THE GRACE OF SILENCE was a most touching , interesting, thought-provoking, well-written story. I even shed a few tears on a page or two as I learned truths which should have been part of my American History classes in grade school, high school and college. One of the subjects that shocked me and tore at my soul was the viewpoint of Aunt Jemima. As a young child in the late 40s and early 50s, I was filled with excitement when Aunt Jemima was at the grocery store. Back then I looked at her the way you’d look at a Miss America or an American Idol winner. I was in awe of Aunt Jemima as she gave me pancakes and syrup. I thought she was the world’s best cook and the most happy woman in the entire world. I felt wonderful when she smiled at me and I remember a twinkle in her eyes. It was as though she was my real Aunt. Never in my wildest dreams did I connect her to slavery.
I could relate a bit to the racist experiences throughout your story. When I was 10, my parents moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, a town with people primarily of Dutch descent who looked down on people who were not like them. I was the only kid in my class with a Hungarian mother and as I grew up I hid the fact that she was born in Hungary because of the phrase regularly expressed by both adults and kids in my environment, “If you ain‘t Dutch, you ain‘t much.” It’s my belief my childhood experiences are the reason I could relate to Dr. Martin Luther King. In 1964, as a “white” mother of a “white” baby, I marched for Dr. King in Michigan as some of my peers and relatives called me as a “communist” for doing so.
I appreciated your reference to Langston Hughes as well as the Armstrong placard, “If you think education is expensive, try ignorance” and various quotes of your father’s which show depth of thought that my father also had about life.
Your father being in the war, reminded me of my father who had been in World War II, also. He was Merchant Marine for the Holland America Line, activated to serve in the war by the Dutch Government in exile. As a result Dad made trips each month from London to the “US of A” (as he always referred to our country the way your Dad did) and carried US troops to the Mediterranean and Pacific theatres. Meeting my Mom in New Jersey, he had many stories to tell me when I interviewed him and my mother in the 80s and 90s. One story that sticks forever with me is his shock at the way people in the “US of A” treated “Negroes.” When Dad was in New Orleans and saw that he had priority just because of the color of his skin, my Dad attempted to sit in the back of the bus. He was stopped from doing that. When our “white” neighborhood panicked in the 60s because a black businessman and his wife moved in three doors down, my father apologized to the couple for the reaction, letting them know, that he welcomed them. My Dad’s sensitivity to racism extended to other groups. For instance, my Dad never got over the “Concentration Camps” as he always called the Japanese internment camps during the war.
Sadly, my children were never interested in my father’s story, but I felt his experiences and viewpoints were important for my children and grandchildren to know, therefore I wrote his story for them, titled ONE ALLIED SAILOR. It can be found through www.bookartcorner.com….I think it links directly to Amazon.com.
Thank you for a great American story that needs to be broadly known. It is despicable to me that so much of what occurred in Birmingham in the 1940s could have been ignored by the press, by politicians, by education. And for the 40s White House to have the reasons it gave for recruitment into the war…..well, I could just scream.
Maybe if your father’s story was made into a movie, we could wake up the people of the “US of A” to more of the truth.
Carol Ann Lindsay
Michele Norris is the host of NPR’s All Things Considered and the author of The Grace of Silence.