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Cynique

A Flashback

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February is Black History month, and I feel fortunate that my repository of memories makes my brain comparable to an organic history book, chapters of which I want to share. Being the proud great-granddaughter of freed-slaves I've decided to pull rank and briefly assume the role of a griot. I beg your indulgence.

 

I confess to also taking pride in the fact that Prohibition was repealed the same year I was born, making it possible for people to legally drown their sorrows in booze as both me and the Great Depression came into being. Since then just what have I lived through, that most of you haven’t? Read on.

 

Starting with Franklin D. Roosevelt, and ending with Barack Obama, I have been around during the election of 12 presidents, along with the resignation of one, namely Richard M. Nixon.

 

I was here when “colored” folks morphed into “negroes”, - was around when black hair care products were limited to hot iron straightening combs and pressing oils. I’ve observed black names like Bertha and Ruby and Willa Mae and Annie give way to the ones like Carole and Linda and Sandra and Denise. (Never mind what came after these lovely appellations ;) ) I listened to all of heavyweight champion Joe Louis’ fights on the radio, cheering him on as he made quick work of his opponents. When they were still the BROOKLYN Dodgers, I saw their star second baseman and first black major league player, Jackie Robinson, play against the Chicago Cubs at Wrigley Field.

 

Beginning with World War II, - at which time I hoped for the safe return of my brother who served in the Navy on the first Destroyer Escort to be manned by an all-black crew, - I was on the home front as Americans fought in 7 major wars, including the conflict in Korea where black and white soldiers served in the same units together for the first time. 

 

As a teenager whose first summer job was that of a key-puncher hired to encode cards for programmers, I have seen computers evolve from huge room-sized machines to sleek lap-top models and hand held smart phones.

 

I attended the University of Illinois when the presence of the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta sorority houses, and the Kappa Alpha Psi and Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity ones made this campus the only one in the entire country to have black Greek residences.

 

Beginning with the arrest of defiant back-of-the-bus rider, Rosa Parks and murdered Emmitt Till, whose mutilated body I stood in a loooooong line to gawk at, and peaking with my viewing on TV the live deliverance of the “I have a dream” speech by MLK, I have tagged along as the Civil Rights Movement marched forward to break down racial barriers.  

 

When not watching "remote-less" black and white television, I frequently patronized the palatial movie houses that once lit up Chicago’s down town area where stage shows shared the marquee with the latest motion pictures, and where I would be in the audience when artists like Nat Cole and Ella Fitzgerald appeared in person. I went on dates to jazz clubs to hear legendary musicians such as Oscar Peterson and I once saw a very spaced-out Charlie Parker struggle through a bebop solo.

 

I was immersed in the times as the "beatnik" generation morphed into the hippie counter-culture which aitated change to society, ushering in  the peace movement birthed by the Viet Nam war which i marched against.  During the same era, I raised a fist as a sympathizer with the black power movement. 

 

With the attack on India's prime minister Mohandas Gandhi, I first experienced shock over 7 other political assassinations, including those of  Martin Luther King who was a disciple of Gandhi’s passive resistance philosophy,  Malcolm X, and Black Panther leader Fred Hampton, my Maywood, Illinois, home town hero, who was shot down in his bed by a squad of “Chicago’s finest“.

 

Along the way, I saw my name become a by-line when the “Chicago Today” newspaper, prodded by my provocative "letters-to-the-editor", hired me to write a regular column on the ambiguous black experience.

 

During my years of employment at a postal sub-station, I observed as blacks ascended to positions of authority and wielded unbridled power while become big fish in a small pond.

 

 

And so it went…These are just some of the past events and changes that I have co-existed with. To you, they may be yawners. To me, they are memories. Some happy, some sad. But, - that’s life.

 

Thanks for reading this. Time to go. I’m history! :)

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Beginning with the murder of Emmitt Till, whose mutilated body I stood in a loooooong line to gawk at, and peaking with my viewing of the live deliverance of the “I have a dream” speech by MLK, I have tagged along as the Civil Rights Movement marched forward to break down racial barriers.

Emmitt Till…..Wow! You actually saw his remains? Well, you definitely witnessed history. I recall seeing the photos of his grotesquely mutilated body in that casket. I’m sure that experience is etched in your brain forever. I read various graphic accounts of how badly his body was mutilated (some were somewhat conflicting). But his demise was identical or similar to countless other blacks. In fact, I never knew this before because it was never discussed in the press, but when they were looking for the three executed civil rights workers (Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman) in Mississippi in 1964, they accidently stumbled across nine black men who had been beaten, shot and murdered (one black man’s decaying body was still hanging in a tree!) by white racists. They quietly collected the bodies, said nothing about it and kept looking for the bodies of the three missing voting registration workers. The book, “Book We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi”, by Philip Dray and Seth Cagin (I highly recommend the book) , details the murders.

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We are fortunate to have your writing for us Cynique. You make (and the others too) make it worth dealing with all the crap that I have to deal with administrating this site. Thank you.

Thank all of you posters for making part of the world wide web interesting

Cynique I would like to make your post a "Guest Post" of sorts on my Blog. I'll dress the thing up with photos and maybe some video clips from youtube, etc. i hope you don;t mind. i think more people should read this..

It is intersting my grand father was born in 1880. His father, Freeman Foster, was born in 1850. I assume given the year he was born and his name that he was formerly enslaved (there is not written or oral record). If he was enslaved I'm the great grandson of an enslaved person too.

It is a horrible legacy so close, but too hard to fathom. My mother and her sibling are very likely the grandchildren of slaves that they never knew. Many people of their age never had any knowledge of ancestors before their own parents. Sad.

If my folks shared stories the way you do I would know a lot about I our my family history. Today, you have to beg folks to show up to family reunions.

Children never visit their parents and throw them into nrusing homes as soon as they can.

But I can listen to your history, Griot.

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Xeon, Emmitt Till was sealed "under glass", - his casket roped off when the crowds filed by it, not giving anyone too much of a chance to scrutinize him. The picture taken of him and later printed in Jet Magazine provided a better view than the actual experience.

His mother's decision to have a transparent pane cover the open casket proved to be a wise one. When they dug him up 50 years later, his remains were perfectly preserved and his body was re-buried in a nice new vault. :mellow:

Thank you, Troy, for overlooking my "negative" contributions to this board... ;)

BTW, there were varied projects launched to put people back to work during the Depression. One of these was to send people around the country to record "slave narratives", accounts of ex-slaves sharing their experiences. Our family has a copy of the one my mother's father supplied for these archivists. I always forget that I am actually the granddaugher of a freed slave who, incidentally, looked like he was white and as a child was indeed, a "house nigga" recruited by his master to be the playmate of the children who were probably his half-siblings. According to my late father, however, his grandmother was enslaved a long time before she was freed, and was coal black, believed to be pure African. These are the blood lines that make me who I am. :rolleyes:

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OCTOGENARIAN! Damn, Troy, I aint in my 80s yet! I'm a septugenarian as in 77 and holding, Bro. B)

Yes, your interesting account was more appropriate because it dealt with documented history rather than personal memories.

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"OCTOGENARIAN" was for effect :) but shoot, at your age it is really just semantics ain't it?

In today's world a 70 something is a relative spring chicken B)

I find you accounts as interesting Cynique. Census records are riddled with mistakes, and again the personal accounts provide more depth. For exmaple who would have known the Jet mag photo of Till provided a much better view than actually being there.

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BTW, there were varied projects launched to put people back to work during the Depression. One of these was to send people around the country to record "slave narratives", accounts of ex-slaves sharing their experiences. Our family has a copy of the one my mother's father supplied for these archivists. I always forget that I am actually the granddaugher of a freed slave who, incidentally, looked like he was white and as a child was indeed, a "house nigga" recruited by his master to be the playmate of the children who were probably his half-siblings. According to my late father, however, his grandmother was enslaved a long time before she was freed, and was coal black, believed to be pure African. These are the blood lines that make me who I am. :rolleyes:

Wow! I found this thread by searching "slave narratives" in the search box in the upper right corner of the discussions page. I recently started reading "Slave Narratives..." by WPA after deciding against another book I was debating on ("One Drop..." by Bliss Broyard). Once I started reading "Slave Narratives..." I was completely drawn in. The only problem is that I am always second guessing everything!

So as I read the accounts of some of the ex-slaves who were seemingly enamored with their masters, I didn't want to believe it. I kept asking my husband, "Is this for real? Is this some kind of a joke? Did Uncle Ruckas (The Boondocks) write this?"

I began to wonder if the reporters had bent the stories. So I came to this site to see if anyone else had discussed these narratives...and then low & behold, I found Cynique's post.

Oh my gawd, what a treat! Seriously! How fortunate are you that your people shared the stories with you, and how lucky are we that you are sharing stories with us? Troy mentioned families not sharing stories all that much. That rings true in mine. And I have now become one of the guilty people who refuse to go to my own family reunion...like, what is the point? In my family nobody talks about anything except for meaningless gossip. It's ridiculous.

To hear that your family has a copy of one of the narratives supplied by your own grandfather is nothing short of amazing. Wow! It places a reality to what I am reading and makes me very excited (and sad at the same time because some of this stuff is absolutely heartbreaking) to finish the collection.

As I was reading your timeline and some of the things you've seen, certain names jumped out at me --- Emmitt Till, Fred Hampton, Ella, U of I (I went there and didn't even know that we had the first Black Greeks!) --- and I must have said something like "No way!!!" because my husband said, "What? What is it...tell me, you know you want to tell me..."

And I said, "Okay...I just need a minute..." LOL---> I had to let everything sink it. I wasn't ready for all this insight! :) So after I got it together, I read your timeline to him and we were both intrigued...dare I even say "honored" that you took the time to share! Such a good day! Thank you so much, seriously.

I love this site!

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My goodness, I forgot all about this post. I'm always broaching this subject, and there are a couple of more longer accounts of my memories somewhere back in the archives of this board. Glad there are a few around who have an interest in something other than their own era.

I do want to make one thing clear. During the late 40s and middle 50s the U of I down in Champaign was the only campus in the country where black Greeks had their own fraternity and sorority houses. Illinois was not the first university in the country where Black Greeks had a presence. These organizations have been on many campuses since the early 1900s but they only had meeting places, not offical residences where members lived like the white ones did. Illinois was the only one. From what I hear, now The black Greeks are all but invisible at Illinois as well other Big 10 schools.

BTW, also included in my grandfather's slave narrative was an account of how the KKK descended on the black quarters of Franklin, Tennessee, which was where he lived, but the residents took up arms and "ran them off for good".

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BTW, also included in my grandfather's slave narrative was an account of how the KKK descended on the black quarters of Franklin, Tennessee, which was where he lived, but the residents took up arms and "ran them off for good".

Exciting stuff! Those are the types of accounts I hope to read in these narratives. Have you written any fiction books where the setting is from different time periods?

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Emmitt Till…..Wow! You actually saw his remains? Well, you definitely witnessed history. I recall seeing the photos of his grotesquely mutilated body in that casket. I’m sure that experience is etched in your brain forever. I read various graphic accounts of how badly his body was mutilated (some were somewhat conflicting). But his demise was identical or similar to countless other blacks. In fact, I never knew this before because it was never discussed in the press, but when they were looking for the three executed civil rights workers (Chaney, Schwerner, and Goodman) in Mississippi in 1964, they accidently stumbled across nine black men who had been beaten, shot and murdered (one black man’s decaying body was still hanging in a tree!) by white racists. They quietly collected the bodies, said nothing about it and kept looking for the bodies of the three missing voting registration workers. The book, “Book We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, and Chaney, and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi”, by Philip Dray and Seth Cagin (I highly recommend the book) , details the murders.

Tragedies, all around :(

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... Have you written any fiction books where the setting is from different time periods?

Wellll, I did self-publish a short novel entitled "Along The Way" that dealt with 3 generations of a black family, beginning with one turn of the century to the next.(1900 - 2000) This was over 10 years ago and I never really promoted or marketed this book because it was more a labor of love than anything, - just a project to put the word processor on my new computer to use - the culmination of one of the things I planned to do once I retired.

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