“The type of things my parents experienced, the type of racism was very interesting… it’s something my mother’s never really wanted to talk about.”
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Transcript for Didn’t Want Us To Grow Up Thinking the World Was Terrible
I grew up in Means Manor in Gary Indiana. The contractor, Andrew Means, was a well-known person in the city. He was a black guy, very successful. And he built probably three different neighborhoods. And they adjoined the neighborhood that I lived in. There were maybe three families that weren’t black families. And every family had a bunch of kids and we all played with each other. And for me it was your typical neighborhood in the United States.
I think the community flourished because everyone there was there under the same circumstances. A lot of the families that came, that lived in my neighborhood, their parents came from the South and they were there primarily because of the steel mills, because those were guaranteed jobs, that was guaranteed income.
Gary was unique when it was first founded. It was segregated. I don’t think there was very much black population there.
My dad came to Gary from Kentucky—he was 4—and my mother was eight when she came from Alabama. My parents actually met each other, my mother was in Kindergarten and my father was a senior in high school. That’s how small Gary was, that’s how concentrated the black population was in Gary. They lived in that one section of Gary where black people were allowed to live.
My dad went to the military when he was 17, he was a noncommissioned officer, he didn’t get a commission because there weren’t black commissioned officers. He actually met someone in Seattle during training that everyone called a white version of my dad that, believe it or not, turned out to be his brother, that my father found out when he was 60. And when his natural father was on his death bed and said he wanted to meet my dad, my father said he wasn’t interested because he knew my father existed the whole time. And I think that’s something that kind of stayed with him and made my dad the kind of dad he was. He absolutely cherished us because no one cherished him. He was raised by his aunt here in Gary.
My grandfather on my mother’s side was half black and half white, and he married a black woman, so that’s very interesting in Tuscaloosa, Alabama in the ‘20s and the ‘30s. And my grandfather was allegedly killed by a Klan member, never’s been proved, but that’s the prevailing story. And it had a lot to do with him fighting to defend his wife, my grandmother. I guess someone either said something or did something or made a comment about the children. And it’s something my mother’s never really wanted to talk about, she’s not comfortable talking about it.
The type of things my parents experienced, the type of racism was very interesting. My father came out of the military didn’t even have the right to vote. He wanted to work in the post office in Gary, they didn’t hire blacks. My mother worked for a Jewish doctor, like babysitting their children and helping them with their homework, and she had to take a bus from his house to where she was living with her aunt, and she had to have something saying, I was working with Doctor _____ for whatever reason, whatever they described her duty as. When she travelled to Florida with him, she had to have a document stating she was there with him, so, say, if he told her to go get some milk or whatever, if she was stopped or if she was questioned, she had a document to show why she was where she was.
But my parents would talk about how they felt, how proud they felt, they felt better about themselves when Gary, which at that time was considered a major metropolitan city, elected a black mayor. It was a huge deal in the black community. And my father, he probably always had a chip on his shoulder, but it wasn’t until we were adults when he started sharing his life experiences—my mother as well—and I honestly think it’s because they didn’t want us to grow up thinking the world was a terrible place because, all in all, it is a good place.