We all come from very diverse backgrounds; at least most of us do in the U.S. My parents are from Arkansas and Mississippi; and I have always wondered what it was like growing up in 1940s/50s in the Deep South. What were they taught? How did they live? What were their parents/grandparents like? How did their upbringing affect the here and now/my generation?
I had the pleasure of talking with my aunt. My aunt, is 74-years old and retired. She raised me for a small portion of my life; and taught me a lot about womanhood, and quality-of-life based decision making. Here is her story.
How Many Siblings do you have?
Eight; four boys and four girls.
What number are you?
The fifth child.
Where did your parents come from? Mississippi
Who were their parents?
Working class, owned land, and worked for Caucasians.
Was it a big family?
Yes, we knew our aunts and uncles, and saw them often.
What was the town population?
Occupation of parents?
My father worked on railroads, and mother was a stay-at-home parent.
What was grade school, high school, and college like?
My brothers were popular basketball players, so I had popularity because of them.
How were the teachers (nice, racist, played favoritisms)?
There were some teachers that favored the sports players; but other than that, they were pretty fair.
Did you witness anything traumatic growing up? Or, hear of anything?
No; although I did hear of someone being struck by lightning once.
What sayings or upbringings did your mother and father raise you guys with?
Give God your time, and always treat people good. Don’t tolerate any disrespect or unfairness; but, treat them good. We had to be presentable and act sensible. No hanging out, doing drugs or following friends. God and an education was very important.
How did you guys treat each other?
We were raised to protect each other, and to always look out for one another.
What was a highlight of your life?
My mother. She was good to us.
Who taught you how to cook?
I learned watching my mother.
How many bedrooms in your house?
What kind of clothes did you guys wear? Whatever our parents bought. We weren’t poor; but we also didn’t splurge on anything, because of how many of us there were.
Did anyone ever visit?
Yes, every now and then. Mostly family.
Did your parents let you date at a certain age? If so, what age?
About 16, but I had to be chaperoned by my brother.
What were you allowed to do as a teen, besides school?
Go to school events or movies.
Could you visit your friends’ homes?
Yes, but not to stay.
Were people friendly?
Yes, my parents didn’t allow anyone to mistreat her children.
Did you experience segregation at any point? Racial tension? Boycotts?
We heard more than we experienced.
What age did you have your first child?
What are a few things you could say or couldn’t say as a child?
You couldn’t talk back to elders, and you had to go to church. Yes ma’am,and no ma’am. Yes sir, and no sir.
How were you expected to address adults, black vs. white?
We addressed them the same. We own land, so no one messed with us. We were respected.
How did you have to wear your hair?
We always had to have it combed and styled.
Did you eat fast food?
My mother mostly cooked. It was a treat for us to eat out.
How were your aunts and uncles?
Some were mean and some nice. We had a typical Black family in Mississippi; just a little more affluent.
My aunt shared this with me as the context for how she lived her life. Some of her accomplishments include: finishing college, marriage of over 50 years, two children that are doing well for themselves, two homes in California, a successful career in business management… and, the list goes on. She said no matter what she focuses on, treating people right and listening to God for advice on life… that is what her parents passed down to her.
This is a guide for a woman growing up in the 1940s/50s; however, I feel it still applies today. When you think about the essence of what the message is for living a good life and accomplishing what you want out of it; the truth is, you have to be good to people and you have to have a relationship with something higher than yourself.
I will leave you with this quote, “If we lose love and self respect for each other, this is how we finally die.” – Maya Angelou.