Cheikh Anta Diop.  This book provides a comparison of the political and social systems of Europe and Black Africa from antiquity, demonstrating the African contributions to the formation of modern states and to the development of Western civilization.
  •  They Came Before Columbus, by Professor Ivan Van Sertima.  A journey through hard evidence reveals an African presence in North, South and Central America describing how Africans from the ancient empire of Mali came to these locations as merchants as early as 1311, prior to European arrivals and the slave trade.
  • When I Was a Slave: Memoirs from the Slave Narrative Collection, edited by Norman Yetman.
  •  The Souls of Black Folk, by WEB DuBois.  An inside look at how the spiritual tendencies of Black people have often contributed to both their strength and wisdom – before, throughout and beyond slavery – and yet a naiveté and trust in human nature that allowed for conquest.

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Family & Childhood
  • Stereotypes and Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLoud Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie. You know, we can be haunted by many things but ‘hauntings’ are not bad. We can be haunted by a love that we once had that we will always, always remember. We can be haunted by the melody of a song that just won’t seem to go away. We can be haunted by many things. Let me tell you about a time when I was 13 years old and took my first trip to the Big Apple, New York City.

My sister Diane, who we now call Deanna based on her Spanish influence, she was living there with my aunt Bill, (Wilhemenia), and we stayed in Harlem on 156th Street between Broadway and Amsterdam. Not too far from St. Nicholas Place where my grandfather, my maternal grandfather, used to live and participated in the Harlem Renaissance. So, this was a time where I got a chance to connect with not only my sister but the spirit of my grandfather.

And I got to go to Harlem. I had heard so much about Harlem. I’d heard some scary, scary things about Harlem but when I got there, I loved it. I mean, the kids were great. They knew where all the best comic books were; we got all the best Superman and Archie comic books. And we got all the wonderful records. And even when I got back to Chicago, my friends thought I was hot stuff because in the east, in those days, the music hit those areas before they came to Chicago. So, I had music that hadn’t even hit our charts yet. So, I was really popular, you know. Well, New York was great. But then, after a couple of days, my Aunt Bill decided to take me to D.C. She offered to, “You wanta go to Washington?”

“Yeah, I would love to go to Washington.” Where the president lives and all these wonderful monuments I had only heard of or seen on TV.

So, we took a train and when we got there to the station, I had never been on a train ride before. And the sound the vibrations of the engines, thundering, just vibrated all through my body, and hearing the bells, and whistles, and everything. It was so exciting. And, and hearing people laughing and chattering and seeing little children pulling their little suitcases behind them. It was the cutest thing. And I was having a ball just being there. Well, we got to D.C. and we went to visit Aunt Bill’s friends. And they were very nice and they were very accommodating. And then the next day, Aunt Bill took me on a bus tour and with this bus tour, we went all around D.C. and saw all the different monuments and what have you. And then, we started leaving the city and going into Maryland and Virginia and we started coming upon these beautiful, arrogantly, sprawling plantations.

And there was one particular plantation though, that we went to, where we were going to stop and get off the bus and go inside. And everyone was going to look around. So, while we had pulled up there near the entry way, the bus driver was giving us a bit of a history about it. And he was talking about the flowers, and most of the people on the bus happened to be older white women. And I think they must have been from some organization or something. They all seemed to know each other and they were excitedly chattering and talking about the beautiful gardens. And they couldn’t wait to get off the of, of the bus to just, kind of, walk around the grounds and see. So, they began to make their descent from the bus. And Aunt Bill also got up. She was sitting in an aisle seat right beside me so she got up and she started going towards the door to also get off. When suddenly, she turned and realized that I had not moved. I was still sitting there in my seat.

So, she came back to me and she said, “Come on Edith. Don’t you want to get off and go see the grounds?” And I couldn’t. I told her that I couldn’t go.

And she said, “Why, what’s the matter?” And she sat down beside me. And all of a sudden, I just began to cry. These quiet tears just began to come down. What had happened was that, just beyond my window there was a tree that looked so sad. And it had branches that seemed to extend upward and outwards as those longing for something. And I knew as I had been looking at that tree even before Aunt Bill got up to get off the bus. And I’m looking at this tree and everything within me told me that someone had been hung from that tree. It wasn’t until years later that I learned that people were often hung from trees on the sides of the road as a warning to the other blacks and Native Americans who would dare to consider escape. So as Aunt Bill was sitting beside me, I couldn’t, at 13, explain to her what I had been feeling but it was as though she knew. She put her arm around me and as I cried, she just rocked me. And we simply sat there in silence. I realized that day that…sometimes when people share a history some things just don’t need to be explained.

Hot Chili and Crackers: A Racial Stew with Danger

 

Story Summary:

Mama Edie’s Black Theater Ensemble is invited to perform her original composition called “Metamorphosis” at a university in Iowa in 1970. After what had been a peaceful and joyful journey along the way, the ensemble members come to realize that Civil Rights had not yet fully taken root, not even in the north.

For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Hot-Chili-and-Crackers-A-Racial-Stew-with-Danger

Discussion Questions:

  1.  Have you or has anyone in your family ever been in a situation where you felt not only unwelcome but in danger just because of the color of your skin?  If so, what was the situation and what was it like?
  2. If someone was being mistreated because of their so-called race, gender, religion or ethnic heritage, do you think that you could speak up for them?  If so, how would you go about it?  If not, why not?
  3. How can we turn the anger of a painful past into something life giving and productive?  What is the likely end result if we do not, if we don’t find within ourselves a place of peace?

Resources:

  • The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison (A fictional tale of the mysterious journey into the experience of invisibility of an entire race of people.)
  • Black Like Me by John Howard Griffin – a non-fiction book, also produced as a film, that reflects on the experiences of a European/white American who disguises himself as an African American.
  • Of Water and the Spirit by Malidoma Patrice Some’

Themes:

  • African American/Blacks
  • Civil Rights Movement
  • Crossing Cultures
  • Education and Life Lessons
  • Stereotypes & Discrimination

Full Transcript:

Hello, my name is Edith McLeod Armstrong but most people just call me Mama Edie.

You know, growing up as a child in the 50s and the 60s was a very, very exciting and stimulating time for many reasons. Some of them weren’t so pleasant but some of them were great. Oh, we had some of the best music and some of the best dances. And whereas at one point in time people, many people who were not of African-American culture, would shun our music and say, “Oh those are bad dances.” All of a sudden, Dick Clark came along and, honey, everybody was doing our dances. And everybody was trying to sing our songs and we came to a place of sharing that we had never been before.

Well, along came the time that I needed to go to college and I wanted to go to college. I was excitedly looking forward to it. I went off to Northern Illinois University, in DeKalb, Illinois, in 1969. And during that summer, there was an orientation weekend. And I got a chance to meet some really, really great kids and the campus was beautiful. And I frequently went to my favorite area by the lagoon, where we had these great weeping willow trees and swans swimming all over the place. It was really great. Well, this one particular day, a friend and I, a new friend, his name was Corky, went to town. Well, in those days we didn’t have the buses so we walked everywhere we needed to go. But of course, I stayed streamlined in those days. But in any case, Corky was a great guy. One of the things that I appreciated about him was that he had such an intelligent conversation without really sounding highbrow. I mean he had something to talk about. So, we talked about everything from soup to nuts. And so, we went to town and on our way back, I remember we were crossing the bridge of the lagoon, going back onto the campus. And he had started asking me some serious things. And all of a sudden, he asked me, “Edie, what do you think about the establishment?”

I said, “What establishment?” Well, I had been raised in Catholic elementary schools and I had good upbringing and we had social studies. But nobody ever asked me of the establishment. And so, I said, “I don’t know what are you talking about.”

He said, “You know the way the country is run. What do you think about that?”

I said, “I don’t know. I guess it’s all right.”

“Well,” he said, “But what about the civil rights movement and what about the people who still can’t vote, especially down in the south? And what do you think about Affirmative Action? And what do you think about reparations and do you think we’re really free?”

Holy moly! My head was spinning. I didn’t know what to say. And so, he said… I tell you what, he did make me feel stupid as I felt. He was very kind.

And he said, “I tell you what, I got some books you need read.”

I said, “OK. Lay them on me.” I loved reading anyway. And he gave me a book by a man whose name at that time, his birth name, was Don Lee. But he is now known as Haki Madhubuti. And this is a book of his poetry. He was on fire. He was angry with the way things were going for our people, for African-Americans, for Latinos, for Asians. He was angry about the inequities about the injustices, all across the board. He was a little bit disappointed. No, he was a big bit disappointed. He was downright disgusted, as a matter of fact, with how frequently African-Americans would seem to forgive too quickly and then forget. And then we’d be right back into the same situation that we were in before. So, as I read his material, his poetry, it shocked me into consciousness. It prompted me to read more. I read everything I could get my hands on. And suddenly, I wanted to make a difference in the world. I wanted to help make things better not only for my people but for everybody.

So, I wrote a piece, I don’t know what you call it, I guess it was kind of an essay, called “Metamorphosis.” And it was spoken from the voice of a black woman directed to her black man. Now, this was actually a piece that you would say that was directed towards all black men who were moving from their colored boyhood into their black manhood. Well, a friend of mine Mac Jones who was at the university working on his master’s in theater. Both of us were involved with black theater at the time of the university. And he decided he was going to get nosy and went through my notebook that was laying on my desk and saw some of the poetry and the other pieces that I had written.

When I came back into the room, he said, “Edie, girl, this stuff is good! We need to do something with this!”

And I said, “Oh go on.” I said, “What are you doing in my notebook anyway?”

And so, after we got serious and we talked about it, we ended up combining some of his material with some of my material and we developed a Reader’s Theater Production. And we got the support of the university to do the production there. And then, there were some people from a university in Iowa who saw it and everybody responded so well to it, that we were invited to do the production in Iowa. Well, we were so excited. This was our first road trip. And we had gotten the support of the university to get a bus and we had food. People had fried some chicken and you know what I’m saying. We had some potato salad and lemonade and fruit and we were even playing Bid Whist on the back of the bus. We had drummers and so we used the skins of the drums as the Bid Whist table, a very popular card game among African-Americans. And everything was going well. Some people were just sitting quietly reading in the bus. Some people were having quiet conversations. But then, as we approached the wide-open countryside and the cornfields, all of a sudden, our bus driver, who happened to be a white American, said to us, he said, “You know, you guys, might want to put your heads down during this particular stretch of the road.”

We said, “What did you say?”

He said, “You need to put your heads down for about another mile or two down the stretch of the road.”

And we said, “Well, what are you talking about? Why?”

And he said, “Well, people have been taking pot shots at blacks, and Latinos, and Asians down the strip of road and a couple of people have gotten killed. And they don’t know who’s doing it. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that the local law enforcement is really looking very carefully. So, you may want to put your heads down.”

Didn’t have to tell us again, we put our heads down. We went into a stony silence and we continued that way until our bus driver said, “OK, you can come back up now.”

And when we did, we remained in silence. Each one, I’m sure sharing the same thoughts, all the way, almost to the town, where we got to a little side cafe restaurant, where we went inside to get some food. And then my friend, Mac Jones, decides he’s going to be a little bit devilish. So, he goes inside. We’re all inside. And of course, the people are, they turned and stared at us coming in the door. We did not feel like the welcome wagon was there. And everybody was ordering their food and were going in very carefully, very carefully, because we weren’t feeling a sense of being welcome there.

And Mac, who’s a very tall, husky guy with a big beard, he looks dead at the waitress and says, “Hi. Do ya’ll have any chili? I’d like some chili.” And he looked at me.

And she said, “Yeah, we had chili.”

And so he looked at me and he said, “Yeah, that’s fine. That’s fine. Well, tell me, do you have any crackers? Cause I’d like to have some crackers with my chili?”

And he looked at me again and I said, “Oh, we’re going to die.” Because you know the term crackers, when it was used by African-Americans, was actually a derogatory term to refer to white folks who were poor and disenfranchised as we were. And I’m sure that everybody in that restaurant knew it.

I said, “Oh my, this man is going to get us killed.” Well, as it happened we didn’t die because I’m here to tell the story. And we were able to leave. We continued on our way. I blasted Mac when we got outside of the restaurant but we laughed it off. We continued on to the University of Iowa. We had another great show and we came back with a lot of memories.