Notes from the desk of peace activist Polly Mann (b. Nov. 19, 1919)

‘Black Boy’ by Richard Wright
The first 24 years of my life were spent in the south—that is, the southern part of the United States: Arkansas. In our household of nine, we always had one Black servant. We called her the maid, but she really was the “jill of all trades.” A particular one was Nettie. At the same time Nettie worked for us, we had a Black cat and Nettie used to say, “He my brother.” Of course, that would provoke laughter.
I was reminded of Nettie by a book I recently read: “Black Boy” by Richard Wright.
To read it was an emotional experience. I learned so many things that I had wondered about for many years. At that time (maybe today it’s different?) I would never dare ask any of those maids about their lives or thoughts. Richard Wright does it all, chronicling all the hurts, indignities and unanswered questions he grew up with.
He became not just a writer but a noted writer, and winner of many book awards. Years ago, I read his book “Native Son,” which I probably should read again, but was not as moved by it as by “Black Boy.” Wright mentions the terms he had been called, certainly not meant to be contemptuous, but were. For example, the Black man-of-all-trades who fixed any impaired household equipment and took care of the yard for my family was treated with respect, but he was never called “Mister.” You never addressed Black people as Mr. or Ms., and should they have had the temerity to use your front door, they were directed to “go to the back … ”
At one time, the governor of Arkansas was Orville Faubus, and during one of his campaigns he let it be known that if he didn’t win, he would, as soon as the law permitted, discharge all the Black teachers and replace them with white teachers. Of course, the Black community supported the Black teachers and he won. His tenure had other difficulties, but this is not about that.

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