Black History From Another Perspective
Black history goes beyond celebrating painters and writers, musicians and politicians, athletes and educators. Black history includes the observations of witnesses, regardless of race or even age.
Here are mine.
1941: My mother, a deeply rooted North Carolinian, taught math at a New York City high school. When I was 2, she began bringing me to her parents' house in Greensboro for the summer, leaving my father to his job. One Saturday morning, she noticed a tall, slim, attractive young black woman sweeping the beauty parlor floor. When I fussed, Annie stopped sweeping to distract me.
Annie was 18. She had never been outside Guilford County. She had an instinct for children - and something else.
After a few wash-and-sets, my mother asked Annie to come back to New York, live with us and care for me while she worked. Annie and I shared a room in the small -apartment.
I adored Annie. The fairy tales she told me weren't about princesses and trolls and frogs. She learned the New York subway system and took me to parks, museums, Radio City Music Hall, other fun places. Summers we returned to Greensboro - my mother and I to Lee Street and Annie to her family. But she visited often.
Sometimes Annie took me uptown on the bus. We sat in the back. Annie said it was cooler there. If I wanted a Coca-Cola, she gave me a nickel and sent me in to buy it. But we never had an egg-salad sandwich at the drugstore soda fountain the way we did in New York. I couldn't really understand why.
On her days off, Annie studied French at an adult education program. French, not typing. When I started first grade, Annie, who by then looked like Naomi Campbell, found a job as governess with a wealthy family. When those children outgrew her, bidding wars started. Annie traveled the world with prominent families. She sailed on yachts and rode in -limousines.
She sent me postcards.
When I see photo retrospectives of segregation - usually public water fountains or restrooms - I remember how Annie quietly, with great dignity, led me by the hand to the back of the bus, where it was cooler.
1952: My parents returned to North Carolina to "escape the city." After an illness, my mother needed help with heavy cleaning. A friend recommended Leroy.
Leroy's day job was dietitian's assistant at a VA hospital. As a federal employee, he received an excellent salary and benefits, traded his Oldsmobile every two years and owned a lovely home in the black neighborhood. Leroy liked to talk as he worked. He had great ambitions for his adopted children; he advised me to maximize my own potential. He called my mother ma'am but scolded me for not cleaning up my room.
Leroy would enter and leave our house by the basement door. He ate his sandwich in the basement, too, although we invited him upstairs.
Leroy worked for my mother at least 30 years. He did everything from picking me up at the airport (worth a few stares in the 1960s) to plumbing repairs to making bank deposits (a few more stares).
After my father died, my mother sold the house and moved into a senior facility, where Leroy continued to do her errands. Before the tag sale, to express my gratitude I invited Leroy to come by and take whatever he -wanted. I would have given him the silver. He selected some of my father's tools from the basement workbench - nothing from upstairs.
My mother put Leroy on her list of -pallbearers. Sadly, he died first. But I knew this was the one request he would not fulfill.
1958: During college, I worked summer jobs in New York City. Before senior year, I took a course at NYU in order to graduate from Duke a semester early. I needed a class to fit my schedule. "Race Relations" sounded -interesting. A very angry black professor taught the seminar. We were about eight: two nuns, several Asian students and me. At the first class, the professor read our names and home states.
"Well, Miss B," he sneered. "How many slaves did your great-granddaddy keep?"
I will never forget that moment.
2006: The South I returned to after 47 years had changed, mostly for the better. I lived alone in an older apartment development in western North Carolina. People were friendly. The mailman knew my name. In the exercise room I talked to a black neighbor about politics, the weather, our grandchildren. My ears perked up when she said that her son had a degree in computer science. Since Ken also lived in the development I asked if he might be available for meltdowns. Definitely, she said.
Ken saved me, time and again. I'd call, day or night, and he'd run over. He accepted money reluctantly and donated most of it to his church. When my hard drive died he took the tower apart and spread himself and the parts on the floor to install a new one.
While he was working (and I was watching), I heard a faint knock on the screen door. My friendly mailman, also black, peered in. "Everything all right?" he whispered.
The implication left me confused, then speechless.
2008: Three days after moving to Southern Pines, I landed in FirstHealth Moore Regional Hospital with a hot appendix. I was processed through the emergency department and put in a room - groggy, frightened and in pain.
Soon, through the door walked a tall handsome black man -wearing a white coat.
Before approaching, he paused for a moment and smiled. "Hello, Ms. Salomon, I'm your surgeon. We'll be taking you to the operating room shortly."
Tears of joy welled up in my eyes. Finally. Here. Now. Yes!
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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