Skip to main content

Harper Lee only had one book in her; thankfully it was To Kill A Mockingbird. It was originally published in 1960, and I received my first copy that year on my thirteenth birthday.  My radical, black sheep, outcast aunt gave it to me.  She inscribed it:

Jo, this will shake something loose.  Whatever falls out, use it.  Ronnie

Follow me behind Mrs. Cleaver's brooch.

Imagine my life in late 1950/early 1960: northern New Jersey, WASP town, upper-middle class, not a single person of color in my school until tenth grade - and then only one African-American. There were a few Jewish people in town; but they didn't circulate in my parents' sphere so I knew nothing of their lives.  And they were indisputably "white."  We were thoroughly cocooned and protected. There was no poverty, no ugliness, no material want.   We collected funds for the church's missionaries who worked in some far away country where there was terrible poverty and children went to bed hungry.  We knew that happened; it just happened very far away.  

This makes us sound very naive, and we were.  We didn't have 24 hour news; we had 15 minutes of Walter Cronkite and HE never mentioned anything as crude as race.  My father and I read the newspaper together and he even took me to political meetings, but my parents would never discuss anything ugly in front of their children.  My life was was mostly horses, Girl Scouts, the French horn, and trying to convince everyone that girls should be allowed to wear pants to school.      

Then I read ...Mockingbird  at thirteen, already restless but not knowing why, already in trouble because "She's such a tomboy!  Can't she ever act like a little lady?"  This combination proved fatal to my parents' peace.  I read the book in one sitting and then raced downstairs to confront them with outrage and incredulity and pain.  Was it true?  This happened to people in the USA?  They reluctantly admitted that it could be true, although they had no personal experience of life in the South.  They didn't think it was ongoing.  The book was surely not about current times; that was the Depression when things were bad.  I walked around in a rage for a few days and then went to the library.

There I found books to educate my white bread mind.  There I found Frederick Douglas, W. E. B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston - and later James Baldwin, Maya Angelou, Toni Cade Bambara.  The librarian must have thought me demented.  I didn't understand half of what I read; I had no context.  But I kept reading.

The following summer I was allowed to visit my cousin whose husband was stationed at Camp Lejune, NC.  I got off the train in Rocky Mount, saw the 'Colored' bathroom and the 'Colored' drinking fountain, and I wept.  Then I talked to all the wrong people, asked all the wrong questions, and after only two days I was put back on the train and told I needed to learn how to "act properly--there are some things we just don't do."

Eventually my life expanded.  That was a great decade for expanding.  War protests, civil rights marches, the feminist movement (yippy for pants in school!); meeting so many people so different from me--it was very exciting.  Harper Lee's one-and-only book started it all - was my wake up call, lightning strike, Road to Damascus Moment all in one.  It was life changing.  Would I have changed without ...Mockingbird?  Perhaps, change was part of the times and I was aware and curious - just enough to be restless.  But I am not so sure what would have been the extent of change--you see my sister, three years older than me, who has never read anything more controversial than "Vogue," is socially/politically a dead ringer for Ann Romney.  And I am politically/socially a dead ringer for my beloved Aunt Ronnie - who went to jail for her beliefs - and who, at the age of 86, still finds it hard to "act properly" in the face of injustice.  

I did not become the person my parents (particularly my mother) would have wanted, for which I am eternally grateful to Harper Lee.

3:09 PM PT: Thank you to all who have commented and rec'd my diary.  What fantastic, thoughtful comments.  I am awed that you have all taken the time to read and comment.  This was my first diary and I am thrilled by the response.  

Happy New Year!

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:00 AM PST.

Also republished by Community Spotlight.

EMAIL TO A FRIEND X
Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags

?

More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

  •  Most Awesome Nana, this is a most awesome diary! (26+ / 0-)

    Honestly, I was holding my breath as I was reading along.  I've seldom read a diary that described a life change as far-reaching as yours.

    Thank you for this contribution. Your account of the way you were perceived by parents and other relatives is really eye-opening.  To people who mostly grew up in the South, as I did, the idea that people up north didn't know about the realities of segregation is a revelation.

    It's wonderful that Mockingbird changed your life.  Your Aunt Ronnie sounds like a real mover and shaker! Perhaps you'll write a diary about her one day.  :)

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:13:48 AM PST

  •  PG Wodehouse: The Golf Omnibus (6+ / 0-)

    Its a collection of short stories. I read it about 10 yeatrs ago, when I retired.
    He made golf sound so jolly I decided to try it. So I did and have been golfing ever since.
    Thanks Peej!!

    Great diary!

    Happy just to be alive

    by exlrrp on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:17:39 AM PST

    •  Thanks. I like Wodehouse but know nothing (6+ / 0-)

      about golf.  "A good walk spoiled." :)

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:29:42 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  exlrrp, I'm going to hit you up for a diary on (7+ / 0-)

      that--to change from a non-exerciser to an exerciser is a pretty significant life change.

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 06:06:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Actually I'm a gym rat (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Monsieur Georges

        I'll be glad to do a diary on anything (Wodehouse!?) but I have never really been a non exerciser so there was not a significant change---just more stuff to do. I'm also an avid skier and occasional SCUBA diver. (former SCUBA instructor)
        I swim a half mile 3 days a week, among other things . I used to swim 3 miles a week before my heart attack 4 years ago. I have a 3.5 mile loop through the forest behind my house I try and do 3 times a week. I have aerobic exercise equipment that my wife mostly uses.
        Ive sort of always tried to stay physically fit. I ran many miles in the 70s and 80s, then switched to swimming to save my knees.
        I also must mention I am a practiced dancer, ballroom, swing, salsa, zydeco.
        So staying fit is hardly a new experience.
        I love golfing tho, mainly for the social activity---gives something for old men to do together. Ive played all over now, was just in SC in October playing with military pals.

        One of my hobbies is pretending to be rich. Golfing is great for that (skiing too!)
        If you wnt me to do a diary, kosmail me. I already do two a week for Morning Open Thread and one a month for SMHRB but I'll try and squeeze one in.

        Happy just to be alive

        by exlrrp on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 03:46:26 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

  •  Mockingbird hit me in a very different way (14+ / 0-)

    I first read it when I was 12 (this was in the mid 90's).  It's interesting that while you connected with scout, the character that stood out most to me was Atticus.  It was his character and moral standing that I wanted most to shape my adult life after.

    I always felt if I could be half as sophisticated as Atticus then I was on the right path.

    In many ways I felt as if I was Boo, but strived to be Atticus.

    95% of all life forms that once existed on earth are now extinct. It is only a matter of time until the Republicans follow suit.

    by PRRedlin on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 06:09:09 AM PST

  •  My parents were both from North Carolina (11+ / 0-)

    I had the typical 99%-white, northern, suburban upbringing. I honestly did not meet a person that I knew was Jewish until college. We visited my maternal grandparents in the mid-sixties. We happened upon a white-power rally in a strip mall. My parents mocked it and we drove on to the next grocery store. A six year old doesn't think too deeply about such things.

    I saw the film version long before Harper Lee's magnum opus was added to my lifetime reading list. The book has since become my favorite novel, just as the movie has been my favorite film. Themes of child innocence shattered and coming-of-age are some of my favorites.

  •  Harper Lee was as a lesbian, FWTW. (6+ / 0-)

    Funny how you find out stuff like this about your fave authors decades after you read their books with admiration.

    "Mistress of the Topaz" is now available in paperback! Link here: http://www.double-dragon-ebooks.com/single.php?ISBN=1-55404-900-8

    by Kimball Cross on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 06:34:07 AM PST

  •  I grew up in Northern California (11+ / 0-)

    Visited the South for the first time when I was 16.  My friend Madison's dad was a cruise ship captain, and we were invited to take a Bahamian cruise for free.  On the way, Madison and I stopped in Atlanta for his cousin's wedding.  The first full day we were there, we were taken to Stone Mountain.  Quite an introduction from a kid whose ancestors fought on the Union side.  

    But the first time I ever heard the n-word was in Philadelphia.  I'm not saying there wasn't racism where I was raised, just that it was expressed more subtly.  Philadelphia is not a subtle place and the racial tension when I arrived, at the height of the Rizzo charter change election, was as thick as dense fog.

    Over the years, the tension has receded considerably, but we are still far from a post-racial society here.

    Ancora Impara--Michelangelo

    by aravir on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 06:52:29 AM PST

    •  I have been trying to remember when I first (7+ / 0-)

      heard the n-word and it just won't come back to me.  Not from my parents or grandparents, of that I am sure.  They were far too polite and straight-laced.  I didn't hear it on the street as a child.  

      Agree with you that we are not post-racial.  But we have come a long way.  Just have a long way to go.

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:07:58 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  True, Aravir, we are not post-racial but I'm sure (6+ / 0-)

      we can agree that things are better than they were.  I mean, even on TV black people and white people are shown dating each other!  Unthinkable when I was growing up in the 1950s.

      I cheer for each victory:  the fact that in the Commonwealth of Virginia--the scene of "massive resistance" to school integration (that happened before I arrived here)--we have interracial couples living perfectly happily on my street and around the corner.  No one gives it a second thought.

      Now if Virginia could ever get rid of its downstate kooks and I could exchange greetings with a gay or lesbian couple across the way while walking my dog, that will be a reason to cheer too.  :)

      "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

      by Diana in NoVa on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:12:22 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  One of the things I found hardest to understand (6+ / 0-)

        was why Ewell made such a stink about Mayella kissing a black man.  My mother became tongue-tied trying to explain that.  (Full disclosure - she was lousy at explaining ANYTHING about sex!)

        "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

        by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:27:51 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Aside from the taboo (0+ / 0-)

          in that time and place, the book makes a single suggestion that there has been some sexual molestation going on:  Tom Robinson testifies that she said she'd never kissed a man before; "what her pa do to her don't count."

          Both the book and movie do a good job of showing Mayella's impossible situation: if she tells the truth, she'll just get more beatings, maybe the last, fatal one.  And chances are no one would even know it had happened until much later: the racism of the community is highlighted by the fact that the Ewells are such a despised, outcast family but the jury brings in a 'guilty' verdict despite that.

          •  Thank you for your insight. (0+ / 0-)

            I did not understand that reference until I was much older (the cocoon was thick).  Now I think that Harper Lee might have been hinting at a personal experience.  She certainly seemed damaged as a young woman.  I have not found any references for that assumption.

            Mayella is such a sad character.  So hopeless and ignorant.  Of course, sad as she is, she's white.  That ties in with:

            the racism of the community is highlighted by the fact that the Ewells are such a despised, outcast family but the jury brings in a 'guilty' verdict despite that.
            I have always despised Bob Ewell.  I can manage to summon some pity for Mayella, but Ewell is beyond redemption.      

            There are so many layers to the book.  Sick old people, single 'old maids,' the mentally ill, even rabid dogs have something to say.  

            "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

            by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 07:18:56 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

  •  And no doubt grateful as well ... (4+ / 0-)
    I did not become the person my parents (particularly my mother) would have wanted, for which I am eternally grateful to Harper Lee.
    ... to your Aunt Ronnie!

    Your description of your northern NJ town sounds like it could be my (former) town of Mountain Lakes.  Was it?

    "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

    by JBL55 on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:32:28 AM PST

    •  Yes! Aunt Ronnie was a huge influence. She was (4+ / 0-)

      always in trouble with my parents for involving me in her political stunts.   I love her dearly.  I still measure myself against her.  

      (Insert small world cliche ;0) Mountain Lakes is where my grandparents lived.  I grew up in Rutherford.  

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:41:31 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's where I was for Hands Across America :-) (4+ / 0-)

        A co-worker lived in Rutherford and invited me to join her and her family.  Classic NJ town: old houses, big trees with roots pushing up the slate sidewalks ...

        I always aspired to be the kind of aunt yours was, and every now and then I get a tiny bit of feed back that I succeeded on some small level.

        I still measure myself against her.
        How does Ronnie feel about that?

        "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

        by JBL55 on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:58:16 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Wow! Slate sidewalks and skinned knees from (6+ / 0-)

          roller-skating.  I always liked the feel of skates on slate.  And climbing the old sycamores that line the streets.  It was a pretty town.  Different world.

          Aunt Ronnie loves being an aunt but is not too keen on being a role model.  She claims it inhibited her and that we should all try to be ourselves.  But she does love to see people break out of their cocoons and is still a Big Sister.  I never noticed any inhibitions.  Just think she is embarrassed if we fawn.  

          "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

          by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 08:09:59 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  :-) (3+ / 0-)

            I started my life in Montclair, where my sister and I walked to Watchung School together.  We took turns running ahead and writing a message w/a stone on the slate sidewalk for the other to read when she got there.

            Aunt Ronnie loves being an aunt but is not too keen on being a role model.  She claims it inhibited her and that we should all try to be ourselves.
            But of course.  What else could one expect from such a great aunt?

            "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

            by JBL55 on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:50:11 AM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  Montclair was a lovely place. Haven't been there (2+ / 0-)
              Recommended by:
              Monsieur Georges, JBL55

              in years.  Has it changed much, do you know?

              One of the things I regretted my children never having was slate sidewalks.  Slate + chalk = epic art!

              I must take Aunt Ronnie out to lunch this weekend.  It has been a couple of weeks since I last saw her and all this discussion makes me miss her.   I would pass along everyone's kind words but she would probably pooh-pooh the sentiment.  And tell us to get on a picket line!

              "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

              by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 11:38:33 AM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  I don't often return to Montclair. (0+ / 0-)

                However, I just heard a discussion about book stores on Bob Edwards' weekend radio show on NPR and Watchung Books was the one cited by one of the participants as among his very favorite book stores.

                When I have been there, it has seemed to me much of what was good about Montclair is still valued for the most part, and the arts scene seems to be thriving.  

                Stephen Colbert lives in Montclair, so that says something.  Nickel says he lives on Upper Mountain Avenue!

                "The fears of one class of men are not the measure of the rights of another." ~ George Bancroft (1800-1891)

                by JBL55 on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 12:00:23 PM PST

                [ Parent ]

                •  Hard to believe, but growing up in Rutherford, (0+ / 0-)

                  we thought Montclair was rich and snobby!  It was the place you moved to when you got promoted.  Upper-class- twit aspirations.  ;)  

                  "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

                  by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 01:26:23 PM PST

                  [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful diary about one of my own favourite (7+ / 0-)

    books--and films.  And cheers to your Aunt Ronnnie for being such a wonderful, subversive influence!

    My straightlaced (cough) Irish Catholic mother was my subversive influence.  She did the required things during my earliest years, but always taught me to think for myself.  It got me into more than a little trouble along the way, for which I am eternally grateful.

    ;-)
    Marti

    We cannot call ourselves a civilised society if we refuse to protect the weakest among us.

    by The Marti on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:38:14 AM PST

    •  Thank you, Marti. I am enjoying the comments. (4+ / 0-)

      Afraid Aunt Ronnie doesn't cheer us very much.  She thinks we spend too much time sitting on our duffs writing about change when we should be out in the streets making it happen.

      Not enough action in our activism for her.

      Sounds like your mom and my aunt would have been friends.  

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:48:50 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  What a lovely thing to say! My mother had quite a (4+ / 0-)

        few rowdy, activated friends.  Her friends ran the gamut from the very sedate to the wildly exotic, and I took that as a very good example.  

        You are too right about our activism.  There are days when I want to go shopping for pitchforks, tar and feathers.  And then I remember that all activism, like all politics, is local.

        One must start somewhere!

        Marti

        We cannot call ourselves a civilised society if we refuse to protect the weakest among us.

        by The Marti on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 08:30:58 AM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Your mother really sounds like Aunt Ronnie! (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          Monsieur Georges

          You must miss her very much.

          Some of my aunt's friends - literally - scared my mother!  

          I'm with you on the pitchforks - and activism being local.  We can only change what we can touch.

          "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

          by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 11:45:15 AM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  I must run off for a time. The grandkids are (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Aunt Pat, Monsieur Georges

    here and want to go snowshoeing.

    Promise to come back and catch up on the comments.

    Thank you everyone!  

    "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

    by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 08:24:09 AM PST

  •  I have given "Mockingbird" to every (6+ / 0-)

    one of our nieces and nephews, about the time they were 13 years old.  I have had mixed results.

    Two of the nieces went right back to "Seventeen Magazine" and the Twilight series.

    One nephew found himself obsessed with Ayn Rand.

    One niece, however, went on to read Chomsky, Angelou, Zinn, etc.  She graduated from college last year.  She was offered a good job at the Chevron Corporation, and turned it down -- said she couldn't imagine herself working for such a company.   Yay!  She just recently got a job at a progressive firm -- I'm not really sure what they do, exactly, as she will just be starting in January.  She assures me that they are very progressive, and she's proud to be associated with them.  Maybe Harper Lee had a little something to do with that.

    I'm so proud of her!

    Stand Up! Keep Fighting! Paul Wellstone

    by RuralLiberal on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:54:16 AM PST

  •  Are you sure on this? (3+ / 0-)
    There were a few Jewish people in town; but they didn't circulate in my parents' sphere so I knew nothing of their lives.  And they were indisputably "white."
    In that time period, maybe.

    But go back a decade before and Jewish assimilation into the white mainstream was a very very new thing.

    Just because things looked that way doesn't mean that's the way they were.

    Gay politician and activist Harvey Milk grew up in a similar environment in New York and in his biography he talked about some of the prejudice and bigotry that he faced in schools and how isolated his family was from the mainstream of the rest of the community.

    I'll always believe that's why Milk didn't come out of the closet until the post-Stonewall period; maybe he wasn't openly gay but he was "openly Jewish" and he witnessed and felt the bigotry on that count.

    The interesting thing, for me, about reading books like TKAM and some of the black authors that you name is that having been born and raised after 1964, racism has never seemed so stulifying for me as it was depicted in Lee, Angelou, Baldwin, etc.

    •  "Milk" didn't talk abt. it in his biography (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges

      but the bigotry (often silent) that his family went through was brought up.

    •  It sounds horrible, but I think the Jewish people (6+ / 0-)

      in my town had enough money to be considered "white."   They would still stay to themselves, but they were white.  Then I cannot remember my parents making nasty comments about anyone so my memory could be distorted.  

      LGBT people simply did not exist.  They were invisible and no one ever, ever talked about it.  

      Racism is more subtle now and I am not comfortable with that.  It is a copout.   Attitudes have changed but not enough.  You are lucky you were born after 1964.  My son-in-law, who is black, tells me things that happen to him (he is an executive and drives a Mercedes - and still gets stopped for "driving while black"); I find even the small gestures to be offensive.  He is not as offended as I, partly because, as he says, he has had to learn to cope.  I cannot imagine how awful it must have been to be black in America in the first half of the 20th century.   I was hit and fire-hosed just for being with blacks; but at least that was something I chose to do.  Not something that was a fact of my life.

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 12:29:22 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  I grew up with Japanese people in the (0+ / 0-)

      "white" category. Why? Because I had a Japanese friend in first grade. Not that I intellectualized it at all or had the term "white" to refer to myself at this young age. That this was only a decade after Pearl Harbor is something I never attended to till I was an adult. I had no concept of Mariko being "other" in any bad way. She was part of the group of girls who played together at recess, just had this nifty extra thing about her that was way cool. Japanese. Didn't really know about that, but we all liked Mariko.

      Jewish kids were also unnoticeable to me. I remember hearing the word "Jewish" for the first time when one of the kids said that no, not all Jewish people had black hair, because so-and-so was Jewish and she was blond. Again, a slightly exotic touch, but no negatives associated.

      We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
      Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

      by pixxer on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 04:20:52 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

      •  Only a decade after Pearl Harbor? Where did you (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pixxer, Monsieur Georges, Chitown Kev

        grow up?  Because that was a very open minded place if you heard nothing negative about the Japanese.  Even I in my oblivion knew many negative things about the war.  

        "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

        by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:12:02 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  Diplomatic Washington. My Dad was a prisoner (3+ / 0-)

          (civilian) of the Japanese in the Philippines, but I never heard him utter a single word against them as I grew up. He knew better than to raise me with that animus.  Remarkable man, really. I grew up in the DC suburbs - northwest, in Maryland. My Dad was an economist and worked in government and international circles. It was a remarkable way to grow up, something I didn't really have a perspective on till I was quite well past the adulthood mark.

          We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
          Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

          by pixxer on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:15:27 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

          •  Nice! Your dad sounds extremely tolerant. (2+ / 0-)
            Recommended by:
            Monsieur Georges, pixxer

            You were very lucky.

            "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

            by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:37:23 PM PST

            [ Parent ]

            •  He was good liberal - Stevenson democrat. (3+ / 0-)

              Both my parents were. Reviled Nixon, cheered Kennedy's election.

              Within a couple miles of our house - near enough that we shared a junior high school, but not near enough for elementary school - was a desperately poor black enclave. My Dad was part of a group from our church (Unitarian) who spent evenings taking the kids from that neighborhood on outings to expose them to other parts of the world. I remember Dad's stunned description of one small boy, brought to the National Institutes of Health (a couple miles from both the child's and my houses). He was so impressed he said that when he grew up, he wanted to be a janitor there. Hit my Dad like a ton of bricks.

              Later - many years later, when my younger sister was in medical school - I pointed out to my Dad that at the same time, his daughters would have aspired to being nurses there. At every level of opportunity and privilege, it is possible to have blinders placed on your aspirations. Nevertheless, some limitations are more grotesque than others.

              We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
              Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

              by pixxer on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 09:44:05 PM PST

              [ Parent ]

              •  Pixxer, thank you for such thoughtful commentary. (2+ / 0-)
                Recommended by:
                pixxer, ladybug53
                At every level of opportunity and privilege, it is possible to have blinders placed on your aspirations. Nevertheless, some limitations are more grotesque than others.
                And every culture imposes its own limitations.  I am glad that young people see things differently and often find the past's limitations puzzling - or downright stupid.

                And I would have liked to meet your parents.  

                "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

                by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:23:18 AM PST

                [ Parent ]

        •  I never did on the South Side of Chicago (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          pixxer

          But there were so many people from all around the world at the University of Chicago. A girl named Christine Yasutake was in our choir. Honestly, we saw nothing unusual about her.

          Jon Husted is a dick.

          by anastasia p on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 05:01:03 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

      •  I was lucky enough to know all kinds (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        pixxer

        of people. My neighborhood and school were almost entirely Jewish. I'm half. My mother was non-practicing and my father was an atheist (left the Greek Orthodox church at his first opportunity) so when all my friends started to go to Hebrew school to prepare to be bar and bat mitzvah, i wanted to know why we couldn't go somewhere. So we went to a Unitarian Church. That church was a hot bed of activism. My sister got blackballed from our high school's National Honor Society when the principal had our favorite teacher infiltrate a meeting where some kids were talking about collecting supplies for the Mississippi Freedom Fighters. Because we lived near the University of Chicago, I had contact with Koreans, Japanese and Indians. One year my Sunday school class visited places of worship from a bunch of other faiths including Buddhism, Hinduism and the Baha'i Temple in Wilmette. Interestingly, we didn't go to a Catholic Church. We probably weren't welcome. Unlike Catholic catechism classes, Unitarian kids can come up with their own questions and they want honest answers, not rote recitations!

        Jon Husted is a dick.

        by anastasia p on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 04:59:33 PM PST

        [ Parent ]

        •  We lived two blocks from a Catholic church (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          ladybug53

          and my best friend from school (who lived in a different neighborhood) was also Catholic. I asked my parents why we didn't just go to the Catholic school there around the corner, and go to the Catholic church like everyone else. My Mom was (still is) a recovering Catholic, but I didn't know that. I learned later that my Dad figured out at the age of 10 that he didn't believe in God the Father, maker of heaven and earth, and all the rest of that creed, and stopped saying it in the Methodist service. The solution, finally, came when my Dad found an outstanding, intellectually interesting minister in the Unitarian Church (Baker... I want to say James Baker but that could be subsequent interference). So in 6th grade, I finally was part of a church. Never looked back - it was as you describe - a hotbed of activism and social consciousness. Another thing to thank my Dad for, come to think of it.

          We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
          Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

          by pixxer on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 05:54:51 PM PST

          [ Parent ]

  •  Wonderful diary (6+ / 0-)

    I'm a lot younger than you. I was born in the middle of the 80's, and I didn't learn about segregation until eighth grade. When I found out about things like separate drinking fountains for blacks and whites, I told my teacher at the time "Well that's stupid." His response was "There were a lot of stupid things back then."

    My grandmother, who's 86, still refers to them as "colored." It makes me flinch a little when I hear it. But...my family all grew up in the south, and she's a product of the depression. They're kind of afraid of Obama because they have this idea that all the minorities are going to rise up in an angry uprising against the white people. Which is well....yeah.

    I wish I had a relative as awesome as your aunt! But then again, I've got three nephews. I'd love to light a fire in their hearts the same way your aunt did for you.

    I'm the black sheep in my family, in spite of the fact that nearly all of us vote Democratic. :P

    "Freedom comes at the price of eternal vigilance."

    by Liberal Heretic on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 12:48:44 PM PST

    •  Thank you, Liberal Heretic. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Monsieur Georges

      This has been fun and informative.

      You get the chance to be the awesome Aunt!  That should be a blast.  While I will suggest you not get them arrested, as that did upset the parents (!), since you are the black sheep, they will follow your example.   Remember how much you wanted as a teenager to be different?

      I regret not getting my sister's children off the wealth track.  They lived far away and their mother was not going to let me get close.  But my children have never been mainstream and my grandkids will never get there either.    

      We seem to have a HERD of black sheep here!

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 02:56:48 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  Race riots in the '60s, probably. (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Liberal Heretic

      We don't think about that so much, but they've had it in the backs (or even the fronts) of their minds ever since then.  Folks back then knew how to scare suburban white folk, and suburban white folk reacted accordingly.  :-/  

      The '60s were simply an attempt to get the 21st Century started early....Well, what are we waiting for? There's no deadline on a dream!

      by Panurge on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:46:57 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  What a most awesome diary!!! (2+ / 0-)

    I love this. I wish my mom were still alive so I could share it with her.

    Thank you, Most Awesome Nana!

    YES WE DID -- AGAIN. FOUR MORE YEARS.

    by raincrow on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 02:46:51 PM PST

  •  I didn't read it until 2010. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Diana in NoVa, Monsieur Georges

    I grew up in the North (NY suburbs) in the 60s. To me, all that terrible stuff was happening "somewhere else". I hated southern accents because I associated them with ignorance and bigotry (think: George Wallace). I was a raging Yankee and thrilled we had beaten the Confederacy. But of course, in my ethnic and middle class enclave, I knew few black people: a couple in school, and my aunt was good friends with Muriel, whom she worked with at the Board of Ed, and another woman of Jamaican descent whom she was very close to. We were Italians, and at the time, still looked down on by the white people with fair skins, eyes, and hair, who had pronounceable names and a longer American pedigree.
    I had seen the movie, but the book, a 'classic', was never assigned to me in high school, and I resisted reading some books because I was expected to have read them and relate to them. When the 50th anniv. came around and an anniversary edition came out, I bought it and read the whole thing at once. Living in the south now, living among and working with a hugely diverse population, and realizing how close and how recent all of this is, and is still with us....I am glad I read it at last and I'll admit here that I was so pig-headed about not doing so earlier.

    You get what you deserve, even if you don't deserve it (Issan Dorsey, Zen teacher)

    by kayak58 on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 03:45:29 PM PST

  •  A perfectly wonderful diary, start to finish. (3+ / 0-)

    First, would you please, please send my undying love to your Aunt Ronnie. What a fantastic, powerful inscription in your book, and apparently, a life lived solidly in keeping with it.

    Second, congratulations to you for, at such a young age, "using it" when "it" shook loose and fell out. I am sure your Aunt has had multiple times to reflect on her gift and the way you responded to it. You said "thanks" in a most powerful way.

    I remember seeing my first "Colored" water fountain, on the way from the DC suburbs (sometimes referred to as the white doughnut around DC) to Luray Caverns, VA. My parents were good liberals, and I'm sure it was distressing to them, but we did not discuss it.

    When I was fairly young - but old enough to read at least a headline in the paper, I guess - I had read about a family who were killed when something, I think their hot water heater, exploded and burnt their home down. It made me scared, b/c I knew we had a hot water heater, too. I was reassured by my parents that our hot water heater was in good shape and would not blow up and kill us. I was satisfied with that and went back to bed. What I think the real answer was - and I have no evidence for this whatsoever - was that the family was poor and black, and living in a majorly substandard place where the landlord could get away with renting out a dangerous place. The sum of [what I think] the story was: they died because they had no safe place to live because they were black. We live in a safe and secure place because we're white. I wonder how I would have been different if they had explained that then...

    We all understand that freedom isn't free. What Romney and Ryan don't understand is that neither is opportunity. We have to invest in it.
    Julian Castro, DNC 4 Sept 2012

    by pixxer on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 03:55:03 PM PST

    •  Your words are so kind. Thank you. (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      pixxer, Monsieur Georges

      My Aunt Ronnie is getting lunch in her favorite place and I am going to give her this to read!  I must get her to write something.  

      Thank you also for telling us your story.  How you might have reacted to what you think was the answer probably depends on your age.  Were you old enough to understand why people might be forced to live in a substandard place?  I was very puzzled that the Ewells lived in such squalor.  That took some explaining.  And why the Robinsons, who were much nicer people than the Ewells, had to live out past the dump was a mystery.  I was thirteen - naive - but I should have KNOWN  these things.  I was old enough, just ignorant.  

      You were lucky to have liberal parents.  I don't think mine were mean, they would never deliberately hurt someone, but they weren't liberal.  But they were Democrats.  The frames are fluid. :)

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:32:59 PM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Never Saw (4+ / 0-)

    It myself, but my Dad (almost ninety-five) commanded an all black (under him) company in the Army Air Corps during WW2.  He told me how he was an officer because he was a white college grad while his First Sergeant had a PhD from Morehouse.  He had other stories, too, about the horrors and indignities he saw of segregation.  He wasn't a crusader, but he didn't suffer bigotry.

    Eat, drink, and be fat and drunk.

    by Ref on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 05:09:54 PM PST

  •  I was born in Georgia in 1956 (3+ / 0-)

    so I was too young for Mockingbird when it was first published. I do remember my parents going to see the movie when it came out.  They were from Alabama and were in Harper Lee's generation so they were interested for those reasons, not because they were sympathetic to the book's message, at least not then.

    But I remember reading bits and pieces of it from a library copy my father had brought home.  I identified with Scout, Jem, and Dill and loved the parts about their trying to see Boo Radley.  I don't remember reading anything about the trial or the ending, most likely Daddy took the book away from me before I got to those parts.  

    It was when I was a teenager in the 1970s that I read the whole story and saw the movie. It made a huge impact on me because until then I hadn't really thought much about Jim Crow laws.  The only memory I have of segregation is when my school was integrated when I was in 4th grade and we had one black student in my class.

    Mockingbird contributed to my political awakening in the early to mid 70s, along with Vietnam and Watergate.  I still reread it every year or two, and I actually have an autographed copy!

    There is not one human problem which could not be solved if people would simply do as I advise. - Gore Vidal

    by southdem on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 06:24:04 PM PST

  •  Thanks for sharing (3+ / 0-)

    I grew up in Mississippi and continue to live here. Being a "person of color" I can relate to everything shared here. Because it is Rum and Coke Night I will not go into detail, but soon I will publish a diary about my life here. And you know what, it was not all bad.

  •  southerngrown, I too am looking forward to your (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Monsieur Georges

    diary.  

    Happy New Year and happy writing!

    "Religion is what keeps the poor from murdering the rich."--Napoleon

    by Diana in NoVa on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 07:03:55 PM PST

  •  To Kill a Mockingbird is (4+ / 0-)

    one of the most beautifully-written books in the english language, IMO.
    I read it first when I was about 10, again when I was @ 17, then years later as an adult. Loved it all times.

    I grew up in a small town in Minnesota, with a father who was "probably the only Democrat within 20 miles."

     He had grown up in the Big City of Minneapolis, which I think  made him more tolerant of differences than a lot of our neighbors. Blond-haired, blue-eyed, 100% german, he was a member of the NAACP when he was in college, which certainly gave him a different perspective on things than the parents of most of my friends.

    He & my mom lived in the Jim Crow south when I was a baby, which cemented his ideals forever.

    •  And he passed them on to you! I love hearing (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      ladybug53

      the stories of all the liberal, open-minded people of my Aunt's generation.  I wish there had been more.  But they did start all the movements that we baby boomers lay claim to (we keep forgetting that).

      So often you find one person in a sea of prejudice and you wonder how that happened.        

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:31:53 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Hooray for life's Aunt Ronnies! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53

    Loved the diary!

  •  Grew up in Metuchen in the 60s and 70s (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53

    graduated and left in '71, headed down Route 1 to Westminster Choir College (the other school in Princeton) and never went back.

    We had two black families I knew of -- both sent their kids to Metuchen High -- and a strong Jewish population. The son of the local rabbi, David Matt, was a close friend in those days. But a white bread town? Metuchen was that, for sure.

    Of course, we did give the world Davey Kotkin (aka David Copperfield), the late Robert Hegyes (Juan Epstein in Welcome Back, Kotter) and the immensely talented Robert Taub, the first pianist appointed artist-in-residence in the 65 year history of Princeton's Institute for Advanced Study.

    But I've never gone back.

    In times like these, we cannot make too much music.

    by ProvokingMeaning on Fri Dec 28, 2012 at 10:08:23 PM PST

  •  More please she said to the cup of this tea (0+ / 0-)

    I went thru similar...but I was raised in two classes. Lower middle, or rising 2nd gen immigrant working class (my grandparents) and a upward expectation middle class (my '50s stunningly-beautiful husband-hunting single mother). Tomboy, yes, even a black sheep brat, such behavior was expected. Cloistered, I was raised 'safe', but wondered curiously why? Many openings showed themselves. Tears at the movie of Anne Franke at 14, tears that life would not be what I was told, such a silly. A special book didn't hit my eyes pre-pubesciently. But I read beyond my age...something was in these...something. I ran with the 60s gen into the streets. But, primarily, I lived in Chicago in 1968 & worked in Old Town, Wells St when Lincoln Park happened, on into Grant Park for me! Alcools was important and I found Buffy Ste Marie with ravenous ears. The book that culled, pulled me was the Gulag Archipelago. Yeah, same thing different neighborhood...thank you for eloquence

    •  Thank you! Sounds like an interesting life. (0+ / 0-)

      Perhaps you can write something and tell us more?  I would be interested in comparing the difference between a mid-west perspective and an east coast one.

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:47:00 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

    •  You know, I lie...mispoke (so quietly). I was not (0+ / 0-)

      just indirectly affected, by my class, community and family structure. And not directly in my later teens, but I was directly affected by theater, actually film 'Inherit the Wind' and 'A Man for All Seasons'. 'Inherit...' seen as full of holes now, but the recreation of Clarence Darrow and the Scopes trial, it shone a simple logic beautifully. & Sir Thomas More (refusing to ratify Henry the IVVs divorce) BUT based on the Human Right in English law (this in 1500 something) to disagree with the King and for to admit he disagreed w/the divorce would have him killed for treason. And if I understood what he was talking about he must have won.....but he held steady, proved his point & was killed for treason (for not approving the divorce).
      I am sure as I go along thinking of this diary and the comments I will harvest much clarity about time & words...and hope I'll be able to share it also.

  •  On growing-up contrarily,when my mother was 'old' (0+ / 0-)

    I would drive us to the upper class suburbs (Winnetka et al) to look at architecture & Lake Michigan, have a cup of coffee, work on communication...but after a time all I'd just start getting angry about the affluence, steering-wheel-gripping angry....my mother's reply? 'Oh stop being jealous' !!!

    •  That would have been my mother's response. (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Diana in NoVa, Ckntfld, ladybug53

      My parent's earned everything they had and assumed it was the same for all but the extremely rich.  And they were just luckier.  

      But coveting someone else's wealth/goods/life would have been sinful to them.  They would have just said work harder if you want something.

      My Aunt Ronnie sneers at the rich.  She finds them shallow, selfish and fairly useless.  Of course, none of us were ever 'poor' by any stretch of the imagination.  When I was a young woman (mid-30s), a friend told me that I had been lucky.  I could go to protests and sit ins and even get arrested because my family had had enough money to support me and pay bail.  Basically it was nice of me to want to change things but, honestly, I was a product of the culture that made change necessary.  Sobering thought.  I am still trying to justify my existence.  

      "May the forces of evil become confused on the way to your house." - George Carlin

      by Most Awesome Nana on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 06:58:47 AM PST

      [ Parent ]

  •  Jews "indisputably 'white'" (0+ / 0-)

    Slightly off topic, but in 1986 while working in a Music Store in West Bloomfield Michigan, a woman who came in to teach music, asked me if "Jews are considered white."

    She obviously did not mean to offend me, she was seriously just curious.  Everyone else was just too flummoxed to even respond.

  •  It becomes more powerful as you get older (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Most Awesome Nana, ladybug53

    Now I see some of Atticus Finch's maneuverings to keep the family cook, Calpurnia, safe from the hands of the angry racists.  There's a powerful commentary about mental illness and developmental retardation in there, too.

    It's one of those books that has so many wonderful layers -- at each stage of life you can find a new window that you recognize as being opened.

  •  Such a different context! (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ladybug53

    I would call that book, along with "Cry the Beloved Country," the most influential books of my childhood. I read both when I was in grade school, around 1960 as well. But everything around me, starting with my family, was totally different. By that time I had probably already heard my mother say "There's nothing south of the Mason/Dixon line you need to see." (She later admitted she was wrong; there IS New Orleans!)

    On the south side of Chicago where I lived, we were already beginning to hear about redlining and blockbusting. My own neighborhood fell in the late 60s, after I was in college. (Among the families it brought in was one that included a toddler who is now our First Lady.) Urban renewal was in full swing and the residents of the former tenements were being herded into inhumane high-rise projects. Racial tension was already everywhere. Emmett Till didn't grow up that far from me, but it was in a way a different world. Our mayor "Da Mare" Richard J. Daley was working hard to keep the boundaries impermeable.

    And I KNEW all this. I'd already been inside one of those projects and it upset me deeply, wondering how kids my age with so much pent-up energy survived, cooped up in those little apartments 15 stories up. Well, we soon found out.

    Soon there was busing. On TV, we were seeing the angry Polish ladies out on the west side meeting the buses carrying black kindergartners and first graders, their faces contorted with hatred under their big blonde beehives (what my mother called an "anti-busing hairdo"), screaming that the kids were bringing "veeee deeee" into their neighborhood. You could smell the fear.

    I think the book resonated with me at the age of 11 or 12 or whatever I was because I did know all this, even though my neighborhood was an upper middle-class and largely Jewish ones (It was Catholics I had no acquaintance with). Although my schools had no African-Americans at the time, I went to Sunday school and choir practice with some. (One of my classmates was the daughter of one of Chicago's most legendary community organizers, still alive and kicking in his 90s). I just didn't see what people were so worked up about because my parents didn't judge by skin color.

    The only residue of racism in our family was that my grandmother would complain that my parents were set on staying put in the city instead of moving to Wilmette or Winnekta where we might go to school with some future doctors. Sometimes she would refer to our neighborhood as "Africa."

    It's so interesting to hear how my favorite book struck someone living in a different environment, where it was a revelation and not about things already being widely discussed.

    Jon Husted is a dick.

    by anastasia p on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 04:47:52 PM PST

  •  Mockingbird is a great gift. (0+ / 0-)

    I wish Miss Lee all the best in her blessedly private life since she gave us...

     "...two soap dolls, a broken watch and chain, a pair of good-luck pennies, and our lives. But neighbors give in return. We never put back into the tree what we took out of it: we had given him nothing, and it made me sad."

    A thousand Sharkeys are invading a thousand Shires every day across our country.--James Wells

    by SouthernLiberalinMD on Sat Dec 29, 2012 at 09:42:54 PM PST

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site