Sitting at the feet of my favorite auntie, I started asking questions about who we were and how we came to New York City and how did this mixture of skin tones come in the family, some of us were white, some black, and most in between. I wanted to know how did we ride this roller coaster of wealth and poverty and what were the events, which placed us on those exciting and painful rides. These stories are a composite of these talks.

         This is an American anthology; it is a story about who are the original American people, the people who were here before the Ellis Island immigrants arrived on these shores. It is about a people whose struggles influenced the founding fathers to bring forth this new land.

           The soul of a country is found in the pain and frustrations of a people, and what those people did with their pains and frustrations. In the southern parts of the country struggling with the defeat of their way of life through the Civil War, released the demonic spirits of their broken hearts and developed a religion centered on destroying their appointed sacrificial lamb to ease their pain and suffering.

         Left in the south after the Civil War were poor whites and free Blacks, and the poor whites were angry. There was no Marshal Plan or restoration of the defeated plan to help a people get back to some resemblance of normality; the area was turned upside down, and then the victorious army left. Behind them they left a lot of hate, and that hate was directed at innocent victims. The African American had to find his way in the only land he had known for over 200 years; there was no mental or emotional Africa to return to, those memories had long been wiped from their memory circuits. This was home, and this was a home, which hated them.

          The founding fathers had their stories and the stories of their white brothers and sister freed 100 years earlier in the Revolutionary War, but there are few if any written down stories. These are stories of a family choosing to take part in the Great Migration of black people leaving the southern parts of the United States, and heading up north, where the victors lived, to see if life could be a little less stressful and children would have a better chance. It is the story of four generations of a family working through the pain to find the gain.

           The pains and joy are shared as they seek to find identity through blends of European, Native American and African ancestry. Walking through a black world, white world and Indian world has its complexities and its simplistic form. It is a story of fear courage and religion and how the threads of these three demonic forces weaves its way through the life of the main character who can be described as an individual born to failure, predicted to be an invisible of a family, but through sheer determinations finds her way through tangled webs of life and discovers the purpose and meaning for her life. The writing combines narrative form, anthropological, sociological liberties to tell a story of what it is like to live in three worlds. (Native American- Scott’s/Irish- African)

 

                                                           Nancy had her youngest child wrapped in a blanket. It was the only thing she could grab as she woke up the girls and told them to put on some clothes and hurry. The girls ranging in age two years to ten years   knew what was happening; their father, an irate man with Irish Scotch heritage, had been drinking, and was on the rampage again. He seemed to take out his anger and frustrations on his wife and the children.

         The anger could have come from the shot gun wedding, which had taken place ten years ago, when the youngest son in this strict Bible reading and believing family, decided to follow his passions with the barely teen age Cherokee Indian girl, who had been living with the family since the death of her mother. Nancy was all of fourteen years old when she found herself pregnant with her first child. Childhood was over, and rather than betray the trust of a friend. The old man had decided that there would be a marriage, and so there was a marriage.

           The family purchased a home for the young couple and wished them luck in the challenges of life. Nancy was a dark cherry wood color and her tiny frame was no match for the six-foot Irish man. Stealing passion in the wood shed was one thing; the childish joy of playing around and touching the forbidden was not the same as the forced togetherness of marriage. This was the real thing, and the tiny four feet nine frame was the perfect target to relieve stress for the angry giant. – plenty of sex and plenty of babies for this young family. There were five of them, Gertrude, the oldest, Naomi, Florence, Justine, and baby Otis. Nancy knew she only had a short time to get the children, get them dressed, before her husband would come in the back bedrooms, and began to destroy things.

           She had long learned to handle her feelings of embarrassment over showing up at a neighbor’s house in the middle of the night with her brew in tow. The neighbors were kind, they knew when they saw her, it meant that old man Fleming was drinking and on the rampage again. Usually during these midnight runs for escape, she would let her mind flash back to how she got in this situation in the first place. Now she just had to find a safe place for the kids and herself. Fleming never ran after her. Somehow through his drunken state, he realized that showing up in a violent rage at a neighbor’s house would be wrong. He was content to sleep off his binge in the children’s room, drowning in tears as he realized he had again messed up, and his family was gone.

             Tomas Waterhouse was a full Cherokee Indian. His family lived in Kentucky. He had somehow gotten lost in one of the battles between the settlers and the natives. He was found as an infant, and adopted into a family. The family was in the horse breeding business, and raised Tomas to be a horse trader. The family was part of a religious group, which did not believe in slavery, and was actively involved in helping individuals to avoid being trapped in the institution. They adopted Tomas, and later, became the guardians of young African girl who was living with a group of Indians. It was not uncommon to find Native Americans and Africans living together in order to avoid the slavery system. During the early part of the slave trade, Englishmen requested that white slaves be sent instead of black slaves, because the black slaves were able to run away and mix with the native population.

             After the American Revolution, which ended white slavery, seldom talked about and very taught in our public schools, the main focus turned to the black slave population, was in the south, especially South Carolina. With the freeing of the white slave population after the Revolutionary war, the black population, in the north, would have to wait until 1827 for their freedom to come about. The black population in the south, would have to wait until the Civil War was fought, costing the lives of 650,000 men, before they would be free.

         The south was not going to give up its labor force, and convinced the leaders of the new country that to end slavery in the south would destroy a fragile nations trying to gain its footing in the world. Washington did not like the idea, even though he himself, as a wealthy man, owned slaves, some of whom he became overly fond of, resulting in a genetic line of half black, half white royal line of kin. After the war, the new country needed its wealthy businessmen to finance the new Republic.

          The founding fathers argued that slavery of any kind would go against the founding principles upon which the country was built, and the debates were hot and heavy pitting economical interest against principles. Believing that destroying an entire economy would make the nation vulnerable to another attack by England, Washington agreed upon a compromise, indicating that the importation of any additional slaves from Africa would cease as of 1807. The thinking was that this would give the new nation time to develop its economical footing and provide other sources of exports besides cotton. It appeared that cotton was the cause of slavery, and now cotton was going to be the reason why slavery would remain in the land talking about freedom and justice for all men, money had won over principle.

         America did not have the courage to cut out the cancer caused and planted by England, but was destined to grow into a disease with roots deep down into the American psych and become its defining identity. The country missed its moment of greatness, and less than 100 years 650,000 men would die in a blood bath of justice for the new country.

        The Revolutionary war defined who we wanted to be, the Civil War however, declared what we were going to be as a united nation with justice and liberty for all. The nation was dragged kicking and screaming into this reality and those screams were to last for years as poor whites fought for their right to have it all and give little or nothing to free blacks struggling to survive. Behind close door and under covers in homes across America, families, black and white struggles with the every day situations of family life, with all of its outward struggles, America was still a nation of families making their way through life with their own strengths and weakness.

             Old man Fleming took ill after his many bouts of drinking, and died. Funeral arrangements were made, and the body was brought to the family home, as was the custom. Nancy in her traditional fashion, was quiet, and left the responsibilities up to her husband’s side of the family. An assortment of different people arrived at the house in St. Augustine Florida. Some were white and some were black, and some were mixtures of shades, such as her children. Although the brother and sisters of the deceased were in the grief mode, there was not a tear shed by Nancy, the girls, or brother Otis. The children avoided the funeral by hiding under the house. The girls sent Gertrude, the oldest, to look in the window, to see if their father was really dead. Gertrude reported back that, she looked, he was lying in a coffin, and he was not moving. He was dead all right. The only feeling that came over the girls was that Mama would get no more beatings, and they would not have to make anymore midnight runs.

           Fleming did have a sister and brother, Morton and Lula, who as the results of privilege, wealth, education and color, were able to migrate out of the south and move to New York City and purchase homes and businesses.

Morton was smart enough to land a position working for the US Postal Service as a translator and purchased himself several homes on Long Island. Lula, also manage to get positions and contracts working for the government, and opened up several homes, which cared for unwedded mothers and their children.

Lula was one of the early welfare agencies securing checks from the government to provide food and shelter for the needy. She ran her operation like a prison and eye witness reports was not very nice to the people she was paid to help. Rumor had it that she was run out of Jacksonville Florida because of some shady dealing with people.

That was before my time, and I met her as the rich aunt Lula, who considered herself as head of the family moving north, I was later to learn that the Florida rumors were true, and she was indeed a shady lady with the power to do good or evil on any and all who had the misfortune to come her way. Smart and cunning, and the family feared and respected her as much as they feared and respect the memory of their father who was her brother. Nancy, of course, avoided her like the plague, she reminded her of her late dead husband, and all the things she did not like about her husband were present in his sister. She herself did not interact with Lula, but she did not prevent her children from interactions with their aunt, a decision she would later regret, but she was Indian, and her nature was not combative, she stood her peace quietly and the two were never friends.

             Fleming was better to the family in his death, than he had been in his life. Nancy was left with a nice home, and enough money to take care of the children. She was able to send the children to good schools. She moved with the family to Jacksonville Florida, where the children were able to have more interaction with the black members of the family. The girls completed high school, and Naomi, the gifted of the group, went on to attend college.

           Naomi studied music, was employed as a teacher in one of the local schools. It was while teaching, that she met and fell in love with George Richardson, oldest son of a prominent family of teachers and preachers. The family, probably because of her light skin, and the fact that she was a teacher, accepted Naomi. The Richardson’s were another family where light skin girls married dark skin men. George’s mother was light skinned, but his father was dark skinned. George took his coloring from his father, and when he fell in love with a light skin woman, it fitted well in the family image of themselves as being a little different and above other groups.

             Gertrude married and had a son, William Clinton, and although she was the most loving of the family, she was not able to get along with her husband.

             Jestine, the youngest sister, and a real beauty, also married and had a son; she also experienced difficulty with her husband, and left him and returned to the family home. Perhaps it was the experiencing their mother abused by her husband, who accounts for the girls leaving their husband during the first signs of conflict, but nevertheless, the girls had short marriages.

             Jestine married again, and moved to New York City. Her husband,

worked on a ship, and made a good living. They had a beautiful apartment in Washington Heights; it was so large that it had two living rooms decorated with the finest furniture. Justine was always a fashioned plate. Her husband Cleave Averrett, kept her in the best clothes and a closet full of furs. Her only occupation was suppose to be taking care of the house, and looking good for her husband, when he came home. There was only one problem, a big problem, as nice as uncle Cleave was to us, he did not like Justine’s son Ulysses. He made the boy’s life miserable. This placed an extra hardship on the boy, especially since he had a learning problem, and tended to stutter. Justine eventually left her husband, for the sake of her child. Her financial situation changed considerably, and she had to struggle to make a living for herself and her young son.

             She entered nursing school, and worked for many years as a baby nurse, providing care and assistance for mothers and their infants at home. I remember as children, the seven of us cousins use to hide under the blankets and look at Jestine nursing books. We loved looking at the naked people and giggling about it. My aunt Jestine was very special in my life. She had the most courage of all of the sisters, and had a head for business. Jestine worked at Credmore Hospital, and during her tour of duty, she met a man who was to have a significant effect on her life, and the life of the entire Fleming Family. His name was Edgar Harper, and he was a big man. He was over six feet tall, and since the Fleming women tended to be short, he made an imposing figure in the family. Uncle Harper was as kind and generous as he was big.

         Jestine was a community leader, and could always bee seen planning trip for the children in the family and also the neighborhood children. Uncle Harper would come leaded down with food and goodies for everyone on one of the planned beach trips. Aunt Jess had a famous trick, which took advantage of America’s racism; she would march a group of black kids down to the beach on long Island and find the best spot near the ocean but between two white families. She would spread her blanket down in the little spot available and say, “just wait”, soon the families on either side would immediately get up and move away, not wanting to be near any black kids, and we would spread out and have a wonderful spot for a day at the beach. This was the north, and in the north people liked to pretend that they were not racist, so they quietly gave up their spot so the nice black kids could have a day at play.

        Jestine had a daughter, little Jess as we called her, born twenty years after her brother Ulysses. As strong as Jestine was, she almost died during childbirth. She was very ill during this birth, and had to remain in the hospital for more than three months. The baby, little Jess, was a beautiful child. We brought her home from the hospital, and became her caregiver during the time her mother was in the hospital.

         This was the first baby in the family in twenty years, so to say she was spoiled would be an understatement. The family took turns carrying little Jess around on a satin pillow, and my mother would carry cotton soaked with olive oil to wipe her beautiful skin, in case someone touched her. Little Jess was born on December 7th, and we considered her the bombshell baby. As she grew up she was a loveable terror.

          My grandmother, a small black Indian woman, had the responsibility of caring for the toddler. Grand ma spoiled both little Jess, and Ulysses, who was her favorite. Grandma preferred to live with Jestine and her family and played a significant role in their lives; my lack of closeness to my grandmother stems from this choice of favorite members of the family.

         Although she did not permit any discussion about the challenges each member of the family was experiencing, specifically if it was intended to be part of a gossip topic; she also did not have that loving warm spirit usually expected from grandmothers. Grandma, did not bake cakes, cookies, hold family gatherings or give out warm hugs and kisses. She was a small reddish dark brown Indian woman from the Cherokee tribe. She never smiled, and she wore the history of an unhappy life, not in words, but on her face. She deserted my mother, at a time of her need, and returned to stay in the home of her favorite child, but that is another story, which will be handled later. This is the sugarcoated version of the family.

             Ulysses was a quiet child who enjoyed reading and playing his musical instrument. He loved political discussions and seemed to be one step ahead of all of the cousins in the understanding of current events. His mother had spent a fortune on his teeth, and the braces, which he wore for years produced a friendly smile and a beautiful set of perfect white teeth.

          Ulysses was an unhappy child, he was born with a learning disability and that learning disability made him special, he was special in his love for others, but he was also unhappy with the way the world treats people with challenges. Jestine divorced her first husband, who was not Ulysses’ father, because the man was cruel to the child and resented him because of his challenges.

           Jestine moved from a life of leisure and pleasure as the wife of a well paid merchant marine, and had to down size and become a struggling parent raising a son all alone. She returned to nursing school, and was able to secure employment working in the medical field and taking care of herself and her family. She met a charming man who gave her the love and attention she needed, and from this love union a daughter was born, which we names Little Jess. For some reason, little Jess, did not feel loved or accepted. Perhaps when you love a child too much and put no restrictions on the child, she may grow up feeling that no one cared. We were just so happy to have her, and remembering that her mother almost died bring her into the world, that we made her feel special. She did not want to feel special; she just wanted to be part of the group.

             The question of being part of the group can be understood at hindsight. The fours sisters, Gertrude, Naomi, Florence and Justine, had seven children between them. The eight children, Gwendolyn, Bill, Ulysses, Delores, Willie Jr. Doris, Vernon and Jestine had bonded and behaved like sisters and brothers. It was a one for all and all for one family arrangement, grandmother taught that what happens to one happens to all. This was especially true during playing outside on the city streets.

           These were the days of the immigrant gangs coming out of Europe, the Jews, the Italians and the Irish like to pretend they came from wealth and lived well, but that is the farthest thing from the truth, they were poor and they were fighting for their piece of the American pie. The immigrants from Ellis Island met the migrants from the south and they were ready to do battle with each other. The people migrating from the south had the upper hand, they were citizens, and they spoke the native tongue, English, and therefore they were the first to get the jobs. Italian push- carts and men selling fish and ice were all over the streets, and Jewish salesmen climbed five flights of stairs selling curtains and insurance policies to the black working class. The kids went to school together, ate their free lunch together, and planned to have their berry fights during the weekends. They threw hard berries at each other and small rocks, and would break only when they heard their mother’s voice calling them in for lunch.

   If someone hit one of the cousins, all of the cousins had the responsibility of hitting that person, and a report was made concerning who did or did not fight; little Jess, comes along twenty years later, and is really part of the first cousin group, but is treated like a second cousin. She is raised with the children of the first cousins. She also grew up at a time when the financial wealth of the family was in decline. She knows nothing of the beautiful apartments with the double living rooms, or closets full of furs. She did not live through the expensive homes in the Suburbs, and the family rooms and finished basements, which were the center gathering place for the community.

             She has to listen to the stories about the past, because the present does not reflect the past. Although most of us were born during the depression years, the fact that the men in the family held good paying jobs working at sea, and on the railroad, prevented part of the family from any hardships. Jestine and Florence married men of wealth, meaning they had good jobs when most of the country was going through a depression, and lived very well. Jestine and Gertrude lived in Washington Heights in an area usually inhabited by Irish and Jews. Gertrude was a nurse, and she was able to take care of her one son, Bill.

           Gertrude was the whitest of all of the sisters. She had a gentle spirit, but could and would speak her mind if you crossed her, she loved her son very much, and symbolizes what it true about the Fleming women, and they loved their children. She married a dark skinned man, and her son picked up the coloring of his father. All of the children in the Fleming family had to accept the fact that any child born in the family could be white black or in between. So when you look at the Fleming family you see all shades as we celebrate our ancestors who were Scotch/Irish, African and Native American, to see the Fleming family is to see the face of America.

           Bill carried on the family tradition of serving the country through military service. The family has had some member in the service since the Revolutionary war. Otis served in WW2, and Bill was called during the Korean War. Bill married Helen, and they both worked in the field of education. Helen became a community leader, and very active in school affairs. Bill and Helen were devoted parents, and produced a loving family.

           Florence, the gentle spirit of the family, married Willie Williams, a successful chef, who worked on the Railroad. They had two children, Willie Jr, and Doris. The marriage lasted longer than any of the other girls. This could be due to the fact that Williams made a good income, and he was on the road most of the time. He provided a good living for his family, and was not around to cause any problems in the household. When the father came home it was always Christmas, with plenty of gifts, and plenty of money. Florence and Uncle Willie lived in an area of town called Morningside drive. They had a large six-room apartment at 98 Morningside Avenue NYC. The apartment had maid quarters, and Aunt Florence hired a maid and governor ness to care for the two children. Her name was Dolly. She became part of the family. Florence also studied to be a nurse. She also owned her own business, a beauty shop. The back apartment of the beauty shop had an apartment where my grandmother lived. The beauty shop and apartment was located on 116th street between Manhattan Avenue and 8th avenue. I remember going to the beauty shop after school to help her. She trained me to be a shampoo girl, and she also trained me how to do hair. Between number running, the beauty shop business, and uncle Willies income from the railroad, the Williams family lived very well. The William’s family had a television set in the 1940’s, and a telephone. The children wore the best clothing and the latest styles. Doris and Willie Jr. also attended private Catholic school. Doris and her family were Catholic.

           Doris was a beautiful girl. She had a gentle kind spirit. We became very close after the death of my sister. Doris would share her beautiful clothes with me. Whenever I had a school event to attend, she would see to it that I was dressed in the finest clothes. Her mother had her study with the great dancer, Katherine Durham, and Doris became a famous dancer. She eventually took her skills into exotic modern dancing. She became very famous for her beauty and her dance skills. She had beautiful clear creamy light skin. She was booked for many shows around the New York City area. I would accompany her on many of these shows, and I was able to share the excitement of what goes on behind stage. The William’s family decided to move to the suburbs, and purchased a home on what was called Jamaica Long Island.

           As beautiful as the apartment was on Morningside Avenue, the house in Jamaica Long Island was something to see. It was beautifully furnished with a full basement designed for recreation. In terms of wealth, it was a good move. In terms of what it did to the family, it was devastating. I always say that the move to Long Island almost ruined the family. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s the middle and upper class families on Long Island went from wealth to poverty through bad life choices and drugs. Doris became angry with her father, and in an effort to defy him; she married someone who she knew her father would not like. Two of the leading middle class families on the block, had made arrangements for their children to marry. Doris, in a move to hurt her father, called off the wedding, and planned a quick wedding to someone who was a stranger to the family. The wedding was held in her home, and since money was no object, she was able to plan an extravagant affair in one week. I was her bridesmaid, and I remember the tension in the family. Bo was a nice man, but a stranger to the family. Doris soon discovered that she had made a mistake. Bo did not have the financial resources to keep her in the style in which she was accustomed to living. Doris still wanted to be the rich girl, and problems developed. It was around this time that a college was planning to build into the area, and it did all it could to destroy the neighborhood and force people to see their homes.

           The marriage was rocky, and eventually the family separated after the birth of their three children. Doris continued to live in the family home with the children. The stress of the marriage was difficult for Doris, and the death of her first-born son pushed her over the edge. Doris could not handle the pain, and started to drink in order to medicate herself. Aunt Florence asked me to take her to Bermuda with me, in an effort to help her through her deep depression. We went, and she appeared to have a wonderful time, the pain of her loss was too severe, and she lost the will to live. Her heart gave away and she had a seizure, and when she was rushed to the hospital they could not revive her she just could not take it any more. The death of Larry was devastating for the family and the strain put serious challenges before the family. The children and grand children could only watch as wealth disappeared from the family, and the grandchildren can only learn through stories passed down about the periods of wealth and prosperity, which once symbolized the family.

           Uncle Willie, eventually left the home, and he took his wealth with him.

         Naomi, moved to New York City, and married George Richardson. They were happy until George’s life was cut short in the twenty-six year of his life. Naomi was able to continue her music, attending the Manhattan School of Music. She supported herself, teaching music, at home, playing the organ at several churches and training professional gospel singing groups. Her three children, Gwendolyn, Delores and Vernon, were supported by a meager Welfare check, which barely put food on the table. Fortunately, her husband’s father was in the meat packing business, and he would bring by large amount of meat on a daily basis, and leave it for the family. The interaction with the Richardson’s were sparse, and aside from seeing her father in law. There was little or no interaction between the Richardson family and Naomi. The sisters stepped in and provided the support services needed. Uncle Harper would see to it that there was always fresh bread and rolls on the table each day, as he and aunt Jestine became a supportive presence in our lives. When it was time for me to get married, it was Aunt Jestine and Uncle Harper who stepped up and made my wedding a special event. Uncle Harper bought me a beautiful wedding cake and provided the wedding car. Little Jess was my flower girl, and Stanley was the ring bearer.

       Otis had been a war veteran from WW2, and he came back from the war, a little strange and shell-shocked. Otis never married, and never had any children.

         The lives of two sisters were about to change. Jestine and Florence produced a second set of children, Little Jess and Stanley Williams. “Little Jess” father, Mr. Harper, played an important part in my life. He was always a gentleman and very kind. He was a strong man, who stepped in and provided the support needed by two women almost broken by failed relationships. Mr. Harper and Aunt Jestine were very supportive of me during my early college years. He also played a significant role in my wedding arrangements. He provided, transportation to and from the wedding, and purchased my wedding cake. I always believed that God sent him to the family during a time of need.

         The family went into an up side down spin. Jestine and Florence married into wealth and had to leave it because of abuse. Naomi and Gertrude never remarried after losing one husband through early death, they focused on their children. They struggled as single parents through the depression years. The sisters decided to always live near each other. There was however, a strong bond between the sisters, and they elected to live near each other and in constant contact. Washington Heights was a middle class area. Most of the people living in the area were Jewish and Irish. The section had good schools, so the children received a good education. Life and poor choices among the cousins resulted in a separation of the family, in the second generation. I elected to separate my self from the family in an attempt to stop the spiral down effect. I began to see that mobility could happen in both directions. There is upwards mobility, but there is also downwards mobility, and life choices determine the direction of movement.

         It will be up to the children of the family to make the decision where they want to take the family. The choice is open to them. Carefully choose friends and associates. Life choices and events can lead you to wealth or poverty. You are the captain of your destiny and the master of your fate. Poverty does not define you and neither does wealth. It is the quality of life you choose to live, and those who you permit to take the journey with you, which defines you. Set backs are possible, but we always land on our feet. The determination to survive and excel is the most important gift the family can give you. Your genes are good; your bloodline is good. Get an education; it is the doorway out of poverty. Buy property, and owe no man anything. Avoid alcohol and drugs, if you are not sure your system can handle them. Drugs and alcohol are masters always looking for slaves. The Fleming’s have never experienced the institution of slavery. Our traditions and our blood are rooted in diversity. Remember to celebrate your African blood, your European blood and your Native American blood. Next to God and family, education is the most important power you have. Education is something you own, no one can take it away from you.

         I was blessed with nothing, so I expected nothing of life. My disadvantage became my advantage. I was on the bottom financially, and I had to make my way up. I had my mother’s intellectual ability, and I knew I had to make my own way in the world. Having experienced poverty, I made a conscious decision to avoid any suggestions or behaviors, which, in my opinion, would lead me into poverty. I did not associate with people in poverty, and I was careful to avoid behaviors, which I saw in my family, would lead to a path of downward mobility. I did neither alcohol nor drugs, and I focus my drive on education as my prize. In my selection of a mate, first I found the class and the education, and then I found the love. I did not do poverty. My husband was a college graduate, from a family of college graduates. Good background, good money, good marriage, two good sons, we selected the up wards road.

         I have often been accused of seeing the best in people. My cousin Justine has said that she has had to listen to the stories told by her brother, who was my age, and listen to my stories. Although we were born around the same time to sisters from the same family, it seems as if our memories are very different. Justine was born twenty years after her brother, and they had different fathers. I never knew, Ulysses’ father, but I had wonderful memories of Justine’s father.

         Now let me see if I can get this story straight while my mind is still with me. I see a lot of senior moments affecting friends and neighbors. I do not remember any such problems in my family. Maybe because most of them died so young, they did not live long enough to get the disease. Well, just in case I go off to la-la land, I decided to write my recollection of my childhood, and growing up as a Fleming grandchild, and a Richardson daughter.

         First let me say, growing up was not fun. I discovered very early, that there is a disadvantage to being the second child in the family, and second girl child at that. It did not help that I was the blackest of all of my mother’s three children. Black, cute with nappy hair, these things stick with me, since my mother has white skin, my sister had light brown skin, and my baby brother took the white skin from my mother. My coloring came from my father, who had dark skin. I really do not remember since he checked out on us, through death, when I was four years old. I must have gotten the skin color from him, since all of my mother’s sisters were fair skin to white. My mother’s oldest sister, aunt Gertrude, was pure white, and she had a pure black baby. My grandmother was a black Indian woman about 4 feet 9 inches tall, and weighing no more than ninety pounds.

       This little 4-foot woman married, this Irish- Scots man and as a result produces these rainbow colored children. Mama, as we called my grandmother, was a quiet woman, who did not particularly care about her grand children. It seems that her marriage to this Mr. Fleming was a disaster. She had five children, and although she never said a word, her first born, aunt Gertrude would tell the horror stories of how he would beat her, and they would all have to jump out of the window and run for their lives. Aunt Gertrude, who was born when Mama was fifteen, said, she remembered when her father died, and they had the funeral in the house. She said the kids hide under the house, while the people were having the funeral, and they did not cry. She said the house was built on stilts, so there was plenty of space for hiding.

       My mother had fallen in love with a neighborhood boy. His family was moving from St. Augustine Florida, up to New York City. The Richardson family appeared to be well off, and the father had secured employment in the big city. My father did not want to leave my mother, but he had to travel north with his family. His mother, seeing the distress my father was in, spoke to my grandmother, Nancy, that was her name, Nancy Waterhouse Fleming, and persuaded her to let my mother come up to New York City so that she and my father could get married.

       My father’s mother, Alice DeBose Richardson, promised my grandmother Nancy, that she would look out for my mother, and care for her. The DeBose side of the family, my father’s side is a whole book itself, and will be published under separate cover. The DeBoses were preachers and teachers, and my rich heritage of slavery comes in through that line. Up from slavery, but doing well because of its richness, it will be an exciting story.

Naomi Lucille Fleming, traveled to New York, married. My father, George Weldon DeBose Richardson, lived in a private town house with the Richardsons. The Richardson had four children named Mercedes, Whelimenia, George Jr., and Snooks, called brother. Staying in the house was difficult, and after the birth of my sister, Gwendolyn, the young family moved out into a place of their own. I was born nine months later, and nine months after that, my baby brother, Vernon was born. My mother had three babies in three years.

             This was not a happy time for her, aside from he fact that her in laws did not treat her very nice, especially the children, she was alone in New York City with three babies. This was in the middle of the depression years, and my father had to struggle finding employment. Around that time, the WPA came into effect, and President Roosevelt started massive construction projects, in order to put an unemployed labor force to work. I remember my father going out on snow removal jobs. My father, suffered from ill health, someone said he had meningitis as a child and he was not expected to live long. Well he did not, some how he contracted pneumonia and was dead by his twenty-sixth birthday. My mother was left with three children all under the age of five years.

       I remember the day my father died. I was four, but I can still hear my mothers piercing scream, as she read the telegram from the hospital. Neighbors came in to see what was the matter, and were kind enough to go around the corner to tell my grandmother that her son had just died. I do not remember, any relatives coming by the house. In fact I do not remember my grand mother or her children ever coming by the house.

       To say the funeral was a disaster would be an understatement. I remember the funeral. For a four old to remember a funeral, it would have had to be a traumatic event. My father’s family was fighting with my mother over who would make the funeral arrangements. My grandparents were Catholic, and they wanted my father to have a Catholic funeral. My mother had made arrangements with a Baptist church to handle the funeral.

         The arrangements were made with the Brown funeral home located on 132nd street and Lenox Avenue New York City. There must have been some fight, because I remember, two funeral companies fighting over the body. I remember, my father’s casket being taken out of the Pilgrim Baptist church in NYC, by the undertaker who my grandmother had hired to handle the body. In the process of two funeral parlors struggling to get the casket down the long flight of stairs of the Pilgrim Baptist church, the men slipped and my father and the casket went flying down the stairs. My mother fainted, we screamed, and my father laid face down at the bottom of the long flight of stairs of the Pilgrim Baptist church.

         Fortunately, the funeral director was located just around the corner. They picked up the body, took it back to the parlor, and scheduled the funeral for the next day. The events of the next day were not any better, I remember my mother’s aunt, who lived up here, having left the south many years before my mother, holding my baby brother, and trying to make him kiss my father in the coffin. She was not a nice person, then, and future events would reveal that she was not a nice person ever. The ride to the cemetery was a horror. My mother was in one car, and we were stuck in the car with Aunt Lulu, with my brother screaming for two hours.

           The years were followed by a series of events both sad and inspiring. The source of my strength comes from watching this small, larger than life beautiful women handle the challenges of life. Where did the strength to endure pain and rejection come from? Emotional pain is so much harder than physical pain; how did she handle that emotional pain, and still survive for her children? I was inspired by the way my mother handled the care of three small children after the death of her husband. The death of my sister at 14 years of age was a very sad event.

Gwendolyn was always a frail child. There was quietness about her, and since she did not have the energy to engage in any childhood behaviors, she was considered a joy to have around. Her skin was the color of light caramel. She had long thick hair. Her hair was so long and thick, that the doctor suggested that my mother cut some of it off, so that it would not rob her of her strength. I don’t know what that’s about, but nevertheless, my mother thinned out her hair.

          Her features were small and thin. I remember my mother putting her in Catholic school at least until Junior high school. We attended the same Junior High school. I do not remember her in school, I do however, remember going out to lunch, and walking to a “Father Divine” restaurant. We did not do too much together due to her frail condition. Tuberculosis was the disease of the poor and my sister fell ill to the disease. She spent a great deal of time in a hospital on Ward’s Island. This was a Sanatorium where individuals with contagious diseases were required to stay. We would take long bus rides and boat rides to get to the hospital. My mother would hire an ambulance to bring her home on occasions. She would take sick, and have to be returned to the hospital.

         During the years of my sister’s illness, I was not able to have much support from my mother. I continued on in school, never saying anything about the sad drama that was going on in my home. Graduation day came, and I prepared myself for school. It was only middle school, but it would have been nice to have my mother there. I remember looking up from my seat with the graduating class, to see why all the students were turning around. Standing in the doorway of the auditorium was a beautiful lady, dressed in a beautiful silver fox fur coat. The kid’s were whispering, first because of the late entrance, and second, because she looked so rich and grand. It was my mother’s youngest sister, Justine. I was so happy to see her, and the children were surprised to learn that she had come to my graduation in place of my mother. Aunt Jestine was always a fancy dresser, and she had closets full of furs and beautiful dresses. I never forgot the day she showed up out of concern for me.

         Gwendolyn knew she was going to die. She was fifteen years old, and she weighed about sixty pounds. I watched the flesh fall from her bones, and I remember her crying out in agony because of the pain in her body. Three days before she died, she asked my mother to take her back to the hospital. I did not want her to go, and I remember her getting very angry with me because I asked my mother not to take her back. I know now that she was trying to save my brother and myself from having to live in a house with a dead person.

         Her death was traumatic and sad. It was traumatic because the neighbors thought I had died, when they heard that Mrs. Richardson had lost one of her children. When they saw me in the hallway, one of them said, ”Oh my God, the nice one died.” I was sad about my sister’s death, but I also felt guilty that some people would have preferred if I had gone instead. I use to think that my mother also thought that. I was so strong and healthy, that I think she resented it. I tried to make up for my sisters death, by not giving my mother any headache.

As nice as I tried to be, my brother Vernon decided to go full speed into any and all kinds of misbehaviors. Several times my mother had to go down to Center Street, where the courthouse was located, because of something he had done. I grew to dislike my brother, because I felt that he should have had some compassion for our mother who had gone through difficult times.

             My brother, Vernon, had the extra difficulty of being born with white skin. This was a difficulty if you live in a neighborhood where black or brown skin were the prevailing color. Black people can be a cruel as white people are when it comes to skin color. In the white community, the skin is not white enough, and in the black community, you get the name ”high yallar” if your skin is “too white”. Well my brother was “high yallar”, and he hated it. The boys use to chase him home, until, one day he decided not to run, and turned around, and had the fight of his life. He decided to give up the good glean bit, and become the biggest baddest “high yallar” kid in the neighborhood. He formed a gang, and changed his name to Duke. Duke never ran from anyone after that, and if there was to be any running, it was Duke and his boys who would be doing the chasing. The Duke reputation worked for him. He still would sing with our group in concerts and church, but after church, he ruled the neighborhood.

             I think Duke discovered, being good did not work for a boy, you were either bad or beaten, he decided to be bad. My brother had a very high IQ. I think he tested somewhere in the 160. I remember learning that he had this designation of genius. In high school, he never did any work, but always scored the top grades on test. The reason we found out about the high IQ was that the school was concerned about the fact that he did not do any work. They scheduled him for testing. The test revealed that he not only had this high IQ, but he also had a condition called dyslexia, which prevented him from reading. He had memorized his way through elementary school and Junior high school. He was excellent in math, and could always do the most complicated problems in his head. When the school discovered what his academic problem was, they appointed a special person to copy all of his notes, and read assignments for him and record his answers.

           This special ability to compensate for his reading handicap, made it possible for him to secure positions of significant importance in later years. He was smart and he was good looking, and he made good use of both. The advantage of being smart and good looking is that you can get people to do things for you. To say my brother was a ladies charmer would be an understatement. His preference appeared to be white women. This choice resulted in his marrying a Jewish wife, an Irish wife, and an Italian wife. Not at the same time of course. The ink was not dry on one divorce paper, when the ink was applied to a marriage license. I knew and became friends with all of his wives, and proceeded to live out my own life. I was interested in education, and working my way out of this poverty into which I was born.

I hated poverty, and made a decision that I would never enter into its institution again. I learned that the doorway out of poverty was through education. My brother handled our sad life through the many loves in his life. I handled mine by trying to be the perfect child for an over stressed mother. Perhaps the resentment, which I developed towards my brother and my sister can be traced to the fact that they both took my mother away from me; one because he was so bad in school and the community, and the other because she was so sick, and ended up dying, a death which totally destroyed my mother.

             It took another ten years for the results of my sister’s death to take the life of my mother. It would seem as if so much tragedy at a young age was too much for the human body. Her body started to break down little by little, and ten years later, death had also claimed her young sad life.

           My mother never completed her 40th decade. She died young, beautiful and sad. She was a High School graduate, and attended the Manhattan School of Music, where she studied to be a music teacher. Her earnings as a music teacher made it possible for her to improve our standard of living.

         True to my decision not to enter the field of poverty again, I carefully selected any and all relationships, and there were not many. I met and married a young man of great promise and good family. He had graduated from New York University, his mother, a graduate from Barbara Scotia College[1] was a teacher, and his father, a graduate from Hampton Institute in Virginia, was an engineer. This arrangement and marriage had all the makings of a successful union. Courting was an event made in heaven.

         My perfect marriage, so carefully planned and arrange was lasted for twenty- eight years. I had two sons, and there was no way that I was going to ride the poverty train, especially since I had already been a passenger on that train for eighteen years.

For years, I took college courses, preparing for a teaching degree. Sometimes, I could afford only one credit. Many times I had to take the children with me, lucky that the professor gave permission to keep a quiet child in the back of the room. A full scholarship to Columbia University resulted in my being able to devote fulltime to academic studies. I applied for and received state certification, and a license to teach in the New York City public schools

Breaking Out of the Culture of Poverty

 

 

 

It is possible to program the mind with thoughts you want to manifest into your own realities.

The mind and the subconscious does not know if what you are programming it with are factual or not, but the mind and the thoughts placed in the mind does have the ability to bring into your world the content of your thoughts. Thought are things, with the power to create substance and events. I wrestle with God all the time and in the process, She reveals to me the secrets of life. I am not perfect and I have made some mistakes, fortunately not bad ones, but I am not a passive player in my life.

Poverty is an addictive drug and that is why it is so difficult to break away from its influence. Poverty provides warmth, acceptance, no expectations and no judgment. It is a free floating space, with the only requirement that you show up the same way each day with no changes and no thoughts for the future. Living for the now is all there is and anything, which can pleasure the now is acceptable.

There is no past or future in the lives of members of poverty, there is only the now. When you arrive in a poverty environment, no one is interested in who you are, what you have done or are doing. No one cares about your accomplishments the only time is the now time, and when you leave it is as if you were never there. It is pure pleasure. How does one avoid the culture of poverty, and how would a person trapped in poverty break out? In order to avoid poverty never acknowledge its reality.

Think, see and behave as if a different state of reality were part of your existence. As children, my mother would dress us as if each day were special. We would set the table in a special way, and speak to each other as if each person were special. If there were a shortage of something, there was no acknowledgment of that shortage, and something else was move into its place as if normal occurrence. My grandfather worked in a butcher shop, and his contribution to the family was to deliver a daily supply of meat and chicken each day. When you have plenty of meat, food is never an issue for some reason there were always enough food for us, and for any visitor who would chance by.

Wealth is a mental attitude influenced by the way you think about yourself and the environment around. A wealth conditioning had nothing to do with economic reality; the small bi monthly welfare check was not designed to give a person a sense of comfort. The idea that this was a transitional stage of life, and we would get through it was encouraged and became the unspoken words of our being. I remember having great images of a future I would design for myself, the more challenges faced, the stronger and clearer the vision became.

Perhaps, this suggests that we were never in the culture of poverty; we were going through financial circumstances demanding strict attention to the distribution and use of money. Money did not make us rich or poor, money was what was used to pay bills. We were raised as children of intellectual wealth, responsibility and talents. I selected all relationships with the same purpose, deciding in advance what part they would or could play in my future vision.

My mother put visions in our heads by taking us to other neighborhoods and providing an opportunity for us to see the possibilities of another world. During the years spent as a public school teacher in New York City, working in challenging communities, I used the New York City enriched environment as my classroom and repeated this process

 

 

 

 

 

The Vanillas

The 1920’s were the best and the worst of times for Black people in America. It was a period of wealth and prosperity for some and challenges for others. Mulatto families tended to have a slightly better time and resulted in many families working hard to keep the light skin advantage in the family. The Fleming girls were able to go to the best schools and move in a circle of vanilla cookie people who enjoyed living the good life. They were sought after as prize mates to keep the vanilla line going in the family line. Parents encouraged their sons and daughters to consider their future and their children before entering into any personal relationships.

At a social gathering for the vanilla elites, the Fleming girls were dressed in their finery and when they walked into the Hall designated by the small town and the Negro Center, heads turned at the impressive entrance. Gertrude, the eldest and the fairest of the group had on a pink knee length dress with a rhinestone band around her red hair, she was tall and graceful, and in her pink pumps with rhinestone buckles, she not only glided into the room but was sought after as a dance partner, who had a free spirit and passionate moves.

The male vanilla’s lines up to dance with her and her sisters, equally dressed in their finery, captured the heart of the other men not occupied with the dates they brought to the dance. Gertrude enjoyed all of the attention and took advantage of the opportunity to shake her ample rounded hips and show off an impressive bust line set off by the tiny of waistline. At the height of excitement, with the music playing and in the arms of the most eligible vanillas, she had a flash back of her father. Otis was a man who was not vanilla, he was pure white, he could easily have pass for a non- black person; she remembered the silent pain of her mother at the hands of this pale man. She remembered how she and her sisters and brother had to be careful not to be caught in his anger temper and frustration usually brought on by excessive drink, she remembered and the moment of excitement was gone. She would never follow in her mother’s track.

Gertrude married the blackest man she could and had a son, and although she was the most loving of the family, she was not able to get along with her husband. Her marriage revealed a deep dark secret in her husband, Clinton had married her because of her color and he wanted his children to have that color. The birth of her only son caused great disappointment in Clinton, when he went to the hospital to see his wife and child, he expected to see a vanilla child laying in her arms. Gertrude was lying there with her baby, who was beautiful, healthy and very black. Her African genes, met with her husband’s African genes and they produced a pure black child. Clinton left Gertrude and the baby in the hospital, and gave clear indication that he did not want to have anything to do with either. The Fleming’s came to the hospital to pick up Gertrude and her beautiful baby and took her home. They never saw her husband again, as soon as they were strong enough she and the young child moved to New York City to start a new life.

Jestine, the youngest sister, and a real beauty, also married the darkest man she could find and had a son; her experiences were almost the same as her sisters, and for some of the same reasons. Ulysses was born with some learning and speech challenges, and the father deciding that a learning challenged child with black skin was not something he was willing to work with, the marriage experienced difficulties and she left him and returned to the family home. Perhaps it was the experiencing their mother abused by her husband, who accounts for the girls leaving their husband during the first signs of conflict, but nevertheless, the girls had short marriages.

Jestine left her child with her mother Nancy and decided to move to New York City where her sisters and her brother had already relocated. She married again, and selected a husband who worked as a Seaman on a ship, and made a good living. They had a beautiful apartment in Washington Heights; it was so large that it had two living rooms decorated with the finest furniture. Justine was always fashionably dressed and her husband Cleave Averrett, kept her in the best clothes and a closet full of furs. Her only occupation was suppose to be taking care of the house, and looking good for her husband, when he came home. Justine neglected to tell her new husband about one major factor in her life, she had a son living in Florida with her mother.

What she feared happened, Cleave resented her not telling him about the boy, and was not happy with the idea of the child coming to live with them. Nancy was about to make a big move from Florida to New York City, and she felt it was time for the boy to get to know his mother and live with her. There was only one problem, a big problem, Cleave did not like Jestine’s son Ulysses. He made the boy’s life miserable. This placed an extra hardship on the boy, especially since he had a learning problem, and tended to stutter. Jestine eventually left her husband, for the sake of her child. Her financial situation changed considerably, and she had to struggle to make a living for herself and her young son. She entered nursing school, and worked for many years as a baby nurse, providing care and assistance for mothers and their infants at home.

I was about ten years old when all this was happening, this was the adventure of the extended family, all of the sisters and my grandmother were now living in New York City near each other, each had their own challenges and each with the help of the others worked through their challenges. I paid careful attention to these extended family adventures and enjoyed the drama. I hated my life and the drama of death and impending death and the ever pressing storefront churches and my forced attendances at these churches. Whenever I could visit one of the cousins it was a time of pure joy, their struggles were my pleasure spots. I remember as children, the seven of us cousins use to hide under the blankets and look at Jestine’s nursing books. We loved looking at the naked people and giggling about it.

My aunt Jestine was very special in my life. She had the most courage of all of the sisters, and had a head for business. Jestine worked at Creedmoor Hospital, and during her tour of duty, she met a man who was to have a significant effect on her life, and the life of the entire Fleming Family. His name was Harper, and he was a big man. He was over six feet tall, and since the Fleming women tended to be short, he made an imposing figure in the family. Uncle Harper was as kind and generous as he was big.

Jestine was a community leader, and could always bee seen planning trip for the children in the family and also the neighborhood children. Uncle Harper would come leaded down with food and goodies for everyone on one of Justine’s planned beach trips. Justine and Harper had a daughter, little Jess as we called her; she was born twenty years after Ulysses. As strong as Jestine was, she almost died during childbirth. She was very ill during this birth, and had to remain in the hospital for more than three months. The baby, little Jess, was a beautiful child; mother, brought her home from the hospital, and became her caregiver during the time her mother was in the hospital. This was the first baby in the family in twenty years, so to say she was spoiled would be an understatement. The family took turns carrying little Jess around on a satin pillow, and my mother would carry cotton soaked with olive oil to wipe her beautiful skin, in case someone touched her.

Little Jess was born on December 7th, and we considered her the bombshell baby. As she grew up she was a holy, but loveable terror. My grandmother, a small black Indian woman, had the responsibility of caring for the toddler. Grand ma spoiled both little Jess, and Ulysses, who was her favorite. Grandma preferred to live with Justine and her family and played a significant role in their lives. Little Jess grew up, married and gave birth to a beautiful baby boy. This was her second child. She lost her first child at the same time she lost her mother, this loss motivated her into becoming a loving and dotting mother to the three children she was blessed to bring into the world.

Rashad left this earth to follow her first born into heaven with the other relatives. This death resulted in her placing an even more loving arm around her two remaining children. Fanta and Mustapha were the joy of her life. They were smart and energetic and brought her and the family great pride and much joy. Fanta represented her generation in joining the Armed Forces, electing to do her service in the Air Force.

She had the intelligence and drive of her mother and grandmother, completing service to the country, marriage, two beautiful children, College, Nursing School, and devoted motherhood all at the same time. Ulysses, her older brother, was a quiet soul who enjoyed reading and playing his musical instrument. He loved political discussions, and current events seem to be one step ahead of all of the cousins in the understanding of world. His mother had spent a fortune on his teeth, and the braces, which he wore for years produced a friendly smile and a beautiful set of perfect white teeth. For some reason, little Jess, did not feel loved or accepted. Perhaps when you love a child too much and put no restrictions on the child, she may grow up feeling that no one cared. We were just so happy to have her, and remembering that her mother almost died bringing her into the world, that we made her feel special. She did not want to feel special; she just wanted to be part of the group.

The question of being part of the group can be understood at hindsight. The fours sisters, Gertrude, Naomi, Florence and Justine, had nine children between them. The nine children, Gwendolyn, Bill, Ulysses, Delores, Willie Jr. Doris, Vernon, Stanley and Justine had bonded and behaved like sisters and brothers. Seven of the children were born in the 1930’s and the last two were born in the 1950’s. It was a one for all and all for one family arrangement. Little Jess, comes along twenty years later, and is really part of the first cousin group, but is treated like a second cousin. She is raised with the children of the first cousins. She also grew up at a time when the financial wealth of the family was in decline. She knows nothing of the beautiful apartments with the double living rooms, or closets full of furs. She did not live through the expensive homes in the Suburbs, and the family rooms and finished basements, which were the center gathering place for the community. She has to listen to the stories about the past, because the present does not reflect the past. Although most of us were born during the depression years, the fact that the men in the family held good paying jobs working at sea, and on the railroad, prevented part of the family from any hardships. Justine and Florence married men of wealth and as results, lived very well. Jestine and Gertrude lived in Washington Heights in an area usually inhabited by Irish and Jews. Gertrude was a nurse, and she was able to take care of her one son, Bill.

         . She loved her son very much, and symbolizes what it true about the Fleming women, they loved their children. She married a dark skinned man, and her son picked up the coloring of his father. All of the children in the Fleming family had to accept the fact that any child born in the family could be white, black, or any shade in between. So when you look at the Fleming family you see all shades as we celebrate our ancestors who were Scotch/Irish, African and Native American, to see the Fleming family is to see the faces of America.

Bill

Bill carried on the family tradition of serving the country through military service. The family has had some member in the service since the Revolutionary war. Otis served in WW2, and Bill was called during the Korean War to represent the country and the family. Gertrude devoted her whole life to her son, and when Helen came into his life, she was reluctant to share his love with another woman. Recognizing that Bill had met a woman who would love and care for him as much as his mother, Gertrude finally gave the young couple her blessings. Bill married Helen, and they both worked in the field of education. Helen became a community leader, and very active in school affairs. Bill and Helen were devoted parents, and produced a loving family. The children and grand children were able to achieve wealth and education and excel in college and community work. It is interesting to watch the rainbow of colors, which pops up in this family. Bill was dark skinned but he carried the genes of whiteness, and his children and grand children come into the world representing their diverse genetic backgrounds, but also the thirst for excellence.

Florence did not have the demons of color hanging over her head. She married for love and not color, and when she met and fell in love with a vanilla, she married him.           Willie Williams was a successful chef, who worked on the Railroad. They had two vanilla children, Willie Jr, and Doris. The marriage lasted longer than any of the other girls. This could be due to the fact that Williams made a good income, and he was on the road most of the time. He provided a good living for his family, and was not around to cause any problems in the household. When the father came home it was always Christmas, with plenty of gifts, and plenty of money. Florence and Uncle Willie lived in an area of town called Morningside drive. They had a large six-room apartment at 98 Morningside Avenue NYC. The apartment had maid quarters, and Aunt Florence hired a maid and governor ness to care for the two children. Her name was Dolly. She became part of the family.

Florence also studied to be a nurse. She also owned her own business, a beauty shop. The back apartment of the beauty shop had an apartment where my grandmother lived. The beauty shop and apartment was located on 116th street between Manhattan Avenue and 8th avenue. I remember going to the beauty shop after school to help her. She trained me to be a shampoo girl, and she also trained me how to do hair. Between number running, the beauty shop business, and uncle Willies income from the railroad, the Williams family lived very well. The William’s family had a television set in the 1940’s, and a telephone. The children wore the best clothing and the latest styles. Doris and Willie Jr. also attended private Catholic school. Doris and her family were Catholic.

Doris was a beautiful vanilla, but hard times and tragedy changed her entire physical appearance. She drowned her sorrows in alcohol and drugs, her children knew nothing of her beauty and kindness; they remember only a broken mother. Her mother not only hired a private Nanny named Dolly for the children but kept them in private school. Doris studied y with the great dancer, Katherine Durham, who had studios on 125th street in Harlem. I remember going with her to these lessons and sharing veraciously the exciting events. Doris became a famous exocotic dancer. She eventually took her skills into exotic, modern dancing. She became very famous for her beauty and her dance skills. She had beautiful clear creamy light skin. She was booked for many shows around the New York City area. I would accompany her on many of these shows, and I was able to share the excitement of what goes on behind stage.

The family decided to move to the suburbs, and purchased a home on what was called Jamaica Long Island. As beautiful as the apartment was on Morningside Avenue, the house in Jamaica Long Island was something to see. It was beautifully furnished with a full basement designed for recreation. In terms of wealth, it was a good move. In terms of what it did to the family, it was devastating. I always say that the move to Long Island almost ruined the family. From the 1940’s to the 1960’s the middle and upper class families on Long Island went from wealth to poverty through bad life choices and drugs.

Doris became angry with her father, and in an effort to defy him; she married someone who she knew her father would not like. Two of the leading vanilla middle class families on the block, had made arrangements for their children to marry. Doris, in a move to hurt her father, called off the wedding, and planned a quick wedding to someone who was a stranger to the family. The wedding was held in her home, and since money was no object, she was able to plan an extravagant affair in one week. I was her bridesmaid, and I remember the tension in the family. Bo, was a nice man, but a stranger to the family. Doris soon discovered that she had made a mistake. Bo did not have the financial resources to keep her in the style she was accustomed to living. Doris still wanted to be the rich girl, and problems developed. It was around this time that a college was planning to build into the area, and it did all it could to destroy the neighborhood and force people to see their homes.

The marriage was rocky, and eventually the family separated after the birth of their three children. Doris continued to live in the family home with the children. The stress of the marriage was difficult for Doris, and the death of her first-born son pushed her over the edge. Doris could not handle the pain, and started to drink in order to medicate herself.

Aunt Florence asked me to take her to Bermuda with me, in an effort to help her through her deep depression. We went, and she appeared to have a wonderful time, the pain of her loss was too severe, and she lost the will to live. Her heart gave away and she had a seizure, and when she was rushed to the hospital they could not revive her she just could not take it any more. The death of Larry was devastating for the family and the strain put serious challenges before the family. The children and grand children could only watch as wealth disappeared from the family, and the grandchildren can only learn through stories passed down about the periods of wealth and prosperity, which once symbolized the family. Uncle Willie, eventually left the home, and he took his wealth with him.

Trying to find Naomi’s story has been very difficult, perhaps because I see so much of my self in what I remember of her. Naomi was a small vanilla woman about five feet three inches tall. She had a very fair light skin and could be considered beautiful. She was what I would call reserved. She was the more educated of the four sisters and one brother, having completed high school at the Edward Waters High School, which is now a college. I always thought she look like one of the Renoir paintings, with soft hair and cream-colored skin. She was friendly but did not surround herself with a lot of friends. She was attractive, but ended to down play her beauty in order to fit into the community in which we could afford to live.

Money seems to discriminate by color and shade with some of the lighter skinned black people living in the upper parts of Harlem, and the darker skinned people with lower incomes living in the lower sections of the community. I remember living in Spanish Harlem and I remember my mother spoke fluent Spanish and was able to interact with the neighborhood very well.

Most of my childhood was spent on eight Avenue and 112th street. Naomi never gossiped so there were never neighbors running in and out carrying stories to be shared around the block. Her time and her life were devoted to her children, her church and her music. She somehow managed to attend The Manhattan School of music where she studied organ and piano playing. This was a skill that was to become very useful to her as the events in her life began to unravel. She was an excellent organist and was sought after by many churches in the Harlem area.

When I become stressed over some issue, I remember this woman all alone with three small children – handling life challenges. George DeBose Richardson fell in love with this young beauty while they were both living in Jacksonville Florida. Before moving to New York City with his family, he begged my Indian grandmother Nancy, to permit Naomi to come to New York City so that they could get married. He even had his mother Alice DeBose Richardson to promise to look out after her until they were married. Naomi, moved to New York City, and married George Richardson.

They were happy until George’s life was cut short in the twenty-six year of his life. The death of her husband was to have a significant effect on the lives of Naomi and her children. These were already the depression years and immigrants coming in through Ellis Island from southern Europe surrounded the family. Jewish, Italian and Irish families were struggling just to make ends meet. The ethnically diverse community of Harlem shared its resources with the multicultural inhabitants. Groups did not separate; they were in the same economic struggle together. Poverty did not discriminate during the depression years. Individuals had to be creative to keep a roof over their heads. Men could be seen selling everything on the streets. Italian street vendors selling ice or fish from the back of a truck, Jewish men selling curtains and household ware from suitcases, Irish men struggling to make a living as policemen, while their wives contributed to the family by working as public school teachers. Men who were unable to find a hustle, could be seen selling apples or just abandoned their families altogether, and turn to the bottle to cope.

Black families tended to fair a little better during the depression. Individuals who did have any spare money would hire men and women to work in domestic service. The advantage of speaking English in an urban center populated with immigrants from Europe made it easier for those men and women born in the country to secure positions in hospitals, transportation and shipping.

Naomi’s family was still in Jacksonville Florida, and not being accepted by her husband’s family, left her on her own at the time of his death. She had at her advantage that she was a high school graduate and attended college in Florida where she was studying to be a music teacher. She put this career on hold to travel to New York City to marry her husband. With his death she found it necessary to find some way to support herself and her three children. She registered at the Manhattan School of Music, paying for her tuition through day’s work as an office cleaner. The children were lucky to be able to attend the daycare programs operated by the local church. Upon completing her studies at the Manhattan School of Music she was able to supported herself, teaching music, at home, playing the organ at several churches and training professional gospel singing groups. Old man Richardson, her father in law was in the meat packing business, and would bring by large amount of meat on a daily basis, and leave it for the family. The interaction with the Richardson’s was sparse, and aside from seeing her father in law, there was little or no interaction between the Richardson family and Naomi. This life and these times played a significant role in the development of my careers as a public school teacher.

We have spent time talking about the voices in my head, and the ancestral memories, real or imagined which has woven itself into the fabric of my being, but what about the voices, which influence my soul my heart, and the deep voices of my spirit. I am my mother’s daughter, I am the second Naomi, and it was my job to bring into existence the job she started. She did storefront churches; I work with large churches and congregations with the skills and the finances to make changes in peoples lives. She was a music teacher; I am a public school teacher and a college professor. She prayed to God to help make thing different for an oppressed unhappy people, I teach people how to take the scales of blindness off their eyes, and get up from lame positions and walk into the kingdom, which God wants for them on earth. I go where people are and help get them to where they want to go. She was emotional, I am practical and I have refined my skills to do the job of my educational and spiritual calling. I think religion is God greatest gift to man, and it has been used to turn him into a submissive tool for control. I think education is the means by, which man can achieve his greatest potential, and it is also the means by, which he is educated out of his place and inheritance on this earth. Religion and education are both powerful and dangerous tools when placed in the wrong hands, and unfortunately, it is these tools that have been use against minorities and oppressed peoples to make them easier to control and exploit.

 

             The system is design to prevent any movement out of the selected class; the poor are program for a life of poverty, the middle class, educates themselves, make sacrifices and are programmed for the life of sacrifice and delayed gratification; the upper class, usually is born with money, or through investment, education and culture work out of the middleclass into the class of wealth and privilege. Each class has its own set of behaviors and cultural expectations; in America movement into each class is determined by a set of variables; drugs and criminal behavior will drop an individual from one class to another class. There is also the under class; individuals in the underclass are usually involved in anti social behaviors and criminal activities, and money does not determine the class placement. Members of the underclass are seldom invited to other class events regardless of wealth accumulations.

Individuals attempting to break out of the culture of poverty will face many obstacles, including sabotage from members of their own group and own family. Escape is achieved through education, but the cost is dear in terms of old friends and familiar environment, and there is no going back.

Your church, family and friends will, some times, reject you if you are successful in breaking out of the culture of poverty. You demonstrate to them that it can be done and that there is something wrong with them and the way they are living their lives; no one likes to be wrong, and the one who changes will be attacked. If you can stand the rejections, until you find your own group, you will be all right. If your grandmother was on welfare, your mother lives on welfare and you are on welfare and pregnant, you are caught in the culture of poverty. If you are a male and your girlfriend is expecting your baby, in the same family, then this would suggests that you are trapped in the culture of poverty. Breaking out is difficult to impossible, and the impossible happens all the time. Poor people attend poor churches, and poor churches are part of the culture design to keep you in your place. You must go through a transformation, requiring you to drop the past and resurrect into a new future. You will work harder than you have ever worked in your life, but self esteem comes from hard work not feel good talk sessions. You cannot do the pity party, the racial blame or the missing father routine, you must take the captains seat and take the ship of your life into the directions you plan. You will work 2 or 3 jobs, attend school at night, and step by step change your class and the direction of your life. You will take your children with you to school, train them how to quietly stay in the library and do homework and wait for you to finish class. In the course of my teaching at The College of New Rochelle, School of New Resources, I permitted children of students to sit quietly in the back of the room on occasions when they had no one to baby sit their children. Colleges specializing in working with adults are aware and sensitive to the challenges involved with students in the transformation stage.

Poverty is an addiction, and the addiction has built into it variables needed by the individual to support the addiction, you may sabotage your success in order to return to the addiction in times of stress. The closer you get to your goal and out of the poverty trap the more difficult the trip will become, victory does come, and the need to get others out is the most challenging emotion you will experience.

The group caught in poverty will silently celebrate your success, and each success motivates and serves as a guide to the next individual seeking to travel the “underground railroad” to freedom. If you think it is about race, you will lose your way, this is class transformation, and class transformation is worse than racism. It is about trying to preserve power and wealth for a select few. There is plenty for everyone, and that is the secret you will discover when you reach your destination. Escaping the addiction of poverty requires that you do not return to the environment or the people or circumstances involved in the addiction. Poverty is an addiction because of the behaviors of the people caught in the culture. Sincerity, warmth and acceptance are the qualities of the people caught in this trap.

Religious workers and social workers will encourage you to stay in the familiar, and may even put obstacles preventing any movement out of your intended group. If you attend school you will lose benefits, find a way to go to school. If you seek employment you will lose benefits, find a way to work. Do not break the law, but change your system of support; reclaim your life and your destiny. I have personally witnessed students, solve drug addiction, and physical disability step by step and gain control over their own lives and complete their college education. When an individual frees the self from the prison of poverty, the mind also frees the brain to engage in high level of cognitive thinking. The cognitive ability of the students began to manifest itself and students are able to perform academically at levels they themselves or their professors realize. The cognitive ability of the students must also be nurtured because cultural forces designed to prevent awareness of potential have held them back. The student freeing himself from this environment must not attempt to return or work in programs designed to help those trapped in poverty. Live your life as an example of what can be done, and offer a hand and a guide for the way to change. Your success is a gift from God, and what you do with your life is your gift to God.

The Secrets of Wealth

 

Wealth is God in circulation, and the more you give away, the more will be returned to you doubled over. The more people you free to travel the wealth track, the more will be given to you in your task of helping others. The question of what will you do with your education should center on how can you use your experience and education to help others? How can you break down the wall of fear and free others from the oppression and addiction of poverty? How can you prevent the poor from attacking others and taking frustration out on society? How can you teach the poor that the system is designed to draw them into behaviors that will prevent them from entering into the forbidden planet? How can the poor and the oppressed avoid behaviors designed to make them felons and left out of the game of wealth? The answers to these questions can become a motivational goal of life, or you can just decide to be the best person you can be and hope that others will see you and your life as a role model. The choice is yours.

Healing the man at the pool
John 5:1-9
…Now there is in Jerusalem by the sheep gate a pool, which is called in Hebrew Bethesda, having five porticoes. In these lay a multitude of those who were sick, blind, lame, and withered, waiting for the moving of the waters; for an angel of the Lord went down at certain seasons into the pool, and stirred up the water; whoever then was first in the pool, after the stirring up of the water, was made well from whatever disease with which he was afflicted. And a certain man was there, who had been thirty-eight years in his sickness. When Jesus saw him lying there, and knew that he had already been a long time in that condition, He said to him, “Do you wish to get well?” The sick man answered Him, “Sir, I have no man to put me into the pool when the water is stirred up, but while I am coming, another steps down before me.” Jesus said to him, “Arise, take up your bed, and walk.” And immediately the man became well, and took up his bed and began to walk.

       Healing for life comes from within, you must find a way to see through your blindness, walk when you are cripple; declare health when you are ill. There is a healing power within all of us, purity in mind and body will make it possible to over come any obstacles. The factors that block the healing energies from within are prescriptions drugs, alcohol and toxic people.

 

 

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Barber-Scotia College, Concord, North Carolina

Barber-Scotia College is a coed liberal arts school founded by the Presbyterian church in 1867. Today Barber-Scotia offers both bachelor of arts and bachelor of science degrees with the majority of students specializing in either the social sciences or business administration.

 

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