Sunday, August 09, 2009

Convictions

I recently posted about the loss of my grandma. Since then, I've been torn by more than the loss of her. I feel guilt. Not just the guilt of not having gone to see her in recent years. I should have added more to a post in her memory than just the facts of her passing. I should go back and include cherished memories of Grandma. More about who she was as a person. But I don't know what to say.

Unlike my dad's mom, Grandma didn't help me with my knitting or crocheting. She never tried to teach me to quilt, I don't think she ever sewed in her life. She wasn't much of a baker, her cookies were always burnt. She once forgot to include the seasoning packet in the Thanksgiving Stove Top.

I loved my grandma (and I know she loved me and the rest of her grandchildren dearly) but really, she just didn't do much. She didn't have hobbies, she didn't collect anything, she read nothing more than newspapers and women's magazines...she had no passions. Her life was basically taking care of her men--Delbert Heniser (42 1/2 years), Caroll Corn (10 years), Robert Lackie (11 years)--serial husbands who each died of heart attacks.

I enjoy the stories my mom tells of growing up with Grandma. Except this one-

We were going in to Meijers (probably back in the 50's?) when Mom spotted a blond white woman coming out of the store, arm in arm with a very black man. With a sharp intake of breath, Grandma whispered (always carefully aware of What would people think?), "Look at them! I don't know how she stands the smell!"
In her defense, she'd never actually met any people of color. Later, on one of their yearly sojourns as Florida snowbirds, my grandparents met a "black couple we really liked" and this was such news the whole family heard about it.

Of course, my mom was raised in that environment. And she married my dad, also racist, though he would probably insist he isn't. And later, my first stepfather, who loudly announced we were MOVING NOW! when he spotted black people around the house next door (they were contractors for the white couple who purchased it).

When I was 16 or 17, I attended night classes. One snowy night when my mom came to pick me up, I asked if we could drive a friend home since he didn't have a ride and it was on our way. She agreed and I went back inside to get him. I introduced Mom and Salah (a student from Libya) as he got in the car. After we dropped him off, Mom hissed, "Why can't you stick with your own kind?" My own kind? What do you mean...he's human.

There. Some family history, all leading up to this...

This is my stepfather, Raymond B. Randolph Jr. and my mom.
They dated in secret for quite some time before he was introduced to the family (her parents, my brothers and I) as her "boyfriend"--she was afraid of our reactions.

my stepfather and my mom

This is another picture of Ray.

Ray's mug shot

Yes, it's a mug shot.

From the Civil Rights Digital Library-
Raymond B. Randolph Jr. was a twenty-one year old student at Virginia Union University when he was arrested in Jackson, Mississippi for his participation in a Freedom Ride. As part of the Freedom Ride Randolph and five others took a Trailways bus from Nashville, Tennessee, via Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi where they were arrested (added note: Ray was sent to Mississippi State Penitentiary/Parchman Farm) on 7 June 1961.


But that wasn't the first time Ray was arrested. On February 22, 1960, he was one of the "Richmond 34", a group of Virginia Union University students who staged a protest against racial segregation at the Richmond Room, the prestigious restaurant at Thalhimers department store (scroll down to Downtown Richmond Store, 2nd paragraph).

From my mother:
It was illegal for a white person to sit next to a person of color. They had to wait until the restaurant was empty before they went in and sat down--in every other seat. The store vice president called the police and had them arrested for trespassing. They had very effectively shut down his business.
This may not be exactly how things went down. I've never heard about any of this directly from Ray, he doesn't really talk about it. Even my mom wasn't aware until they were contacted for permission to include him in the book Freedom Riders, by Raymond Arsenault.

Ray's case went all the way to the Supreme Court of Appeals. See To Sit or Not to Sit: The Supreme Court of the United States and the Civil Rights Movement in the Upper South
(Thalimers Thirty Four, page 4/148)

Check out the very last name on the list of the 34, in this 2008 cover story in Style Weekly, The Barriers They Broke, by Raymond Pierre Hylton.

Also from The Barriers They Broke:
LaVerne Byrd Smith, a longtime Richmond schoolteacher, was organizing a community dance in 1960 when more than 200 Virginia Union University students decided to march from campus to participate in a lunch counter sit-in at Thalhimers downtown. A schoolteacher who was also president of the graduate chapter Alpha Kappa Alpha, the oldest African-American sorority in the country, she decided that the funds raised for the dance, to be held at the Mosque, would be better used to help bail out the 34 students arrested in the protest.

Ray has been invited, as an honoree, to attend a Virginia Union University program commemorating the 50
th anniversary of the Richmond 34 on February 22, 2010.
I am so proud of this wonderful man--my dad--who is also my greatest cheerleader in life.
I'd like to think having Ray in our lives changed Grandma. I know she loved him very much.

7 comments:

beth pulsipher said...

Your Dad is an American Hero. His strong belief in equality has played an integral part of history, and I'm so glad he's finally being honored properly. Congratulations to him!(and thank you for sharing his story - what a pleasure to read!)

:) b

Holly Bee said...

I'm proud of you (YOU) for so many things that you do Shannon and I'm glad to see that your Dad is being honored.

Lot's of love,
Holly

Linda said...

What an honor for your Dad! And your you to have such a wonderful man in your life.

shannwa said...

What a wonderful honor for what sounds like a truly wonderful man. He definitely has the power of his convictions. He stood up for what he believed in showed that it can/and does make a difference. I'm so happy to hear that he's being honored. :)

WonderWhyGal said...

Thank you for sharing! You have brought his part in the civil rights movement to our attention. Most of us go through life forgetting about the people who paved the way for us to have the freedom we have today and those people aren't always the famous and outspoken people, they are everyday people.

Anonymous said...

Just stumbled onto your blog, and started at this post. Kudos to you for loving a woman who may have not shared your values, and for being honest about her, and her life. Very well put and moving.

Zena Suri Alpacas said...

What a story and how fortunate all of you are. Love should never know color barriers. How wonderful that your Dad (for he doesn't sound like a step-dad) is finally being recognized for his actions. Courage, altruism and determination all in one person-- your Mom found a good man. And it's not just the wonderful story you wrote that tells me that, it's that you needed to tell it.