Category Archives: Uncategorized

Planning for end-of-life

As we grow older we keep trying to live like we always have lived. We keep trying to clean our houses, bake those cakes, whip up a big Sunday dinner, rearrange the furniture in the house, do that “big clean” that women used to do for their homes, put a new coat of paint on the house in the spring, walk a couple of blocks to the store from home, feed the animals on the farm, herd cattle, play competitive sports, or change a tire or the oil on the car, shop six stores until we find what we want  for our kids, then grandkids. . . the list is endless.

We live that way because all we can judge our future on are what our past experiences were. If we were prolific shoppers we can’t see how that would ever change. If we repaired cars all our lives, we never think that there will come a day when that’s no longer possible. We came from large families and had large families ourselves, and Sunday dinners were the way we met and grew up with our cousins and other relatives so we want to continue those traditions.

What we don’t envision is that our bodies, or our minds, and sometimes both, just . . . wear out. It’s our children, or younger folk who try to convince us that all those things are no longer possible, but we just keep thinking, my legs will get better, my back won’t hurt so much, I’ll feel better tomorrow, I’ll be stronger after I get some sleep, or the catch-all, I just need some rest for a couple of days.

Our minds won’t let us see that we’re winding down even though we probably recognized those same symptoms in our parents, or siblings, or our mates. And, from experience, I can tell you that this is the most frustrating time of life . . . that time when you have to convince someone to do what’s probably best for them while they still have the most control over their lives.

I remember when Daddy, who was driving from the time he was about 14-15 years old (early 1900s), refused to give up driving even though his sight was failing and my sister thought he was going to hurt himself or someone else. For years after he finally stopped driving, he kept up the insurance on his car, which was safely parked at my sister’s home, because he thought he might need it some day; he even kept it maintained and tuned and my brother-in-law would drive it just to keep it working.

My mother was another who wanted to control how she lived even though she lived with me for several years. When my husband’s job transferred him to another state, she was deliberately dragging her feet to stall our moving even after our house was sold. She never moved with me because, being from the south, and we were moving south, she was convinced that she didn’t want to live there ever again. She ended up in a nursing home, more alienated than comfortable, with her mind dwindling years before her body finally gave in.

My eldest sister thought she could stay by herself, but she was never really able to take care of herself so her oldest son and his wife finally convinced her to move in with them.

My sister-in-law tells me that after they convinced her to move in with her, her mother still tried to move the furniture around in the house, or cook big meals (she loved to cook), and walk to the store or around the shopping malls. No matter how many times they told her that she shouldn’t try that she kept trying.

We live according to how we experienced life. We may have bred the best cattle, or run the most lucrative business, or raced the biggest and best cars, or boxed and won weighted titles, but there comes a time when people around us are advising us that, although we had dozens of record hits on the charts over the years, we can no longer hold those notes. The changes in one’s body can no longer absorb those heavy blows of a 20-something-year-old when one is in their 40s or 50s. 

All that money we earned is now being siphoned off by people who are witty and charming and scam artists of the worst kinds, because we can’t see anything but loneliness and yearn for the comfort of a cuddling touch.

I’ve read about the vilest of predators alive. There are actually people who’ve never met you, but who are able to research the public records to find seniors and elders who have homes they still live in and lives they are still capable of managing, being suddenly made homeless. Seniors who become powerless because someone they never knew was legally able to go before a judge and get them labeled as incompetent, along with becoming their power of attorney. Now, with the help of a judge who gets some kind of profit from the process, people can have you evicted and take all your stuff. These horrid people remove the seniors from their homes, have them committed, and take all their property even though they have living children who look in on them to make sure they’re still able to take care of themselves. Even the children are locked out of the proceeds of the house and property because the judge has no honor in overseeing such thefts.

Each generation faces this and few of us are prepared. We don’t have our living trusts and wills done and checked each year to make changes according to the deaths of possible beneficiaries. We live as if we will live forever and some people, like my mother, even refuse to talk about death or preparing for end-of-life events as if ignoring them will keep it from happening.

My sister was recently widowed and I see her now in this horrible pit of decision-making and my heart breaks watching her falter and push back against those who are willing to help her secure the last phase of her life, because she can’t see how quickly her choices have narrowed with the death of her husband. Those around her can see clearly that she will probably be better off to sell her home, bank the money, move in with her daughter (who’s quite willing to take her in), and use that money so that she and her daughter can have fun, or travel, or go to movies, or decorate the homes of people in their community, or just . . . sleep in if they feel like it. Most importantly, she won’t have to pinch pennies for the rest of her life. Too, there’s no more frantic decisions to be made if the roof leaks on her home, or the basement floods, or something happens with the plumbing. But she continually stalls while she rearranges her things as if life will get back to “normal” when there is now a new norm, and she no longer has the control she long ago relinquished to her sweet husband and partner of over 50 years. It is SHE who now has to be the decision-maker and she needs to make the most important decision NOW for what happens in the few years she has left. She no longer has the luxury of being indecisive.

She, also, has a very close friend (they’re both in their eighties) who also lives alone and, although she has considered moving into a more secure environment, she still thinks she’ll be able to manage on her own for a while longer even though she has physical issues that may bring that to an end sooner than she plans. But, like my sister, she’ll walk around her house and away from her phone while people who love and care about her welfare have no way of knowing if either of them are safe as the phone rings on their end and goes to voice mail when they’re checking up on them.

Over the years I’ve seen where parents make changes in their lives to benefit their children while they’re more able-bodied and financially secure, and it has benefitted them all, so I know it’s not only possible, it’s beneficial. They moved in with their children, or moved to a senior residential area, and enjoyed a more carefree life. They removed the worries about their homes being in disrepair, or one of them falling and being unable to reach the phone they left on a nearby table as they lay there for days hoping someone will rescue them; or, someone breaking into their homes because they’re easy targets to nefarious beings who are observing them from a distance and planning to pounce.

I’ve always hoped I’d be a more sensible person when it came to that time of life. That I would have a house where one of my kids will come to live with us and help manage daily life until we were no longer able to do that, and then the kids will have the property to sell and split the profits because I was smart enough to do a living trust as well as a will (to cover what the trust doesn’t).

So, don’t wait until you’re old, or nearing retirement, or retired, or in ill-health, or suffering bouts of forgetfulness that’s actually the beginning of Alzheimer’s. And when someone dies that you have bequeathed something to, you get to remove those people from your trust and reallocate those things to someone else. Be pro-active and prepare your living trust, AND A WILL, and put it on your calendar to review it the same time every year so it becomes habit and when your time on earth ends it’ll be up to date and nothing falls into the state coffers, bypassing your children or loved ones. But most important, no one can come in and take what you’ve worked so hard for and leave you destitute when you need it most.

I sure hope my sister and her friend make those important decisions sooner vs later.



[See:, and also, and also, and also]

Key words: Death, living trusts, living will, elder abuse, end of life issues, elder predators, dishonest judges

who are you?

So, I am:

Ever curious

A dreamer and deep thinker

A person who feels loved

I’m an avid, voracious reader and always had, and will always have something to read nearby

I am a writer of unpublished works

I am the author of published works

I am a writer who can get stuck in the mire of unlimited editing

I absolutely love learning and education and feel most at home in a classroom environment

I am an educator who loved designing my curriculums more than students appreciated what was in them

I love, love doing research on many topics

I’m a poet and in my head a song writer

I like the exchange between people I’ve met on FaceBook and Twitter but know when to cut all that negative data off and re-energize what they can zap from my spirit

I love that second and third cousins have found me through FaceBook and we’ve developed relationships

I like my phone but it’s the first thing I put aside when someone is talking to me

I love that I will never stop learning and feel that childish response to learning new things

I am a keeper of secrets, but know that those particular secrets are only unspoken thoughts and not words that involve the lives of people I know

I love giggling babies, being needed, being useful, and being able to share knowledge

I love creating various forms of art, sewing, and crochet

I am a good cook, love to see people enjoy my foods, and am learning to experiment with different foods

I am not a vengeful person, but I am someone who will step quietly out of your life and remove all traces of myself if you deliberately hurt me because you don’t do that to someone you care about

I chose to surround myself with loving, fun, humorous people and have no use for mean spirited or violent people

I am someone who feels honored to have kids and young people CHOSE to include me as extended family by calling me “mom” and “auntie.” I’m adjusting to being delegated the new role of “Mama Carol,” and hope to earn the right to be called that before I return home.

I am a mother to all who ask that of me for as long as they need it

I am a mother who parents according to the needs of each adult in my life that I once called my child

I’m a mother who has loved her children during their worst moments

I am a wife of almost 40 years to a man I continue to make happy and successful in spite of himself

I love nature, rocks, trees in all their seasons, space, the wind, and songs from various genre’ and cultures

I do not clamor to be in the company of others as I’m comfortable in my own silence

I am different things to different people and marvel that I understand the depth of how humans are always in relation to one another and appreciate how true conversations, meaningful conversations have no beginning nor end, they are always somewhere in between.

June 20, 2019

The Significance of Juneteenth

What is the Significance of Juneteenth?

Today, June 19th, is what is known in (some) Black communities as Juneteenth, and as an elder, it falls upon my consciousness to explain what this means.

Deemed the single most pinnacle of his achievement in office, Abraham Lincoln signed a document entitled the Emancipation Proclamation in an effort to abolish slavery in 1862, which became law on January 1, 1863 and thereby needed to be enforced by all white people owning slaves.

In part, the Proclamation reads that “all persons held as slaves [within the rebellious states (mainly Virginia, Arkansas, North Carolina, and Tennessee) are, and henceforward shall be free.” But because slave owning white men (predominantly) refused to accept this Proclamation, it took TWO years of Union soldiers riding across the country trying to force the slave owners to obey the “new” law (that was a couple of years old by then).

In fact, historically, it’s noted that because the slavers were so obstinate and rebellious, Lincoln issued the Proclamation TWICE, the first time in September 1862, and the second time giving it an effective date of January 1, 1863. Additionally, the 13th Amendment was passed in 1864 to make slave owning criminal and add punishment to those continuing to enslave people.

Well, we know that enslavers still didn’t take to some northern bearded hippie dude (Lincoln) telling them that they had to change their whole way of living without having to lift a finger other than whip some captive who tested their patience. There were NO work hours, as the time you needed to work depended on the crops grown and the timing needed to get them to market. The saying “from sun to sun” was used to describe the life of the enslaved who were required to work from sun up until sun down; there were no holidays, vacations, nor sick days, nor pregnancy leaves. Birthdays were basically non-events and practically unknown because, like livestock, there were few births actually recorded for Black people, and they knew they were born during some major event like, the year the locusts destroyed the crops. Or, the summer when the valley flooded. Or, that fall harvest when all the wheat was infested by weevils. Or when the master got married, or died, or had the middle boy.

Mind you, whites in most southern states were TOTALLY depended on people they’d enslaved to farm their lands, help them dress themselves, clean their bodies and toilets, care for the farm animals, plant and harvest their crops, build their homes, pave their streets, rear their babies (to grow up and become their masters/mistresses), cook their foods, clean their homes, entertain their guests, bear their babies (to ensure they had an increasing number of slaves), and even wet-nurse their newborns (because white women found it a disgusting chore). Before cars had headlights they used young slave boys to run ahead of the horses with lamps to guide the way through unpaved land with underbrush, rocks, and creepy crawly insects and animals.

So, for over two years after the Proclamation (and the 13th Amendment) the Union soldiers were traipsing around the country (mainly in the states of Kentucky, Missouri, Virginia, Tennessee, both Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana, Texas, and Florida) forcing slavers to free their Black captives. 

Backing up just a bit and clarify that white slave owners made it very difficult for Black people to seek their freedom. Any time an enslaved person left their master’s property they were required to carry a pass identifying them and who they belonged to, where they were going, and when they were to return; the loss of these passes could result in imprisonment, beatings, or death. To ensure that the slaves were completely controlled, there were laws forbidding enslaved peoples to be taught reading, writing, or arithmetic, so there were few who could read what the master wrote on the passes, or duplicate what was written. Examples of such passes are as follows:

“Gentilmen[sic] let the boy Barney pass and repass from the first of June till the 4 to Couembia (Columbia) Mo for this date of 1852. /s/Samuel Grove.


“Please to let Benjamin McDaniel pafs to Dr. Henkal’s in New-Market Shanadoah County, Va and return on Monday or Tuesday night to Montpellier for Mrs. Madison. June 1st1843.” <;

 “Excerpt from South Carolina Act of 1740

Whereas, the having slaves taught to write, or suffering them to be employed in writing, may be attended with great inconveniences; Be it enacted, that all and every person and persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any slave or slaves to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a scribe, in any manner of writing whatsoever, hereafter taught to write, every such person or persons shall, for every such offense, forfeit the sum of one hundred pounds, current money.

Excerpt from Virginia Revised Code of 1819 

That all meetings or assemblages of slaves, or free negroes or mulattoes mixing and associating with such slaves at any meeting-house or houses, &c., in the night; or at any SCHOOL OR SCHOOLS for teaching them READING OR WRITING, either in the day or night, under whatsoever pretext, shall be deemed and considered an UNLAWFUL ASSEMBLY; and any justice of a county, &c., wherein such assemblage shall be, either from his own knowledge or the information of others, of such unlawful assemblage, &c., may issue his warrant, directed to any sworn officer or officers, authorizing him or them to enter the house or houses where such unlawful assemblages, &c., may be, for the purpose of apprehending or dispersing such slaves, and to inflict corporal punishment on the offender or offenders, at the discretion of any justice of the peace, not exceeding twenty lashes.” <;

Slaves seeking their freedoms began to be so rampant, the U.S. government conspired with the slave owners and instituted the Fugitive Slave Act in 1850. In addition to that, it became the running theme that any enslaved person who sought freedom before this freedom Proclamation was considered mentally unstable, and so much so that in 1851, Samuel A. Cartwright, an American physician, coined the term “drapetomania” to describe any Black person fleeing captivity, which was a belief was preached to all slavers. With both the government and law enforcement (paddy rollers) complicit, runaways were hunted down like valued livestock. Dogs, particularly bloodhounds, were trained to hunt runaways. 

According to Yingling & Parry (2016), dogs were integral to controlling slaves. They report, “indigenous peoples were literally ‘fed to the dogs’ in the Caribbean and throughout the continental Americas.”  They discuss the breed called “Cuban Bloodhounds, which were specifically bred . . . for their ferocity and tenacity in subduing black rebellions.” 

Similar to the actions in the Caribbean, white enslavers bred dogs for controlling slaves in the U.S.:

“By the 1840s the practice of keeping ‘slave dogs’ was widespread. Newspaper advertisements — like one in the West Tennessee Democrat describing the “Finest dogs for catching negroes’ — document the rise of professional slave’ hunting. Trackers interbred Cuban hounds with local dogs as slave hunting became a profitable venture for white men throughout the South.” <>

Even the act of running away was complicated because many states like Oregon (which was the 33rdstate admitted to the Union in 1859) that prohibited Black folk to take up residence within their borders:

“White emigrants who came to present-day Oregon during the 1840s and 1850s generally opposed slavery, but many also opposed living alongside African Americans.

The effect was to legalize slavery in Oregon for three years. Moreover, once freed, a former slave could not stay in Oregon—a male would have to leave after two years, a female after three. Any free black who refused to leave would be subject to lashing, a provision that was known as ‘Peter Burnett’s lash law.’ Burnett, who later became the first U.S. governor of California, gave this explanation for his support for the law: ‘The object is to keep clear of that most troublesome class of population [blacks]. We are in a new world, under the most favorable circumstances and we wish to avoid most of those evils that have so much afflicted the United States and other countries.’ ”

Regardless of the consequences, those enslaved risked life and limb to find freedom. Freedom came even more to those enslaved in Texas. Slaves there only heard about their emancipation two years (an estimated 30 months) following the issuance of the Proclamation.

When the Union soldiers made their announcements about the Proclamation in Texas, they actually encouraged the slaves to stay with their former masters. Known as a type of amendment to the Proclamation, General Order №3 reads:

“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

This announcement was in direct conflict with the fact that Black enslaved peoples were offered payment of “full citizenship” as reward for their military service (which did not happen). It took the 14th Amendment of the Constitution in 1868 to grant “the right of residence” to Black people, but still did not guarantee full citizenship. Even the Civil Rights Act of 1866, called the birthright citizenship law, seemed to guarantee full citizenship, but it’s been constantly tested. It reads:

“All persons born in the United States and not subject to any foreign power, excluding Indians not taxed, are hereby declared to be citizens of the United States.”

When the 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 by clarified the status of enslaved peoples by “guaranteeing to [B]lack Americans — and all people born or naturalized in the United States — the constitutional protection against removal. <;

If they were enlisted out of South Carolina or Massachusetts they were paid $10/month from which $3 was deducted for clothing. In contrast the white soldiers were paid $13/month with no clothing deducted (corrected after a few years to equal pay, but no proof that pay was actually equalized). Black soldiers were also put in the most perilous positions because whites thought the war was because of them so they deserved the brunt of it. Black soldiers were still treated miserably and eventually had to make up their own companies because white soldiers wouldn’t fight along side of them. And even then there were laws in most states that prohibited Black people from owning or carrying a weapon. One most notable incident of the violence white soldiers showed against Black soldiers was when confederate soldiers captured soldiers at Ft. Pillow in TN in 1864, and all the Black Union soldiers were massacred instead of being captured and made prisoners (POWs) as their white counterparts looked on and didn’t interfere.

Following emancipation, and in a united retaliatory (albeit passive) action, the slave owners didn’t as much “free” their enslaved peoples as they “turned them out” like cattle to pasture. You need only to listen to the voices of former slaves recorded in the early 1900s called “Slave Narratives” to understand how devasting and traumatizing that had to be. According to some researchers, politicians and enslavers deliberately waited those (almost three) years so that they could make as much money as they could before they were forced to release their free laborers. And even after they were told they were free, the ex-slaves still had to live in a society where the traditions and culture of slavery and oppression continued to overrule the laws of freedom to the point that there seemed to be no benefit of being free, so while many Black freedmen hurried to find their children and spouses scattered all across the country, the only option many of the former slaves could do to survive was to return to what they knew as familiar.

Mind you, being “freed” was suddenly finding you had no home because when the enslaved peoples were “turned out” or called “the scatter,” because they had no lands, no money for all their hard work, no crops to sell for food, no food to eat for nourishment, no homes, limited clothing, no shelter, no doctors (white doctors would not care for Black people, in general), no political power or voting rights (withheld by law until 1870; withheld by tradition (and literacy tests) until the 1965), no law enforcement to protect them anyone including from “paddy rollers” who were human scavengers and bounty hunters who mistreated them . . . because they could.

Also keep in mind that these paddy rollers were the precursors to what we still call law enforcement and began as slave patrols to enforce discipline upon any Black person who refused to obey whatever any white person (man, woman, or child) told them to do. They even created a badge that has been a symbol of law enforcement since the 1700s-1800s (see

Imagine how frightened white people were upon seeing hundreds of thousands of Black people roving all across the country trying to rise above the well-accepted practice of a “free labor system” (or using Black people to do work without paying them), or just to catch a break and provide for their families. At the time of their so-called emancipation, there were approximately 3.9 MILLION Black peoples enslaved. Freedom, in actuality, was mainly a benefit for whites because they no longer had to provide for Black people as slave owners. Since slave owners were not used to paying Black people for work after hundreds of years of such patterned behavior, it wasn’t so easy for them to suddenly treat Black people they saw a week ago (for example) as their property, and suddenly having to treat them “as white” and pay them for their labor. Many resented the idea of having to do so, so they resorted to other measures to get their needs met by paying as little as they could (still happens in the 21st Century), or withholding wages after the work was done, or paying with something other than money (animals, cloth, food).

Too, although Black people were awarded a minute measure of freedom (at least on paper), the actual tradition of slavery was still legal and unenforced for decades thereafter and disguised in various forms. As Frederick Douglass wrote when he addressed the labor question in 1883:

“As labor becomes more intelligent he will develop what capital he already possesses — that is the power to organize and combine for its own protection. Experience demonstrates that there may be a slavery of wages only a little less galling and crushing in its effects than chattel slavery, and that this slavery of wages must go down with the other.

There is nothing more common now that the remark that the physical condition of the freedmen of the South is immeasurably worse that in the time of slavery; that in respect to food, clothing and shelter they are wretched, miserable and destitute; that they are worse masters to themselves than their old masters were to them.”

And Noam Chomsky addressed the issue in 1848 when he said:

“Those who work in the mills ought to own them, not have the status of machines ruled by private despots who are entrenching monarchic principles on democratic soil as they drive downwards freedom and rights, civilization, health, morals and intellectuality in the new commercial feudalism.”

Slowly, after emancipation, skilled Black people began to earn a small percentage of what whites laborers made by picking cotton (in general, Black people have never been paid at the same rate as whites with less-than, or equal-to skills). Many of the newly emancipated made their money by hiring themselves out using their self-taught crafts like cabinet makers, cowboys, cattle wranglers, blacksmiths, milliners (hat makers), dock workers, nannies, and more of the unskilled continued as field hands. With that money they bought land and built their homes and communities in scattered enclaves where they only answered to someone who looked like themselves.

Oddly enough, a real conundrum was the fact that while white people detested even so much as sharing a meal, or their religion (especially communion), medical care, dentists, restrooms, and water fountains, they never gave it a second thought to have a Black woman wet nurse their babies, or have them cook their meals, or have them rear their children. [Note: The movie, The Help, is a true reflection of how repulsed white people were to be forced to accept Black people as human, or even equal and that was based on life in the 1960s.]

Mind you, when Black people were enslaved, the gin mills would pay their MASTERS what the cotton (or other crops) was worth, and the masters would — MAYBE — pay their workers a fraction of that income (more often they would inform the laborer that that amount would be deducted from what they “owed” the master for feeding them). Too, when they actually paid them money, they would also pay any white farm hand 2–3 times what they would pay the Black farmers because they believed that the Black people didn’t need much, nor were they used to having anything so why entrust them with money they didn’t know the value of (another pattern of behavior still maintained in the workforce today). The term “slave wages” had its beginnings during this time.

As the Black people began buying their own lands, using their skills to enrich the soils on their own lands (which white people only sold them because they thought the land was unproductive), and using timber from their own land to build their own homes and neighborhoods, investing in their own communities by building their own banks and other businesses (barbers, cooks, milliners, dressmakers, etc.), creating their own banking systems (the Black community in Greenwood, OK was so prosperous, they were called the Black Wall Street), they were perceived to be a LOT more prosperous (and too soon after emancipation) than many poor whites who were struggling financially as sharecroppers and in service-type jobs, seeing Black people dress better, live in better houses, drive better cars, their jealousy of the thriving Black communities became insurmountable. 

Thus began the times when whites used their white women (who worked in cahoots with their white males counterparts) to cry “rape” and the historical incidences of rioting where this was the initial causation is disheartening. It took little for whites to feel disrespected by Black people wherein they rounded up the deep seated anger of like-minded whites and whipped the crowds into a blind fury, then mounted up using the battle cry of being white saviors for their women. And thus armed, angry, and single mindedly, rode into neighboring Black developments, burned and looted the businesses (banks, especially), destroyed their cemeteries, raped the females, shot, maimed, and/or killed any males they found no matter what age (because they still claim that they can’t tell the age of Black people, so better dead than take the chance of leaving witnesses). Although these acts were rampant at some level around the country, the most notable happened in NYC (1863), Atlanta, GA (1906), East St. Louis, MO (1917), Chicago (1919), Washington, DC (1919, Knoxville, TN (1919), Greenwood (in Tulsa), OK (1921), and Rosewood, FL (1923). These are the things that researchers are now admitting to cause genetic trauma (or genetic memories) and legacies that still affect Black families in the 21st Century.

Additionally, there were several Black settlements throughout the States where Black people escaping slavery felt safe because they built them. One was a large African community called Seneca Village in New York that existed between 1825 and 1857, which was a thriving community that whites found displeasing because Black people were better off than they were, so they razed the whole community and created what is now well known as Central Park. 

Another was called the Five Points District (in lower Manhattan, NY), which was the first free Black settlement (between the 1830s and 1860s) that was also razed because of gentrification and we now know that as Wall Street — the whitest financial district there is.

Weeksville, NY, was another Black settlement that was land purchased by a free Black man, James Weeks, in 1835 that was taken over by whites and renamed Bedford-Stuyvesant (aka Bed Stuy), partially after Peter Stuyvesant, who was the last governor of a Netherlands colony in the 1660s. Today Bed Stuy is called Crown Heights. By the 1850s Weeksville had several prominent homes, its own schools, churches, cemetery, an orphanage, a retirement home, and a newspaper (the Freedman’s Torchlight). This community was lost due to white people rioting against Black people during the NY Draft Riots of 1863 who were misguided into believing that Congress was drafting white men to fight for the freedoms of Black slaves.

Another land loss was Barry Farms (Washington, DC) which was established at the end of the Civil War for freed Black families, but gentrification has recently claimed it and it began to be demolished earlier this year.

Too, in South Carolina, the Gullah (word means “near the water”) people (many were fishermen), descendants of slaves owned a lot of land that eventually became Hilton Head Island (named after a ship’s captain, William Hilton), which was originally a cotton plantation. In the 1860s, the government provided the newly freedmen both a quarter of an acre of land and enough material to build a 22-by-18’ house, which is a little more than the size of a bedroom in newer homes today; more like a shed. When first established the land was hard to reach except by boat over the water, but whites built a bridge to make it more accessible and little by little, the lands owned by the Black families for generations were taxed high enough to be lost to the whites who began to see the value in it. [NOTE: Historically, wherever white people inhabited one of the first things they did was to cut the indigenous peoples off from the waterways.] When whites saw the value in the lands that the Black ex-slaves had cultivated into being productive, they found creative ways to remove them from their homes, including refusing to provide a sewer system or garbage collection, or resorted to charging high taxes to people who never had to pay taxes before that.

It is worth noting that in 1862, white people who owned slaves and lost them due to emancipation were compensated for their loss, so think carefully if you believe that Black people should not be considered to be compensated for their labors as well.

Eminent domain was established in 1879 (or the right of use for the greater good) and was used to confiscate properties that the disenfranchised couldn’t fight against. Established to “facilitate transportation, supply water, construct public buildings, and aid in defense readiness,” it in fact, is the way the current US president found a way to commandeer in 2005 (against an elderly widow) and proceed to bulldoze his way through the US (and other countries) to get the lands he wanted whenever there was pushback from the landowners when he began his early rise to power (he deemed this law “a wonderful thing” at that time). It is the “right of the government or its agent to expropriate private property for public use with [low balled] payment for compensation.” It was not meant for private developers, but somehow the current president found a way to use it in his favor, and if the government wants to put a freeway through a Black community and the community tried to fight them, they would impose the eminent domain, for which there was no way to win.

After the Emancipation Proclamation was finally enforced countrywide (to a large extent) whites went into overdrive to keep Black people in the place to which they had become accustomed — with nothing. They passed laws that created “red line districts” which first corralled Black homeownership into planned districts, thereby controlling the prices of homes as well as allowing insurance companies to charge outrageous fees from Black homeowners who lived within those boundaries. When cars were purchased, insurance companies charged more of car owners and drivers who lived within those boundaries than they did of whites of comparable income and living conditions. Even more devious, insurance companies would devalue homes of prominent Black people even when they were better maintained and furnished than neighboring white homes so that property values never equaled those of comparable white homes. To this day, a well-kept, high quality furnished home in any Black community would be valued at a fraction of a comparable white home, even if that comparable white home was surrounded by cheaper homes.

Then whites created “sundown towns,” which were all-white neighborhoods where Black people could not only NOT live in, but could be arrested, beaten, or lose their property (cars, personal items) if they were found within those neighborhoods after the sun went down and any given day, seven days a week. Signs were posted at every entry point warning Black people that they were not to be caught within the township after sundown. []

One of the most famous events involving a “sun down town” was in Forsyth County, GA in 1912 where whites took liberties and became vigilantes in attacking Black people passing through their counties. They (whites) created laws locally that they used to arrest and convict Black people for vagrancy or being unemployed, then incarcerated them because they couldn’t pay the hefty fines imposed on them. Those convicted became the system upon which our current prison systems are built and sustained and Black people, who could not afford to pay their way out, became free labor that replaced the slavery system. []

Out of this free labor system came the “black codes” that ramped up in the 1840s, but actually passed in the mid 1860s and lasted for over 100 years — until the 1960s. These black codes were written to force former slaves to sign annual contracts to work for white farmers at low, non-negotiable wages, or be jailed for vagrancy.

More often than not, rather than pay these forced workers at the end of the harvest system, the white farmer set up another system of credit and charged exorbitant prices for food items like rice, beans, wheat, sugar, and flour. One important fact to remember is that most of the Black people they dealt with were uneducated because whites made laws that forbade them from teaching Black people to read, write, or do math; all that was by design and long term planning. 

So not having the ability to see what the white farmer had on their books (and being LEGALLY unable to dispute what they wrote) they would deduct the cost of every product given to their Black laborers, every clothing item, every animal eaten (chickens, pigs, cattle), every wagon wheel necessary to pull the wagons. They kept their own books (which the Black sharecroppers weren’t allowed to see, nor dispute under penalty of incarceration) and they kept a tally so that they could deduct from the wages they owed the workers (slaves) for their work. This made it so that the Black workers still ended up with no income, or still owing the white farmer to the point of never being able to get out of their debt, so slavery continued under a different form. Also under the restrictions of these Black Codes, Black people were prevented from owning and operating restaurants and taverns, and could have no licenses for any trade outside of driving carts and carriages.

It was during this era (both black code and Jim Crow) that the Great Migration (about 1917 to 1970s) began of Black people moving from the south to the north.  And, ALTHOUGH FREED, it was STILL illegal for them to leave the state without the permission of white people, an offense punishable by beatings and/or incarceration. Isabel Wilkerson discusses how Black people who wanted to leave the south were jailed, beaten, banned from working, and other sorts of punishments incurred for seeking freedom in her wonderful novel, The Warmth of Other Suns (2010); it is a history book written in novel format that’s an excellent teaching tool. Black people were not allowed to sit in certain sections of trains, busses, or any public transportation, and were usually charged higher rates for tickets to ride.

Getting a job as menial as porters and maids on the trains was prohibited for a long time because the white porters, between their tips and wages, made great money. These jobs were restricted from being filled by Black workers, but eventually they, under the leadership of the famous A. Phillip Randolph along with Milton Webster, were able to form the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters in 1925 (lasted until 1978) and became the first labor organization led by African Americans. This two men, Webster and Randolph, also caused Franklin Roosevelt to issue an Executive Order creating the Fair Employment Practices Committee because of the overt racism Black workers experienced.

On the tails of the black codes and outright violence against Black people trying to make a living and support their families, whites began the sharecropping system where Black people (and some poor whites) were allowed to rent a small plot of land owned by the white farmer, and whatever they earned from their small crops, they used to pay the rent. More often than not they worked as a field hand as part of the price of renting the land, and again, the white farmer would take advantage of them by deducting every food item it took them to feed their families, or to clothe them. At the end of harvest, the Black farmers/sharecroppers were usually in more debt than profited.

In 1846, right as the Civil War was ending there was a “convict lease system” instituted that (officially) lasted until 1928. By their count, Black people were more than 90% of Black of all people arrested who were fined or charged with vague crimes (like vagrancy), and their paperwork lost (if they wrote any at all) so that their families couldn’t find them, nor bail them out. In an article on Black labor post emancipation, it reads:

“A principal difference between antebellum slavery and convict leasing was that, in the latter, the laborers were only the temporary property of their ‘masters.’ On one hand, this meant that after their fines had been paid off, they would potentially be let free. On the other, it meant the companies leasing convicts often absolved themselves of concerns about workers’ longevity. Such convicts were viewed as disposable and frequently worked beyond human endurance.” []

And we cannot overlook the Jim Crow era, which was the legal wedge whites enforced just in case Black people and white people had any ideas of working together. These were laws that enforced the segregation of the races (which is also a social construct in itself) at the end of Reconstruction in the late 1870s and lasted well into the Civil Rights era of the 1950s-1960s. This was spurred on by whites who feared that Black people would take their jobs because their white peers could pay the Black workers pennies on the dollars, but had to pay their white peers a (reasonably) fair wage, but much greater than they ever paid the Black workers.

Little known to many, Juneteenth even has a flag. Designed by L. J. Graf from Texas, she explains that “the colors red, white, and blue echo the American flag to symbolize that the slaves and their descendants were Americans. The star in the middle pays homage to Texas, while the busting ‘new star’ on the ‘horizon’ (encircling the solid star in the center) of the red and blue fields represents a new freedom and a new people.” <;

So, Juneteenth has a history filled with trauma, violence, and deadly force. Sadly, so much of what has been the legacy of African Americans in the colonial era continues into our daily lives only it takes on different forms like instead of being lynched, Black people are usually executed by gunfire, and usually at the hands of former paddy rollers now called law enforcement. But it signals a reflective hope that our Black ancestors had when they learned that they were no longer the property of white people, which in Black communities is much more significant to African American than the Fourth of July.

Resumés and Journals and Tax Returns: Through the Eyes of an Elder

This conversation is going to transition, so be aware of that now.

I’ll begin by the thought that we don’t think much about having to redo our resumés when we’re looking for a new job. We pull out the old one and add the new information, drop off some of the old stuff (so we won’t look our actually ages on paper), and keep going.

There will come a time when you don’t have to worry about that any more then you’ll rethink what that means/meant to you to have a resumés, sort of like I’m doing right now.

What redoing my resumé meant was remembering where I started from, where I used to live, what skills I learned and when I learned them, who my old bosses were, how much money I used to make, how my income steadily increased with new jobs/responsibilities, when I got another degree, where and when I went to school to get those degrees, how I became my own boss—sort of, when I became a teacher and changed my professional trajectory. It’s like a tracking system of how we move and advance in life.

That teacher memory brings up another thought. When we lived in Cleveland, one day my mother sent me to the corner store (but I think it was further away than the actual corner). When I got the bread (Wonder Bread which promised “How to grow stronger 8 ways!”) and went to the counter to pay, there were two Black men there, one was the clerk and another was either another customer or a friend stopping by to talk with the clerk because business was slow. They told me how pretty I was (instantly discomfort in an unexpected compliment) and told me my glasses made me look smart. One said, “you’re going to be a school teacher one day,” and they both chuckled as they clerk gave me my change and I left the store in a trot; I later journaled that in my cot in the corner of the room I shared with my eldest sister and the crib my newborn nephew slept in. True to his prediction, I became a teacher—how odd is that!

That cot in the corner of the room (it was originally a living room, but there were a lot of us together) was also the place our alley cat, Smokey, would end up, under the covers by my feet when he finally found his way back at night and crawled through the window my brothers left cracked open for that purpose even in winter, especially in winter, on cold nights. When our neighbors killed Smokey because they weaselly-assed dog used to pick fights when him and Smokey would kick his butt, I became allergic to cats.

When you get to be an elder—Elder—you see things differently. I see these young people who don’t see their worth because they don’t remember how little they were worth when they started. I see people looking at jobs they have and complaining about the imperfections they have to deal with daily because the white workers work less and get better/faster raises and promotions and they’re left doing all the work, but they’re not remembering the jobs they USED to have and learned to do better. I see them complaining about making (for example) $15/hour when what they should be noticing is that the $15/hour is double what they made two years before. Resumés are a refresher, a look at what you had versus what you now want, and a reminder of where you want to be—eventually. 

I kept my tax returns from the time I first did them and looked at them with the same awe I now look at my old resumés, because they show how my job titles got better, my income increased, my deductions increased—then decreased over the years, where I live changed every ten years or so. But it’s like a financial skeleton of my life because what’s not seen is the number of people I’ve met and interacted with in those jobs of living situations, the many names I cannot even remember and wish I had journaled regularly so I could recall.

Oddly enough, this (free form) reflection brings up two interesting memories for me involving white men. In my late twenties, early thirties, I was on jury duty in the San Diego courts and during a break we were all sitting in the hallway waiting to be called back in. I, of course, was reading a novel (always carried books with me to read in odd times/places) when this white guy, middle aged, nice looking, came and sat down next to me and started talking to me with intention—like he knew me. In my periphery I remember seeing him zigzag his way through the crowd of jurors towards me sitting almost alone on a bench against the windowed wall. I was surprised, but responded friendly, yet in monotones because, although he looked really familiar (that “name on the tip of my tongue” familiar), I couldn’t place him. After each (non)response, I’d go back to me book and finally he got up and left, walking down the corridor away from the group of us jurors. My thought was that if he knew me why didn’t he say something like “remember me, we met . . .,” but he never did; that meeting haunts me today because I know he intentionallysat down to talk with me and I have no idea to this day who he was and why he singled me out.

The second time was when I got back to San Diego after moving back from Memphis in 2010. I was at Costco off Rosecrans in San Diego and someone called my name and I turned and looked at this white guy, maybe in his 60s, nice looking, smiling brightly at me. I’d been gone so long and as a teacher had seen/met so many people, but I just KNEW I knew him, although I couldn’t place him. At first, I thought he was Eric’s mate, John, and called him that, but something kept nagging me mentally that said that wasn’t his name. He never corrected me and just smiled when I called him John, and kept small talking with “haven’t seen you in a long time,” kind of chatter. He really didn’t say anything that gave me an idea of where we knew each other and we must have chatted 3-4 minutes, which is really a long time in a store aisle. Finally, I began to feel really uncomfortable because I couldn’t quite place him and subconsciously I knew “John” probably wasn’t his name, so I made excuses to leave and he hugged me and went his own way; we never even ran into each other in another aisle even though I looked for him again thinking I had gathered enough nerve to ask him if John really was his name.

These things, I think, are part of restoring memories—like journaling, like resumés, like tax returns. For every resumé I can remember where I was and mentally see my surroundings. My tax returns reflect the moves I’ve made over the years and when my family size increase and decreased, and when my name changed to join André’s. 

My journal attempts are spotty, but I learned as a kid to not keep them when my mother, after one of her surprised moves (came home from school to an already loaded truck) to another apartment, during which in the packing she found my journals and destroyed them along with the short stories and a novel I worked on constantly. She didn’t like what I thought or wrote, but they weren’t for her, and the sheer amount of work she destroyed (we lived on East 100thStreet in Cleveland) ruined journaling for me forever. She also ruined one of my daughter’s journaling efforts when she climbed the stairs (she was forbidden from doing that because of her health), and went through her room like some thief in the night, found and read her journal and after my “no, I won’t, it’s HER journal,” protests she kept insisting that it was a safety issue, so I caved. It wasn’t, rather it was something my daughter wrote that my mother didn’t approve of (just like she did me as a kid), but my daughter stopped journaling after that.

Anyway, this, in a rambling sort of way, is a connection of why we remember what we do and fail to remember what we don’t. For me, I wish I could remember all the names of the people I worked with, how much money I made in all my early jobs, all the addresses of the houses I lived in, and a white guy in the hallway in the San Diego Court on Broadway, and a white guy who stopped me in the aisle at Costco by calling my name.

Hiding our truths (aka becoming fully human)

There was a post going around on FaceBook that invited women to state their truths about how they are learning to love themselves so I used the post as a starter for my truths. Here’s what some reflections revealed:

I’m (still learning to be) in LOVE with the BRAVE WOMAN in this picture (a teenager dressed for senior prom), sort of like a late-term birthing.

In life I’ve betrayed her because I’ve not loved her at full capacity. From childhood I watched her, once terribly shy (until she had children), develop a public face, a smiling face, while holding her body passive, unthreatening, to the white world in order to pacify, mollify, coddle her white peers. 

I’ve fed her lies and too many times told her she wasn’t good enough. I’ve allowed her to be broken by her own insecurities, or the aggressions of others. I’ve allowed her to run through brick walls of the legal system and into battle for others within a system that won’t give her equal treatment. I couldn’t stop individuals from abandoning her, yet I’ve seen her still get up to be a light to the world and love others despite all. I’ve watched her fight for her life or to benefit of her children (or children she’s taken in) while my inner-self was paralyzed by fear as she faced fears alone.

I can remember her being trapped in a room in a boarding house as an elementary school-aged kid by a man who rented out a room off the kitchen and not knowing how to get out, and the relief she felt when her older brother found and rescued her in time to prevent a more traumatic outcome. And I can remember her brother’s intensity, mean, palpable, towards that man and her having only a vague idea of why he (only two years older) was so upset. She later described her brother as one of her earth angels, and I was proud of her for that.

There are so few things I remember being proud of her for as a kid and young person, but one was her intuition. I’ve recoiled at unwanted touches from powerful men, but felt I had to show a “societal” smiling face in order to allow the men to remain intact. I can remember her meeting prominent men in social situations who, when introduced to her (as a young adult), shook her hand in that secretive handshake men used to have when they would bend their middle finger in a handshake to “tickle” the palm of a woman to signal that they wanted her. Those feigned handshakes would always shock her, always shock her responses and make her snatch her hand away—all the while smiling and hoping they made a mistake, or she imagined it because they were worldly, well-known, prominent, and she was just… her, meek, mild, with a learned social smile, and quite unaware of her beauty and intelligence.

I can still feel her sorrow when, in her early twenties, she turned down a scholarship at Marquette University because it required three trips to a psychiatrist for his approval, because after the first visit he began to schedule the appointments after normal work hours and when no one was in the building, so she felt unsafe and knew no one would take her word over his—a white man—an old white man—and old professional white man—an old professional white man with an established career—if he decided to cross the lines of decency, all the while knowing he was holding onto the power he held in whether or not she passed his muster, but her strong intuition got the better of her and, out of fear for her safety, she stopped going into what she unconsciously felt was entrapment. I can still feel her sorry when she lost her scholarship because she trusted her intuition, but when questioned by the scholarship committee representative (who called her several times) could not tell them, nor her mother, why.

I remember her first day teaching when she questioned whether or not she could be good at it because she felt she knew so little; felt the sweat drip beneath her arms and stain her dress—she NEVER sweated. And even when she got good at it, she felt humbled by it all, always thinking others knew more, were better teachers, even when introducing a different style of teaching (more conducive to the twentieth century).

From deep inside her psyche I’ve watched her show a brave face when she tried to protest the mistreatment of other (white) women only to have them turn against her when they were questioned to her truthfulness of THEIR situation. 

I’ve quieted my inner voice from shouting that some child was harmed because I had no proof other than what I intuited through intuition so immediate, so violent that it took my breath away, all while watching a man grin in my face knowing I could do nothing; I’ve cried the tears of the helpless and prayed unanswered prayers. I felt her steel her body as youngsters shared their experiences of violence, rape, and the aggression of adults as she comforted them with her only tools—words of warmth, hope, encouraging trust.

For most of their growing years, I’ve watched her parent her children—all the while questioning every decision being the best for that particular child in that particular situation. I was proud of her when she learned to apologize to her children when she felt she overreacted, just as I was proud of her when she learned to discipline with time-outs and take-aways instead of whippings like her mother taught her.

I ask my younger self to forgive me for not going to war for her like one would do for others. I’ve accepted less-than the best behaviors from others around me for the sake of keeping peace. I’ve settled for peace when goodness was a better option. I’ve hidden my light to make the light of others shine brighter. I’ve withheld my truth to prevent others from correcting me with their experience or observations of that same event.

There are many things I’ve grown to love about her as she’s aged like when she approaches random women (usually while shopping) and tells them that their hairdo, or dress, or shoes, are beautiful, knowing that that compliment may be the only one they get to reassure them of their value. I love the way she remembers to tell her children and friends that she loves them when leaving their presence or ending a conversation, when that affirmation was never modeled to her by her mother. 

My younger self still sits in the background of her truth as she becomes an elder (a very reluctant one at that) and I love the way she tries still, even in retirement, tries to connect people with resources they need and will take the time to find out how to help them.

Yet, still, in some ways I fear her. I fear that one day she will cease withholding her thoughts, words, reactions to events around her and unleash all those thoughts, words and reactions she wanted to let go of decades ago. That she will reveal her inner thoughts that still pain her; secrets valuable only to herself. This, unfortunately, is because I know that she still fears being disliked for saying what she really thinks and feels, which is sad because she knows she has fewer years ahead than behind her. Perhaps she is still struggling to be fully human (as her Dakota friend describes).

What I now know is truth is that she is a queen, and this queen is a self-taught warrior. She’s not perfect but the Master has deemed her worthy! Gracefully broken but beautifully standing. Still healing and finding her way.

She is love. She GIVES love. She is life. She GIVES life. She is transformation. She pushes for the transformation of others into their better selves. She is grace. She is BRAVE! She stores her stock before there is any rain. Who wouldn’t fall in love with her for a lifetime? 

#IamShe #LoveThyself #SlowlyEmerging

What Purpose Do Men REALLY Serve?

I recently read an article (September 20, 2018) by Faima Bakar titled, “It is not a woman’s responsibility to make a man a better human being.” It hit me at an uncomfortable place, maybe because of where I am in my life right now.

The title, in itself, is so true and yet we’re taught that from such a gender age that we don’t even realize how imprinted it is on our psyche when we finally wander into our own relationships.

You hear about how some woman was credited with how she “turned her man around” and made him a good guy (didn’t Kirk Franklin say this when he was in deep do-do?).  What kind of stress does this put on women to feel as though they are totally responsible for holding families together?

And if my kids are happy, my guy is happy, the dogs are happy, the in-laws are ecstatic–who gets the credit for that—not the woman, for sure, because the happiness of a family is almost always attributed to the husband (he provides well; head of the house).

In this article, Third Force (aka Naledi Mashishi) Tweeted: “Ariana Grande being blamed is [symptomatic] of a society where women are expected to be mothers, housekeepers, therapists, and rehab centers for the men they date.”There is all sorts of truth in this as with her other insightful questions about our role as nurturers. Men are entitled, societally enabled to be weak because they surround themselves with women who need to carry them no matter the strain on the woman’s own personal health and well-being.
When I hear about that age-old happy wife=happy life adage I not only shudder, I wonder, too, what message did I send to my boys when they were growing up with me as a single mother? Did I make it look as if they didn’t need to work hard to make their mates happy because I made it look easy—that I could do it all by myself? If my son doesn’t help his wife clean the kitchen, sweep, vacuum, clean the toilet or shower or sink or back porch or windows without being told or directed, is that because I didn’t teach him well, or because I did it all?

When a man walks into an already formed family and sees the woman run the whole shebang by herself, is he more likely to become enamored with what he sees as having nothing to do, no physical role to take on or “receive” and not give because… strong Black woman does it all?

The question in Faima Bakar’s article, “Why do we not push men to be more nurturing of relationships?” is more than valid. We already know that we (women) are almost solely responsible for teaching our male children to NOT abuse women because so many boys are reared without a strong male role model and teaching presence. Now we have more responsibilities to make them that ideal guy for some woman they pick?

And let us not overlook the “strong Black woman” image. So many times we hear about the “strong Black woman” and the positive impact she was on her family–her kids. I wonder, when I see my girls trying to “fix” some guy to be his better self, I wonder how much I’m to blame for this. Was it my role modeling? Did I subconsciously say one thing but modeled another?

Who teaches our boys who are reared in a majority female household to NOT be abusive and to nurture their relationships, and NOT treat them to mother their own children, be their personal therapists, or rehab them when they are broken? And, when our girls bring them home with that big smile on their faces because they found “the one,” and we see behind that temporary façade the brokenness shadowing in the eyes of these newly minted grown men, how do we disentangle the messiness that is soon to come before much damage is done to our girl children?

WTF is the role of the males in our society? Are we merely succor for them in their weaknesses? Or, are they just responsible for taking and making babies for us to raise? And, just as important, why are women blamed when they bail just to preserve their own sanity?

[BTW: If you think you’re the exception, please don’t post something self-serving. Let’s have a real discussion. Thanks]






Hitting Your F**kIt Stage of Live

I recently spent an amazing ten days with my sister-in-law, Ferne, in Milwaukee as a treat from her for my XXth birthday. I don’t use the word, amazing, frivolously. Ten days that went entirely too fast.

Ferne Caulker Bronson is the founder and director of the Kothi African Dance Troupe out of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, which will be celebrating it’s 50th year in 2019. FIFTY years… for an African dance troupe in a (majority) white institution. That’s history-making!

From the time I disembarked from the plane, I understood the importance of Ferne. The aide who pushed my wheelchair (I’ve got back issues) from the plane to the luggage claim saw Ferne waving to me and said (in his thick African accent), “You know FERNE!” That surprised me and I said yes. He continued to inform me that “She is big in Milwaukee. BIG!” He embraced her when we met up and reminded her how he knew her. This kind of greeting happened almost every place we went, even in Michael’s crafts store. Each person excited to recall to her how or when they met, and who they knew in common. She is celebrated.

Most of my young adult years were spent in Milwaukee and I graduated from North Division High School back in the 60s. While there on this particular visit, however, I only reached out to one former schoolmate, but she didn’t respond to my call and text until weeks after I returned home, so other than my family, my time was spent with shadowing Ferne. Ferne, I found out, casts a very large shadow for such a small woman.

Ferne was my shaman (shawoman?) in that she pushed me to see through my reluctance to see what was right in front of me in how I was living my life; not so much as unhappily as it is just not as full as it should be at my age.

Every day she promised that the next day we would spend eating leftovers and sitting on the patio looking at the wildlife just arms length from her back door, but every day was a whirlwind of places to go, people to see, foods to experience, new African words for me to hear (I’ll never remember them all, especially for all the drum names). Living such a full life seemed like a distant, but enjoyable, memory and I thought about what I had given up to retire to a place that has no social connections for me, nor family nearby.

I’m living a rather reclusive life now where even the thought of working in some capacity at our church isn’t feasible or viable because of the distance to get there, and the lack of transportation to make that happen. I realized that how I live is not what I honed my skills for so long to end up doing. She kidded me with a job offer to manage her upcoming grant that will be funded next spring… or was she kidding??? I’ve got a few months to figure it out.

My after-visit thoughts center on what I want the rest of my life to look like, and I know it has to be, at the very least, completing my doctorate, which I can do here because of the quiet and lack of demands that once filled my life. I can remember any visit I made to Milwaukee in the past 55+ years that I felt it was as welcoming as it was this past trip; it really felt like home.

I have no children to rear, no volunteer work to do, no neighbors to visit, no immediate improvements on my house to make, no ramblings around to get to know the city during the day, no friends to see. Does one with all my education, skills, training, abilities, stifle all that to become a house maid in a house that feels like a prison in spite of the beauty of my surroundings. Is being unproductive enough anymore?

In my musings, I realize that being needed, or in service, lasts until the end. It doesn’t stop because of some magic age, nor circumstance in which one voluntarily posits themselves. It doesn’t have laurels upon which to rest. It is fluid… like life.

Ferne took me to African (for yummy oxtails), Indian, Asian restaurants, had me accompany her to watch her dance troupe practice (and I did so completely enthralled), forced me to be pampered with nails being done, and then on to her personal mate who adores and dotes on her, and who is still a full time, working master barber to do my hair.

We entertained with other family and bonded again over red beans, rice, cornbread, fried chicken, and caramel cake. Most of all we laughed and laughed and laughed; we cry-laughed and fart-laughed, and could break out in spontaneous laughter at nothing at all. It was ten days of living–experiencing–the antithesis of my life at home.

My sister/sista lives life to the fullest and continually bugged me with questions like, “what do you WANT, my Sista’?,” in her revived African accent, which always set me into the giggles as she pushed me to examine where I wanted to be in my life at this age.  It was jarring and uncomfortable at times, but necessary. Every woman needs another woman to push them with love. Every. Woman. Needs this. We should never live out our lives feeling like we’re missing out, or that we haven’t given all we were trained/experienced to give.

While there I felt free, unencumbered, necessary, cared for, loved in a way only a person who wants nothing in return but to see you happy can give to you. When I left I felt full with a lot to process.

Now I’ve got to work on having my life mean something; having it full; having it filled with laughter and occasional abandonment of mundane tasks; back into service. This is my #F**kIt stage of life and, thanks to Ferne, I’m working on myself.


The ammo used to shoot the lemon in this graphic is called a “Radically Invasive Projectile” (RIP, get it?); it is a copper bullet that explodes when it hits a target (i.e., a human being) sending pieces screaming through vital organs and clearing a path for the bullet’s core to travel deeper through a person.

I’d also like to add that the military group that this kind of weaponry is made for is FOCUSED on one thing, the enemy. When both the military and law enforcement train, they are focused on possible threats to their welfare, and if you’re already scared of Group A or Group B, you’re looking for something within that group that will trigger those fears (hence white cops shoot unarmed Black people).

Arming teachers totally removes their main focus and many will be led to perceive the slightest things as a threat. If a teacher works with kids from Group A, for example, and has taken a lot of guff from one of them, they switch their thinking to what they’ve been taught about “possible threats,” and that kid can become the enemy, a threat, in the blink of an eye.

There are many people, male and female, who make excellent soldiers and law enforcement officers, but wouldn’t make good teachers, and vice versa. Just giving someone a gun can NEVER prepare you for what it can do. Also, keep in mind that all who serve are NOT brave, nor heroes, just ordinary people trying to live another day.

The minute a teacher is in the midst of a roomful of screaming, panicking, injured kids, that gun will be the last thing on their minds, just like that deputy. That fear of being hurt is real and you can’t pay someone $40K(+/-) and expect them to do double duty as an armed guard AND a teacher; it’s not only not fair nor just, it isn’t on their job descriptions.

And, I have other questions like, how will the schools afford the liability of arming teachers? How will they afford the onslaught of law suits for drawing a weapon in a situation that wouldn’t ordinarily call for such extreme behavior?

Better yet: How can you prepare a teacher to KILL someone? In those cases of being attacked, that’s the purpose of a weapon (if you haven’t considered this) is to kill, not to maim, not to distract, not to disarm. KILL! And with death comes images that you will NEVER erase from your memory. That’s not TV stuff to see body parts scattered around you, that’s a life-altering event, one even law enforcement and military have to have therapy for to treat the PTSD that goes along with that.

Few soldiers come back from active engaged military duty and want to sign up for killing people again; most come back with PTSD from seeing all the blood and gore they experienced. Our country needs to STOP taking directions from a man (whose name I refuse to write here) who has never served a day of military service, nor law enforcement, in his life. This man has shot inanimate things, but I can’t believe that he’s ever seen a head, body, or limb, explode in front of him and be left with those images.

Like we see on many of the memes going around now (about low pay for teachers), if you can’t afford to pay teachers decent salaries, nor give them access to the newest books and classroom supplies, how DARE you say that you’re willing to spend $20-40K on EVERY SINGLE gun. How DARE you tell me that my kids and family who are teachers will become involuntary killers! That chit changes people–PERMANENTLY.

There Was a Time When White Men Were Brave

There has been a system of slavery evolving, no, maybe more like metamorphosing, since white men invaded this country beginning with Benjamin Rush, who one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence (called the Father of American Psychiatry). It was Rush who believed that Africans “possessed illnesses that were peculiar to the Negro race of humanity” (Guthrie, 1998, p. 116), and when he went about publishing and speaking about such ignorant beliefs, he helped lay the foundation for the systemic war against Blacks and freedoms.

The first system to gain footing in the US was enslavement, which was made legal through laws created by white men. Secondly, there was a legal system instituted to incarcerate Blacks who fought against the system to be committed into asylums, and because one white man taught others that any slave wanting to be free was insane, it became a tradition and this (albeit irrational) belief was, again, supported by various new laws. Today, these institutionalized, systemic injustices are acted out in the form of incarceration of Black (mainly) men into prisons with sentences that far exceed many of the crimes committed—IF they actually committed a crime.

What all these systems have in common is 1) that they continue to allow Blacks to be held indefinitely and without being sentenced, 2) religion was and continues to be used to support the white right to commit these vile acts, and 3) the Blacks held captive under all systems were made to work for white owners, without remunerations, and mainly in inhumane conditions. All of them.

The numerous, complex and inhumane ways white people used to keep Black people in slavery probably can’t ever be compiled into one document, but they included heinous acts upon Blacks such as lynching, whipping, dismembering, maiming, branding, castration, encasing them in iron fetters, branding, restricting food, restricting nutritious foods, condemning them to work from sun up until sun down (sun-to-sun), being separated from their children and/or spouses, denying medical treatment (for generations), denying them clothing (including shoes) appropriate for the weather, instituting a system of payment for good and services that always kept Black workers indebted to whites, making it illegal for Blacks to leave the land of the slave owners by threat of imprisonment, cutting the Achilles heel(s) of any person disobeying the boundaries of the plantation by going beyond it, making it illegal to communicate with freedmen, beating or death, beating AND death, raping women and children, forcing the Black youngsters to do small tasks in the fields as soon as they could walk, and even using the Black children for alligator bait.

Because illiteracy was so widespread, many illiterate whites were taught to believe that if you whipped a slave long enough, and preached God’s word of obedience long enough, the slave would be brought to their senses, understand the evil of their ways, and correct their misguided behaviors; that belief was taught, re-taught, and passed on for generations.

In order to control the slaves, who were also largely illiterate, slave owners preached to them by reading scriptures of servitude and obedience on a regular basis. Sometimes the slave owners allowed Black preachers to come to their plantations to preach, but dictated what parts of the Bible they wanted to be used. In particular, they emphasized passages like “slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling” (Ephesians 6:5), or “tell slaves to be submissive to their masters and to give satisfaction in every respect” (Titus 2:9). Christians who wanted to preserve slavery had the words of the Bible to back them up.

But for all this evil, there were occasional beams of bright lights of hopefulness, brilliance, amongst the weariness of the lives of slaves. For now, I’m just going to focus on just one of the many examples that stood out for me as a testament to what white men can do when they stand against the evils of other powerful white men; who actually outnumber the white men causing death and destruction in their wake.

Let me begin by explaining the basic thinking that went into the enslavement of Blacks. For many whites, slavery was an entitlement because Blacks were incapable of fending for themselves, and/or they were less than human. According to Guthrie (1998):

Supporters of slavery struggled to explain why slaves were running away… They attempted to prove scientifically that their earlier exhortations of the happy slave were truthful and that the South was a “rightful” milieu and that servitude was the rightful condition for the African. One such medical authority went so far to declare that the “Negro’s brain froze in cold climate, inducing insanity” and urged, “out of kindness to the Negro, that he be kept in the South.”[1] These supporters of slavery felt that servitude fulfilled God’s designated role because the African was cursed to be a submissive “knee bender” requiring the control of others. As frustrated slave owners searched to explain why supposedly contented and happy slaves would want to run away or escape bondage, accusations were leveled at the border state slave owners, claiming that they created the problem by being too lenient, treating them as equals, and “making little or no distinction in regard to color.”

This set the stage for another physician, Dr. Samuel Cartwright, to make remarkable claims that the slave’s running away indicated a mental disorder called drapetomania[2], which he said was common to Blacks and to cats.[3] (Guthrie, p. 116).

Dr. Cartwright advised slave owners to whip slaves who became “sulky and dissatisfied… as a preventive measure against absconding, or other bad conduct. It was called whipping the devil out of them.” (Guthrie, p. 116).

Although it was thought to have happened prior to this time, in 1897 a Virginia slave named Henry Brown arranged to escape from freedom by having himself shipped like freight in a small wooden crate from the plantation of his owner to be received by a Quaker merchant and several abolitionists in Philadelphia; it took 26 hours of misery for that journey. His escape involved white men for both sending and receiving his body.

Fast forward to 60 years later: In 1957, a Black man named Arrington High lived in Whitfield, MS. Arrington had been committed to the Mississippi State Hospital for the Insane solely (near Jackson, MS and the Terrapin Skin Creek) because he was leading protests against the ill treatment of Blacks in the south. It was common knowledge to whites that anyone seeking to flee the south was insane (it was medically labeled Drapetomania. It was also common knowledge to all, Black and white, that anyone going into that hospital never returned.

Arrington High was the publisher of Eagle Eye (a mimeographed flyer more than a newspaper) for fourteen years. His commitment to the asylum was due to him exposing the segregationists who were seeking out Black women prostitutes for sex at an establishment that catered to politicians. In October of 1957 he was committed to the asylum for “the remainder of his life,” he was 47 years old. The asylum was more than 15 miles from the nearest city, and Blacks had little to no means of transportation in (or to) that area (Wilkerson, p. 351).

Fortunately, and although it took four months to plan, a coordinated effort of five brave white men in MS arranged for his escape by driving five cars in a caravan near the asylum where they met him early one morning. He got into one of the cars and they drove him (careful to obey the speed limits) to the state line. He was told to get out and walk across to the Alabama state line where he was met with five different cars with Alabama license plates; four of those were driven by white men, the fifth was driven by a Black man so that there was no attention called to a Black man riding in a car with white men. Once in Alabama he was put into a pine coffin equipped with air holes, it was nailed shut, and he was put on a railroad car for a FIFTEEN HOUR ride to Chicago. While in the coffin he was unable to make a sound, was unable to turn over, and had to lay still. Once the train left the station, a Black physician, Dr. Howard, who was to receive the coffin, was telephoned with the code words, “The Eagle has flown the coop.”[4]

Even though this happened in the post-slave era that was just six years before the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It is well documented that even post-slavery whites made it physically and legally difficult for Blacks to live free and without harassment

Now, 54 years later, there seems to be a political bent to revise these old beliefs and conditions by dehumanizing people of color, and by damaging, misdirecting funds, and/or gutting the education systems for the poor and making it available only to the wealthy. We must not let this prevail!


[1] Quote from S.A. Cartwright, “Essays, being inductions drawn from the Baconian philosophy proving the truth of the Bible and the justice and benevolence of the decree dooming Canaan to be servant of servants; and answering the question of Voltaire… From a series of letters to the Rev. William Winans… Vidalia, LA, 1893. [NOTE: The Baconian method was a means of studying and interpreting natural phenomena.]

[2] Drapetomania, defined by Dr. Samuel A. Cartwright in 1851, was assigned to runaway slaves as a mental illness (in the early editions of the DSM for psychological disorders) and type of mania for wandering behavior, given to one with an uncontrollable urge to travel.

[3] Guthrie, Robert V. (1998). Even the Rat was White: A historical view of psychology (2nd ed). Allyn & Bacon (eds). Needham Heights, MA.

[4] Wilkerson, Isabel (2010). The Warmth of Other Suns: The epic story of America’s Great Migration. Random House, Vintage Books, New York, NY.

Flashback of Walking While Black

From: “The Warmth of Other Suns” by Isabel Wilkerson (p. 335)

FLASHBACK of this scenario (above): Twenty or so years after this incident happened to Ida Mae in Chicago, I’m in (nearby) Milwaukee, WI riding the bus, which I didn’t do that often (I had a car early on). Somehow, I missed my stop (don’t remember where I was going) and got off the bus to walk back to where I could catch a connecting bus on the right route.

It’s summer and I’m dressed real cute, but I’m lost in my own mental reverie when subconsciously I began, not so much noticing, but FEELING that people, white people, are coming out of their houses to stare at me as I make my way down the street. It was like someone had a telephone tree, or some secret signal that a Black person was walking in the neighborhood. I got more afraid the further down the block I walked while trying to find a bus stop or phone booth, but now I’m walking with my head up and ears alert because I’m scared shitless and don’t even know where I am; no phone booth in sight and the street looked miles long, but I’m trying my damnedest to look brave and fearless [I know I must have failed miserably].

Suddenly, a car pulls alongside of me and a Black man leans over, rolls down the window, and said, “you look lost, wanna ride?” Now I’m thinking I’m in a really bad situation and if I disappeared no one would know it was simply me getting off the bus in the wrong neighborhood.

I quicken my pace, but he keeps up with me and he says something like, “I know you don’t live around here. You don’t have to be afraid of me. Here… (he holds his wallet towards the window) you can see who I am and where I live. I’m not going to hurt you. I’ll take you wherever you want to go.”

I slow down, trying to keep from crying [I’m in my teens] and finally relent and get into the car because I’m seeing too many white folks, some holding rakes standing in their yards [perhaps they were gardening?] and I make a choice to trust this Black man and got into the car.

He said he would take me either to a bus stop or to my home, wherever I wanted to go, but he wanted to make sure I was safe. He asked my name, I only gave him my first name, and he took me back to a neighborhood where I knew my surroundings. I hugged the door handle [did that years earlier in my bio-father’s car—another story, another time] the whole I was in his car. By the time I got out of the car I was so stiff with fright that my bones were locked in place and you could have snapped me like a twig just by slapping me on the back.

I don’t remember his name at all, but when I got over my fright, I was thankful that he got me out of that scary place (that really wasn’t that far from where I lived at that time). I never told my mother because I was embarrassed to say that I got lost in the city.