Wednesday, June 17, 2009

stories on race relations

My sister's memories are quite different than mine, and in some cases more detailed. I guess getting a black eye from a green apple when I wouldn't defend her would create a lasting impression. Perhaps she is getting some satisfaction in reminding me what a villain I am in HER family stories.

Like those in other White Anglo-Saxon Protestant American families, members of my family have travelled a long road when it comes to racial understanding. Each generation has rid itself of a little more prejudice than the last. Some of our family stories reflect the prejudices that continue.

Grandma tells the story of taking young Bob to the movies to see The Ten Commandments. (Dad was two when the 1923 Cecil B. DeMill movie was made.) When the movie was over, they were walking on a busy street. Bob saw a Jewish man with a long and impressive beard. "Look Mother! There's Moses!"

When I was roughly two or three, Dad invited a colleague for dinner. Men usually wore fedoras as daily wear - the way men now wear sports caps. There was a lot of laughter from the guest when I asked, "Mister, why are you the same color as your hat?"

This story my Dad told to show off his mastery of the Irish brogue. He left a memoir of his grandmother in writing, so I will reprint his version here:
William Moulton (Sr. ) liked to be up to date and soon after Model T Fords became available, he purchased one and took the whole family for a ride -- over the Brooklyn bridge and into Manhattan. They were doing fine until they got to Broadway and 42nd st. where a policeman directing the traffic stopped the cars, including the Moulton's headed East on 42nd. The car stalled so Grandfather jumped out and cranked it to get it going and when he got in to go, the policeman had stopped the East bound traffic again. It stalled again and the procedure was repeated. By this time , the traffic was backed up all the way to 8th street. The policeman was angry, Grandmother was mortified and the rest of the family huddled down as far as they could in the meager seats. Finally, the policeman in complete desperation held up all the traffic and walked over to grandfather saying with a real Irish Brogue --- "Ef yer ever get that tin lizzy goin again, take it back to the ferm and keep it there". My grandmother was a proud woman. ( I really would have liked to have seen that.)

Mother learning Spanish

Mom's mother died when she was thirteen. The family lived in the SouthWest in Arizona or New Mexico and Elsie-Beth went to school with several Mexican friends. They gave her lessons on several phrases she might find useful. However, she didn't know they were off-color remarks.
My sister tells me that was around the time the three girls were sent to live with cousins in the northern states.

My family took pride in being in the vanguard of racial tolerance. My grandmother was in a sorority that included Jewish women. My mother's father famously challenged a fellow Baptist over his acceptance of colored people. And my father and his boss were proud to have allowed colored kids into the Tarrytown YMCA. Even though there is plenty of racism in my family and in me, my family has never considered racism as politically correct.

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