Hitting Home

“I was starting to grow up and see things the way my parents were seeing them.”

Transcript for Hitting Home

The school I went to in Detroit was what they say now was integrated. When I came here to Gary, there was an East Pulaski and a West Pulaski. East Pulaski was for my people, and West Pulaski was for other people. That’s the way it was. One of the buildings was a cooking class room. We from East Pulaski would go to our cooking class, and make lunch for the children at West Pulaski and East Pulaski. We did the cooking for both. I don’t know if you realize, I don’t know if you realize, the shocker to a child of 11 years old, almost realizing that you’re not accepted because of the color, and that was hard.

Roosevelt was an entirely black school. I think there were two or three white students there because their parents owned property in the area. Froebel was the only integrated school in the area. Emerson had a few black students, but that was because they lived in the area. And my mother had to go to Horace Mann school in order to get me transferred from Roosevelt to Froebel.

I read a lot. I’m what they would have called a nerd at the time. And I wanted to take mechanical drawing. They would not let me take that. And I was so upset. They did not want the girls to participate in things. They steered us to the cooking class, sewing class, and to a typist class.

There is one thing that we all disliked: we were not allowed to go to swimming classes until Fridays. After we were supposed to take those swimming classes, they would drain the pool. When my mother found out, I thought for sure I was going to get kicked out of the school. I don’t know what she said, what she did, or what she had to do, but I was never allowed to go swimming, and they didn’t even put that on my schedule. I was glad because I didn’t feel like it was right because my first thing is, “Why do I have to go in there after they’ve been in there and it’s all dirty?”

We started a club and we called it Fro-Ro, which was Froebel Roosevelt. We would get together, and have dances and sit around, even do our homework together. When we start doing our homework together, that’s when we found out that the books Roosevelt had were almost five years older than what we had. The information that we had in our history books, even our math books, our literature, all of that was totally different from what they had. Why didn’t they have the same information available to them that we had? And that’s when it really started hitting home about how things were. I was starting to grow up and starting to see things the way my parents were seeing them. And I started to realize how much of a sacrifice they were making. They did a lot of things that were quiet. They did not come, they didn’t do the marching, and all this stuff that everybody else is doing. They did whatever they had to do to let them know that it wasn’t acceptable. They did it in a very quiet way. It was almost like they did not want us to see the hardship they were having to make it possible for us to get a very good education.

Hold a Conversation

In addition to the questions below, please see How to use the questions for reflection.

Clarifying Questions

  • What is the distinction the storyteller draws between East and West Pulaski?
  • Using the storyteller’s clues, why does her mother transfer her from Roosevelt to Froebel?
  • Which experiences does the storyteller describe at Froebel? How does she feel about them?
  • What does the storyteller discover from her peers at Roosevelt?
  • What do you think she means when she says “it really started hitting home?”
  • Why does she mention the parent’s working, “quietly”? What does she mean by quiet?

Interpretive Questions

  • Do you think this was a good decision on the part of the parents, their “quiet” work? Why/not?
  • What happens when we shelter young people from hardship?
  • How would you describe the way the storyteller feels about her past? 
  • Does that make sense to you?

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