From Appleton to Gee's Bend
Janet Heinritz-Canterbury

[As told to and discussed by Freedom Movement veterans and family members at a story-telling session, U.C. Berkeley, September 30, 2018.]

Movement VeteransFamily & Guests
Chude Pam Parker Allen (volunteer)Philip Canterbury
Linda Wetmore Halpern (volunteer)Carolyn Canterbury
Janet Heinritz-Canterbury, SNCC  Elliot Halpern
Daphne Muse, SNCCJoann Heinritz
 Randi Lauderdale, MLK Freedom Center

Janet: OK. So if I get weepy, I'm not really — I'm not as emotionally solid as I used to be or constrained as I used to be, because a lot of things remind me of my husband who died. [Crying] See, I'm falling apart already. So as I'm talking and I fall apart, that's why it's happening, because Tom was involved in a lot of this stuff as well. And then he died a couple of months ago. Anyway, so I'm gonna try to read, because I think the reading might help me keep it together a little bit.

My story starts in 1965 in Appleton, Wisconsin. I was 19 years old. Appleton is a small town, home of [arch-conservative Senator] Joe McCarthy. I was raised Catholic, and I'm the third oldest of 18 children.

Woman: She just dropped that bomb right there. [General laughter] And just kept moving.

Janet: Say that again?

Chude: 18 children.

Janet: 18. The third oldest. [Joannie] is the oldest.

Anyway, it was September, and I attended a presentation by a couple of young people who were setting up a library in Selma, Alabama that Black people could use, because [Black] people couldn't use the public library. And so they were collecting books at my college. I was at an extension at the University of Wisconsin in Appleton. So I had seen news coverage on TV of dogs and water hoses on people who were trying to register in Birmingham, and I was appalled, obviously. It was terrible.

And so I had seen that, but talking to these people who were there, telling me about the work they were doing was shocking to me. And I gravitated to it and to them. I talked with them a lot over the next couple of weeks, and then I finally decided I wanted to go to Selma with them. So I talked to a couple of friends and people that I babysat for and basically raised enough money to buy a bus ticket to Selma and went to Selma.

In the years since, I've learned that many people who did that, who worked in the Civil Rights Movement, spent a lot of time thinking about it and reading, and they had a philosophical and religious framework to put it in or to think about it. And I really didn't have anything like that. My parents were not supportive — to say the least. I had no religious or philosophical reasoning for going. All I knew about the whole situation was that I had seen this stuff on TV that made me sick, and I wanted to do something about it. It sounds really naive and shallow, and I'm sure I was, but I also was glad to get out of Appleton, Joe McCarthy's home town.

So I mean, the [Vietnam War] was beginning to speed up, and my dad was pro —  I mean, there was a lot of angst, and so I gravitated. But I didn't have any —  I mean, when I look at some of the other people and read about other people who had religious and philosophical underpinnings to their thinking, I'm just amazed. But I didn't really do that.

So anyway, when I got off the bus in Selma and walked to the Black section of town, I was shocked. I couldn't believe there were no street lights; there were no curbs; there were no stores, sidewalks or paved roads. I went with my friends, and my friends introduced me to Donna, a six-foot-tall white woman from Texas, and she took me to the home of the woman that I was going to stay with. And the lady was warm and welcoming, and I have no recollection of what her name was. But I was overwhelmed, and I was terrified. To say the least, I was utterly terrified. I had no earthly idea what I was doing there. And I was terrified.

I could barely understand people when they talked. They had very, very strong accents. I had never eaten grits, greens, biscuits even. My mom was one of the best cooks in the entire planet, you know with 18 kids you'd have to be; she never made biscuits — baking powder biscuits. You know, we just didn't have that. And that's mainly what I ate, right? Never lived with outdoor plumbing, and every night, there were these people who gathered in her kitchen and drank white lightening around the table and talked.

And if I could've understood them, it really probably would've been an entirely different experience for me. Because I'm sure it would've been a fascinating conversation, but here I am, I'm terrified. I don't know what I'm doing there. And then I don't understand what people are saying. Anyway, it was shocking.

So Donna and this woman, the lady who I lived with, were wonderful. Donna was this tall white Texan, and she lived with racism her whole life. She was raised in East Texas, and she wasn't in the least bit intimidated by the crackers. She wasn't intimidated by people throwing things at us as we walked down the street and cursing at us and yelling at us and stuff. She would just walk on, and she would take me with her. And so, you know, I don't remember what the feeling was in my gut. Probably I was scared, and I was just latching onto her, because she represented my safety completely.

And the other thing is I knew I couldn't go back to Appleton. My mom and dad said, 'Don't ever come back and don't call us if you get in trouble.' So I mean, I knew I had to make this work.

At night, Donna and I would sometimes go to the Chicken Shack, and that's where a lot of other Civil Rights people were, and so one night, Stokely [Carmichael] walked over and introduced himself to us. And I think he actually knew Donna. He didn't know me, but he introduced himself to me and us, and he talked to us about the strategy he was recruiting people for which was to build Lowndes County Freedom Parties in Black Belt counties in Alabama and were we interested in doing that? Or working with him? Or whatever. I don't know how he put the question.

So I looked at Donna and followed Donna's lead. She says, 'Yeah, that sounds interesting. I'll think about it.' And so then we talked about it over the next couple of days, and then when we saw Stokely again, he said, 'What are you guys gonna do?' And then Donna said, 'Yeah, we're gonna go.' So he said that the training session was in Atlanta, in the SNCC office in Atlanta, so we went. So all those folks you were talking about, Willie Ricks and Courtland [Cox] and Bob Mants and all those people were there.

And it was like another world, as you can totally imagine, but one of the most amazing things about the training session was that Julian [Bond] was, I think he was running for State Assembly or I don't know. I think he was running for some public office, maybe it wasn't as high as the State Assembly, and it was a cold spell in Atlanta. It was a freezing spell, and so we passed out blankets door to door. I don't know if there's any record of this in SNCC, but honestly, I couldn't believe this was happening. I mean, it was real.

So we would go into these neighborhoods and knock on people's doors, and if — I don't know what we asked them, but somehow we would determine if they needed blankets. You know, it wasn't homeless, but they were in obviously very poor neighborhoods in Atlanta. Anyway, that was astounding, but at the end of the session, Stokely told me I was going to go to Wilcox County with a bunch of other people, including Jennifer [Lawson].

And so then I went, and I was the only white person. And there was Jennifer and I think there were three other — maybe there was just two. But two other Black guys and Jennifer and me. And so I was in the car with them, and this was the first time, I think, that I was in a car with Black people and learned it was not something you do in the back areas of anywhere in Alabama. So the sheriff chased us for awhile, and I don't know that everybody was in the car. I do know [Julius?] was in the car — [Junius?] was his name was in the car with me. So anyway, they chased us for awhile, and then they stopped.

And now when I think about it, we were on our way to Gee's Bend which is a totally unique community at the end of a road. The road dead ends into the Alabama river. Anyway, when you get to the community at the end of the road, everybody in that community is Black. Everybody has the same last name, Pettway. And they all own their own land, or 90% of them own their own land, because of Eleanor Roosevelt's project in the '40s. So those people who live in Gee's Bend, those Pettways, are like incredibly empowered. They're like different than most people that you'll come in contact with in other places in Wilcox County, for sure. They're not afraid. They are different.

In the time that I was there, I don't think I ever saw another white person down there other than the guy who drove the Coca-Cola truck. He would come down there to deliver drinks, I mean Cokes and equipment to Roman Pettway, to the store. And he would turn around and get out of there as soon as he got in there, because he'd be the only white person down there. So I felt totally safe obviously in that community. I could go anywhere. I could walk. I could go door to door. I could talk to people. They could talk to me. They would not get bombed that night if they talked to me, right? So I was fine.

We did some mass meetings. You know, we would get people together and talk about the idea, because it wasn't a complicated idea, but it was different than anything they'd heard of, right? So you don't just register to vote; you actually learn about the offices that are gonna be on the ballot and try to understand that SNCC had developed the comic books which are probably what those things were based on that you were talking about. And we used those comic books to talk about the offices, so it would be the tax assessor or the sheriff or the Board of Education people.

And so the idea being if everybody knew what these offices were supposed to do, they would either be able to keep them accountable or they could actually run for one of those offices. And then when the Party was formed, and I don't think there was a lot of competition to do, but when they were formed, then they would have a mass meeting in the next spring and get people on the ballot. Because there was really nothing else to vote for. I mean, there was nobody else on the ballot, so why would you register to vote if there's nobody on the ballot to vote for?

And so Stokely's idea, or actually Jack Minnis' idea with that strategy, was to form an independent political party so you could run other candidates. So and then we went to other areas of the county which was really, really, really hard, because there was no safety. And one day we were in Camden, and somebody actually got shot like two blocks down the street, some Black guy was walking down the street or something, and somebody just — in my mind, it was for no reason at all. Somebody drove by and shot him or something, and so it was just, again my terror was there. I can almost feel it now just describing this. You know, there was that fear. And it was not even just fear for myself but fear for the people that I was staying with. I was staying with Reverend [Dan] Harrell who was SCLC, and he was used to the fear and the harassment from the Klan, but still, it could happen any time.

And there was another area that we worked in Alberta, and one night at one of those mass meetings, we would always have a discussion about what symbol people wanted on the ballot, or wanted to represent the party, the independent political party that they formed. And I think it was in Alberta, that's the name that's sticking in my head, their symbol was a white lamb. And the symbol of course in Gee's Bend or in Lowndes County was a black panther. So that empowerment that I felt in Gee's Bend was completely exemplified. We choose a white lamb, and we choose a black panther. I mean, it was all stuff that was just mind-blowing to me, because I understood none of this, but it was wonderful. I mean, people were just going around talking to people and trying to understand people. You know, that was always a challenge.

But anyway, so we were working toward a mass meeting in the spring, and we went to the SNCC staff meeting in Nashville. I think it was in, I don't know, March or April or something like that, where SNCC voted for the white organizers to leave the Black community. And so I actually never went back to Wilcox. I never said goodbye to Roman Pettway. And I just loved Roman. Or any of the other people. And mostly it would've been the Gee's Bend people that I would've wanted to say goodbye to, because they were just so precious to me. And for a lot of reasons, just because I felt safe with them, if for no other reason, but they fed me well; they treated me well.

Anyway, so Stokely made a deal with Carl Braden from SCEF, the Southern Conference Education Fund, for us to go to a project at Eastern Tennessee. And the idea was to build base among poor whites, moderate bases where people talked about change and community, making their community a better place. And so your point about knowing the community you go to, I can't even imagine how that point was thought about in Stokely's head or Carl's head. I mean, we had never been to Sevier County, so we didn't know anything, but Carl Braden knew Sevier County. SCEF knew Sevier County.

So we all went and "lived in sin" in a house, just like we did in SNCC. We had a Freedom House, so we all lived together, so there were like eight of us. At least we were all white. You know, we weren't Black and white. We were all white. And then Carl came down and got arrested for being a Communist. So you know, that was sort of like, people really weren't jumping up and down to talk to us when we knocked on their door. So we were there for the summer. We were there through September that year, '66.

And you know, we talked with community people. We never got anything of any kind of structure or any kind of anything really. But the ability just to talk with people about stuff that was happening was what we accomplished, I guess. I got a job up in — turned out Gatlinburg was in Sevier County, which is the gateway to the Smoky Mountains, so I went up to Gatlinburg and got a job in a restaurant as a waitress, and if we learned anything about the county, we learned about worker issues, and I did end up being a union organizer, so that didn't hurt me.

Jack Minnis came for a week and did train us in strategic research, just going to the county and looking up landowner records and stuff like that. So Tom my husband and I, we weren't married then; we weren't even related, you know interested in each other then. But we did a lot of research on who owned the county and how they were connected to each other which is what we should've been doing as a foundation to build that political base, but there was no political base to be built. So we could've used that kind of research if ever that became realistic.

Anyway, at some point — well, we knew the project was going to end in September, so it ended. We wrote a report basically saying it was a wasted opportunity, because I really think something could've happened. But the "living in sin" and the Communist thing was just more than people could handle. And the Klan was active there, so we gave them every reason to do that. You know, we just shot ourselves in the foot every day.

So anyway, we wrote a report and said basically how we interpreted the situation. And I actually saw that in a book later on which I found at the reunion in Chapel Hill a few years ago. This woman, she wrote the book, so I told her where we were from, and she said, 'Oh yeah, I read about that project.' She didn't know it was by Tom and me. I don't know if it was in her book or not, but she said, 'Yeah, when I was doing my research for my book, I read this thing about the project,' and that was just like news to me. Nobody else had ever — anyway,

So when you talked about lessons that you learned? So go from there, I go to 50 years of organizing. I mean, after we left SNCC we went back to West Virginia. Tom is from West Virginia, and we did [organizing around] strip mining; we did the war; we did poverty. I worked for the poverty program and organized low income boards of directors all over the State of West Virginia. And what I learned, both through SNCC but through the White Folks Project as well, was tremendously, to say the least. Tremendously, a strong foundation for me for how to think about stuff. You know, and just orienting myself to where are these people? And where are they starting from? Where do I start from?

So I don't know how many years ago I was; let's see it's probably about 10 years ago now, at least, I was stunned to read, stunned and thrilled actually, to read an article about the Gee's Bend quilts. And so I'm like, 'Huh?' So it's this beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, beautiful article, and then I went up to the Whitney [Museum] to the exhibit in New York, and here are the women, these beautiful Pettway women from Alabama, singing just like they did when they did the quilts in Gee's Bend. And of course the quilts are monumental. You know them?

Woman: We saw them.

Janet: Oh yeah, they're incredible. And then, I mean, get this, the United States Post Office makes a stamp. I mean, it's just full circle. And for me, it's like, this little girl from Appleton, you know, and then I'm there, and then it's them, and then it's go back to me, and it's back to them. And it's just this wonderful, beautiful catharsis in so many directions. You know, it's just like — so I don't know how I survived, because I went down there with no foundation in my mind at all.

I mean, when I look at what my husband — when my husband died, I got to read so much of his stuff. He's got boxes and journals and letters and articles and letters from his family and letters back to them, and it was this whole moral, philosophical discussion, political discussion, going on between him and his mom, his sisters and his brother. And it was not just Civil Rights. It was the war; it was everything. It was like, how does democracy work? How does democracy happen? And all of that went into his dropping out of Stanford to go work against the war in Atlanta.

And then Stokely was into this recruiting people through his strategy, the political party strategy, so he grabbed everybody. He grabbed Tom, and Tom ended up in Selma working on voter registration and an independent political party in Selma. But when I read Tom's stuff, and then I read the woman's book, the woman who did Wilcox County before me, I think she was with SCOPE. Oh my God, she was a Quaker from Marin County; I forget her name. I think she's a Quaker, and she had this foundation that her family and herself, and she read and she had all of that under her when she got there.

And when I think about me going in there, buck naked basically, you know? Compared to these other folks who were — and so the fact that I survived and figured out some way to get through it, and it made me somebody else. It made me the person I am today. I mean, obviously I have parts of what I had, but it made me a different person. I mean, I'm just so honored to have been there. I mean, I'm glad I did it, but I'm shocked also that I survived. [Applause]

I made it through without crying!

Daphne: Yes. I want to run a quick laundry list of some things. I think it would be fascinating to hear more stories about the vernacular and the lexicon and how people, especially people who had not had the Black southern experience, because that was like learning another language. And I had the benefit of having southern parents, so that was not a difficult transition for me. And I spent a lot of time in rural Georgia from the time I was 3 until 2008, going back and forth.

Another question that popped up, and this is something for all of us to think about is who represented your safety? I thought that that was very intriguing. And it's one of those internal questions. Who represented your safety? The Pettways. So this explains a lot about who these people are. I had them come to Mills [College] in 2006.

Janet: Yeah, they had an exhibit up there.

Daphne: They had an exhibit at the De Young [Museum in San Francisco], and then the next year I invited them back, because I met them at the exhibit. That's a whole other story. And I had them come and present at Mills. These are some fierce, fierce, fierce women. And so your story fills in so much about the Pettways. And their quilts now sell for $30,000. I mean, you know, to come up out of rural Alabama, and you have art that's in these major museums and sells for that.

And I also think that one of the things that you say is you don't know where it came from for you do to this, I think watching your parents navigate 18 siblings.

Janet: Well, yeah.

Daphne: I think that's some of it. No, I'm serious.

Janet: Regardless of their politics, yeah.

Daphne: Regardless of their politics, you figure out how you're gonna feed 18 people; how you're gonna clothe 18 people. How you are going to placate 18 personalities. That's like running a nation. So I think that's part of it.

And I really, really, really hope that you will do something, if you have not already made a decision about Tom's archives, because those letters are critical. They are.

And then the other thing about people opening up their homes and their hearts. That was so easy. That was so easy for Black people to do. And they didn't ask for a background check. You know? It was just what we did. And a lot of us in the Movement, we continued that tradition. It was something that I grew up seeing in my own home, but a lot of people who were not Black had not seen that. It is a tradition that is being lost, because people are so paranoid. That openness to have people come in your home. What are they going to take? Are they gonna take my TV? Are they gonna take my ID? You've got to deal with all of that madness. So that also, I think, the fact that these people were so open with us provided us a sense of safety.

Janet: She was wonderful.

Daphne: You know, if somebody comes up against me, this woman is going to go to this door and say, 'You are not crossing my threshold and coming up in here and messing with anybody.' So that's just some quick thinking.

Janet: You know, that thing about your experience and the fact that you've had that southern, or at least some. See for me, Donna — I mean, I'm tall, but Donna was two inches taller than me. I was 5'10". She was easily over six feet. And the fact that she knew Texan racists, and she was just so — she didn't have any fear. And she went to jail a couple of times in Selma.

And then the other thing about the quilts. The whole quilts thing is just in my mind and is just round and round. So I don't know, 10 years ago or whatever, a friend of mine from Appleton sent me a Christmas card or something on a postcard of one of the quilts with another piece of art next to it. And it was from the Oshkosh Museum in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. And I went, 'Oh my God. Look!' And it says about an exhibit that's going to be in Oshkosh. And I sent an email to her or left a phone message, whatever was appropriate at the time, for the museum. I said, 'Can I get 10 copies of this postcard? Because my family lives in Appleton, and I would like to get them to go to your exhibit.' And then I signed my name or said my name on the recording, and so the next morning I get a call, and it goes, 'Janet, this is Jessica, your niece.' So my niece is the director of some aspect of the Oshkosh Museum! And she says, 'Yeah, I'll send you 10 copies. Of course! And will you come up and speak?' Because I said in my message I said I lived in Gee's Bend, and I'm thrilled that you're doing this. So she knew that I knew something about it, and she says, 'OK, so will you come up and talk about your experience?'

'Um yeah, OK, I'll do that,' because basically that meant my mom is going to come hear. Maybe my dad would come and hear, and maybe other people would come and hear. So I don't know if my mom ever knew what I did. She would describe me as a social worker which, at that time, was anathema, right? You would never be a social worker down there. You would never want to be a social worker. Anyway, so I said yes, so then I went. When I went home, my mom and a couple of my brothers and I think Clara was there, my Aunt Clara was there.

Joann: Auntie Edie?

Janet: Auntie Edie was there. And so they're all out there in the audience. And you know, the only problem with the Gee's Bend quilts is that it can make it all quaint. It can make the whole thing quaint. It's like, 'Oh how cute! They made these quilts.' And I just really didn't know how not to have people do that. I didn't know what I would say that made it look like they were on vacation making quilts, because definitely that was not why they made the quilts. But you know, I thought about it for a long time, but I think it was OK, given the questions that they asked me. But there was my mom, and she was proud of me. And there I was. I came home, even though she told me never to come back. But you know, I mean it was great. It was great.

Chude: Was that your first time back?

Janet: Oh no. No, no. I shouldn't say that. No, mom and I had long before —  when she figured out I was married, it became about food. 'Don't you know how to make decent fried potatoes for God's sake? Let me send you the recipe.' So once she figured out Tom and I got married, then it was, 'Here's the recipe for kuchen.' Whatever. So yeah, and she loves being a grandmother to everybody, so when I started having kids, then — 

Chude: That's one of the things that struck me again is another theme sometimes is the parents. You know, on the website there is a discussion with a small group of vets about our parents. And I would've put money before I went that it was the white parents that were opposed [to their kids being involved in the Freedom Movement], and the Black parents were for, and of course it's the exact opposite. With the Black parents it was, 'Can't somebody else do it? Why does it have to be you?' That kind of thing. And nobody in our group, that little group talking, had the experience you had of parents who said, 'Don't come back.' Which is a whole different question. I came from parents that were supportive.

Janet: Right, right.

Chude: And a community that was supportive, which doesn't change Linda's point about it being phenomenally difficult to go back after having been in the South. And I could go back.

I had a different question: How to reconnect with people who have no clue about where I'd been and what I'd gone through? It took my mother and me a year to reconnect emotionally, and during that time, at some point, she wrote a letter to Andrew Goodman's mother. He was one of the [Civil Rights workers] killed. Now she did not mail it. She knew enough not to mail it, but she wrote it, and I have it. She wrote her and said, 'You lost a son, but I lost a daughter' — because of the estrangement.

Now, I mean, I was still going home for Christmas. My body was there, but my ability to communicate and to trust. I mean, I was totally not capable of appreciating —  I was 20. I [wasn't allowed to] go South without having my parents' permission. It was like 30 years before I had the respect to realize that they deserved a lot of respect, because they could've said "no." And they didn't.

And I do remember, I went from Spelman home to Solebury, Pennsylvania, and I remember taking a walk, because we were in the field in front of our house with my father. And he said, 'You know, I could've said no.' And I of course said, 'No you couldn't.' [General laughter] 'I mean, this is how you raised me.' You know, we were very devout Christians. You raised me this way. It would've been against everything you raised me to be. My mother, many, many years later, talking about it — my father passed away — but my mother was still alive. She said she had had to work on him for awhile to get him to agree. I mean, it wasn't like it was the easiest thing in the world. But it was still, emotionally, a totally different experience to have your parents behind you than to know when you left that you have no home to go home to.

Janet: So when I sat and talked with Jennifer [Lawson], Jennifer grew up with parents who basically put her out there and educated her around the issues, the philosophical and the moral and the ethical, the whole stuff. And so when she and I sat there in Mary's living room and talked about this, and I'm like, 'This is mine.' And then she goes hers. We were both just like blown away with the other person's experience. You know, like how did she — just what did that mean to the depth of her? And what did it do to her life? I mean, it was fascinating. We sat in that living room and just went through this. It was wonderful. I mean, the support that I got in Selma from Donna and from the woman that I was staying with was warm, which was OK. I mean, I wouldn't describe my family upbringing as terrifically warm. I wouldn't use the word warm. It was what it was. But I did feel safe, and I felt warm in Selma. But imagine having that feeling, which is what I think Jennifer had for her whole life, she had that safe — well, I don't know. I mean, it's something to think about.

Chude: I just comment though, I know one of the women that has sometimes come to our reunions, a woman named Fran O'Brien, and she came to the Mississippi Summer Project training for Freedom school teachers and community organizers, and she went to Vicksburg. She tells a story of when we found out that first morning of our training that three were missing, we were told to divide up by state and send letters, call our parents and have them send letters to the senators and their congressmen and ask for federal protection.

She was not a political activist and she was from California. She was actually going to school in Oregon, but she was from California. So there are all these people from California, and she didn't seem to think she was particularly needed. And she was 21, and she had just gone on her own without her parents' backing. So I just love it. She went off to buy birthday presents for her niece and nephew, or something like this, which at the time I would totally have been — but now I think is really touching, that she cared.

But what it did is that it got her back into the dormitory while most people were away, and she found this young Black activist crying, because she couldn't go home because of where she lived and the danger it would put her parents in. Now since we're going to tape this, I will have to check with Fran that I got it quite right, but I've never forgotten her telling that story. Some of us are off doing one thing; she's sitting on a bed next to somebody, being a witness to and a support to whatever she can for someone. And I think that's something else. So yes, that young woman might've come from a family that supported her, but the racism and the danger meant that she could not go home.

Daphne: So, my aunt and uncle, especially my aunt, they were adamantly opposed. Like I said, I had to do this surreptitiously. My parents, my father worked as a butler, and he had a job as a clerk at the Pentagon, and my mother was a clerk in the passport office at the State Department. And everything was cool until the FBI got in the picture, and they went frickin' nuts, because they said, 'We could lose our jobs!' And I said, 'I don't care!' [General laughter]

And my father was like really livid. He said, 'Negro, you got to care! I got some more children to feed!'

I mean, I was out of the home then. But what happened was after the whole FBI thing calmed down, I kind of realized that as a butler, a Black man, my father heard and saw so much. Because he served parties where J. Edgar Hoover was. He served parties where McCarthy was. He heard the conversations go on amongst these men.

And then my mother, in the passport division, I'll never forget the story she told me. She called me one day and said, 'Who is Bobby Hill?' I said, 'He's a professor at UCLA.' He wants Marcus Garvey's passport. He wants a copy of the passport. Should I do that? I said, 'Hell, yeah, Mom!' I said, 'He's writing this book on Marcus Garvey.' So she felt so empowered that she was able to do something in her own way, in this little — well, not a little passport office, but through her job as a clerk.

So then my father invited Jennifer, Courtland, Charlie [Cobb], {UNCLEAR} to dinner, and he fixed dinner for them. Oh, he was a fabulous cook, a fabulous cook. And he really enjoyed hearing about what they were doing in the South and where they were and sharing stories. But that FBI thing, that really, really triggered a lot. And they could've lost their jobs. They could've lost their jobs. And you know, I recognized that as I matured, and you know, we had long conversations about that. But at that point, I really didn't care. It wasn't about my parents; it was about Black people. You know, they just happened to be my parents at that point.

Chude: So any other comments before we move on? Do either of you children of Janet want to say anything?

Carolyn: I have a thought. I think something that has been a theme in my life, being your daughter, has been exposure to different communities and different situations. I mean, today is an example of me being exposed to something that not every blonde white girl gets to be exposed to. And I think that you said in your statement and your story that you didn't really have any idea why you were there and that all you did was talk to people, and I just think that's kind of it really. From my perspective growing up and what I learned from you and what I learned from your story is that all it really is, in essence, is people talking to each other, and that's what actually makes the change and that's what people learn from. And that's it, really. So I just wanted to mention that. Exposure, connection, I mean people.

I just recently heard a story on NPR about a son of a Grand Wizard in the KKK who completely did a 180 [turn] based on exposure. I mean, he put himself in college, and he was exposed to Jewish people, and he was exposed to the reality of his own lies and his own ideologies. And I think that is one of the most powerful tools that we have is putting ourselves in a room with people. And actually, when you had mentioned earlier that you feel uncomfortable when you're in a room full of white people, I can identify with that. She has always chosen to rent out houses in African-American parts of town our whole life. We live in Leimert Park which is a soulful hub of African-American culture in Los Angeles. And it's funny, because I couldn't be more white. [General laughter]

In every possible way. I mean, I'm not really a great dancer. [General laughter]

Whatever stereotypes you want to throw in there, I can definitely fit the bill most likely. But I think that there's something to that. I think that there's something to that awareness of what it means to be white in this country, and I think that so many white people actually don't accept that reality. And yeah, it's not something that's readily visible until you talk to somebody. And so I just wanted to say that I identify with that, from your comment way back at the beginning of the talk.

And I also was curious about housing choices that you guys have made throughout your lives, and you too. I'm constantly curious about housing choices and things like that. I've always felt lucky that we've lived in diverse neighborhoods and not just stuck to like the safety of the segregation in America. So those were just some questions and some thoughts that I had on all that.

Linda: I'll answer a piece of that. I chose deliberately to live in the 'hood. And I was fine until I had my son who was biracial. We split up, his dad and I, and I was still living there with my son, and they have a school right next to Castlemont [highschool in Oakland] that was called Hope Academy, and it's an all Black school. And my son went there.

And [other students] would come over after school because I was in that 'hood. All the kids would come to my house which I appreciated on one level, but the other level goes back to the Ebonics if you will and to the dysfunctional families that these particular girls that would come over and talk to him came from. I had a Black word; he was four, five years old, and he was in Kindergarten, and I came home from school or I came out of the kitchen. I'm trying to get the detail. They had every four letter word you could think of, and these kids were like seven years old. And you know, I'm still trying to be very embracing and all of this. I mean, that's the way.

I taught at Castlemont; I mean, that's the way we talked, but he was accumulating language. And the grammatical structures didn't bother me, because those disappear once you kind of really — I'm the mother; they'll disappear. He's going to say "shit" and "fuck" through me all the time. But the dysfunction, these kids had a mother who was constantly drunk, and they would come over at 11 o'clock at night and ask me if they could stay at my house. And the mother was fine with that.

Well, they were going to school in Emeryville, and I'm going to school in East Oakland, and I'd get them up in the morning, drive them to Emeryville, come back, drive out to Castlemont, and the whole thing just got so complicated in terms of the stuff my son was picking up from them, the ripping apart of me inside that I could not "help" these kids, and the mother just being so strung out all the time. And you know, honest to God, I ended up putting in for a sabbatical, because that was the only way I could get out of this lease. I bought a duplex.

And I went to Costa Rica for a year, and that's how disturbed I was with thinking that he was going to grow up. I mean, it was a totally Black neighborhood. There were drug dealers in what I thought was this cute little park down at the end of the street. It wasn't cute. And I didn't know what the hell was going to happen to my son. And I was really — I was alone, and so that was my choice. It ended up not being a healthy choice. The other neighborhoods I lived in in Oakland were very diverse and fine, and the neighborhood we live in Berkeley right now is not nearly as diverse as I would like it to be. Berkeley is changing in a very rapidly disgusting way. I assume we will stay there for as long as we can, if we can still afford to buy a cup of coffee at the end of the block.

Carolyn: Our neighborhood is gentrifying quite a bit right now, because they're building the train through it. So that will be crazy to see what happens.

Woman: What's your neighborhood?

Carolyn: Leimert Park, south Los Angeles. When we grew up in DC, we lived in a relatively African-American neighborhood. I mean, our neighbors were Black; the girl I played with next door was Black.

Joann: We lived in the Black Gold Coast.

Carolyn: OK, yeah.

Joann: I mean, the Gold Coast which is all Black.

Carolyn: But we didn't live in, is it south side DC?

[Joann:]: Southeast.

Carolyn: Southeast. We didn't live in Southeast, so it wasn't actually until we moved to south L.A. that I realized that we didn't live in a Black part of town in DC, actually. We lived in a diverse, middle class neighborhood, which was diverse, but I mean, south L.A. is actually segregated away from all of the services, and unfortunately, what comes along with that is crime. But anyway, I just thought that housing choices were an interesting thing. And I was curious if there were any parallels to the way she chose to locate our family throughout our lives. Thanks for answering that.

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