Papa Joe

August 12, 1952.  It was a date she would never forget.  It was the day she buried the man who had been a father to her for over twenty years.  It seemed so surreal.  Papa Joe was gone.  She stood there alone in her grief, shivering although it was a hot and muggy day.

She stared at the ground where Papa Joe lay.  The tears rolled down her cheeks as she cradled his worn Bible, remembering how he used to read it to her when she was a child. When her parents had died he took her in and raised her as his own. She had grown to love the old man as if he were her very own blood.  Many of the townspeople had a problem with the widower raising a black girl and didn’t hide their displeasure but Papa Joe ignored them.  His business began to suffer.  Papa Joe was a tailor.  He knew that business would pick up again if he got rid of Cassandra but he refused to do so.  Even if he went bankrupt, he would never part with her.  He vowed that only death would separate them.

It was Papa Joe whom she shared her dreams with.  It was Papa Joe who comforted her when she went home crying because of the racial slurs and taunts.  Papa Joe was the only one who knew that she loved a man she had no right to love.  She had known Dr. Baker since she was a child.  He used to stop by and see Papa Joe.   He was always kind to her and brought her treats.  As she grew older, the visits became more frequent.  Papa Joe was no fool.  He could see that feelings were developing between them and he warned her, “You and the doctor have to be careful, Cassie.  This town will not take kindly to a relationship between a black girl and a white man.”

One night when Dr. Baker visited, Papa Joe excused himself and went to his room.  As soon as they were alone, the doctor took Cassandra into his arms and kissed her.  “I have wanted to do that all day,” he whispered when he raised his head to gaze down into her face.  “I know that there is a considerable age difference between us but I love you, Cassandra.  I tried to stay away when I realized that I had fallen in love with you but I couldn’t.  I had to see you.”

“I love you too.”

“I’m leaving for Paris in three weeks and I would like you to come with me.”

“Paris?” she exclaimed.  “Why there?”

“I have always wanted to go there and set up a practice.  My mother was French and your family was from Haiti.  So the language won’t be a barrier for us.”

“I can’t go to Paris with you, Robert.”

“Why not?”

“I can’t leave Papa Joe.  He has been so good to me.”

“Joe would want you to be happy and you won’t be as long as you remain in this town.”

“I can’t be happy knowing that he is here all alone.”  She could see the distress on Robert’s face and she reached up and touched his face.  “I love you for wanting to take me away with you, but I can’t.  I hope you understand.”

“I do,” he sighed.  “Well, I better be going.  Please say goodnight to Joe for me.”  They kissed and then she walked with him to the door.

“Goodbye, Cassandra.  Write me and let me know how you are doing.”  He gave her a piece of paper with an address on it.  She took it.  After a lingering look, he was gone–perhaps out of her life for good.

That was three months ago.  They had exchanged letters since and when Papa Joe died, she had written and told Robert.  She stood now at the grave, the tears falling.  Papa Joe had left the house to her and all the money he earned from his tailoring.  She had the money locked away in a box.  She didn’t want to go back to the empty house.

She had no idea of how long she stood there but the biting cold prompted her to start making her way back to the house.  She had just reached the front porch when she saw a car pull up and Robert got out.  He walked over to her and taking her arm he led her up the steps.  “I’m sorry I didn’t make it on time for the funeral,” he apologized as she unlocked the door and they went inside.

Once inside and the door was shut, she threw her arms around him and hugged him tightly.  She sobbed, letting out the pent up grief that had closed around her heart like a fist.  Robert stood there, holding her until the sobs subsided and then ceased.

When she was spent from all that crying, Robert took her over to the sofa and sat her down.  “Joe wrote me this note,” he said, handing it to her.  “I think you should read it.”

She wiped away the tears before she reached for the note.  Frowning, she slowly unfolded the paper and read it.  Dear Robert, I know that you love my Cassie and that you wanted to take her away from this cursed place.  If I know my dear girl she will not want to leave me.  She feels a sense of obligation to stay and take care of me as I have taken care of her all these years.  I don’t want to be a burden to her.  She is young and deserves to live her life.  There’s no future for her here.  I know that she loves you and that it broke her heart to be separated from you.  She thought I wasn’t aware, but I could see the unhappiness in her sweet face and I could hear her crying in the night.  She had sacrificed her chance for happiness for me.  I haven’t told her but I don’t have much longer to live.  When I pass on, which should be any time soon, please come and take Cassie away from here.  Take her to Paris where you and she will be free to love each other.  She can use the money from the sale of the house to pay for her fare.  I am sorry that I won’t be there for your wedding but know that I wish you both all the happiness in the world.  Please take good care of my precious girl.

Yours sincerely,

Joe

Fresh tears fell.  “I had no idea that he was dying.  He was tired more but I just thought that it was to do with age.  I am thankful that I was here for him.”

“Now, you can get on with your life.  We have his blessing.  Let me take you to Paris.”  He reached out and took her hands in his.  “Cassandra, I want to marry you.  Let me take you to Paris.”

She nodded.  “I will go to Paris with you,” she said.  Her life here was over.  There was nothing to keep her here.  Her future was with Robert now.  She would sell this house filled with so many wonderful memories and leave this town which had been the source of her unhappiness.  Yes, she will go to Paris and marry the man she loved.

 

crying african american woman in the 1950s

Forgive

Does a spring yield at the same opening sweet and bitter water? – James 3:11

The words poured forth like the waters of the dam, gushing out without restraint.  They had been bottled up all morning, threatening to break loose but somehow she had managed to keep them in check.  On the ride home on the bus, she clamped her lips together tightly as the thoughts swirled in her mind.

How could he bring another woman to church and sit in the same pew she and he used to sit in?  She hadn’t seen him since their break-up five years ago.  Why was he here today?  And why couldn’t he have come alone or with a friend?  Why did he have to bring his new girl-friend and sit there, holding hands for everyone to see?

Anger, bitterness well up in her and the worship service was forgotten—the words of the sermon faded into the background.  All she could hear were her thoughts.  All she could see were her ex and the new woman in his life.

How dare he show up at church like that?  She was over him but that didn’t mean that she wanted to see him again so soon and definitely, not with someone else.  She looked at her.  Young, beautiful and…white.

He was with a white woman of all things…A new wave of anger came over her.  How could he?  Was he done with black women?  Had things been so bad between them, that he had to date someone outside of his race?

The service was torture for her and as soon as it was over, she was out of there, rushing past the ushers and the pastor who gazed after her in surprise, his hand outstretched. She sprinted to the bus stop and waited for what seemed like eternity.

As soon as she got home, she let it all out.  She went into the bathroom, locked the door and the words spewed out this went on for a while.  Then when she was spent, a small, still voice said, “You blessed me with your mouth this morning and now you are using it to curse Daryl.  This ought not to be.”

Shame filled her and she sank down on the bath rug.    She had praised God that morning for being faithful and good to her during the praise time and then at the time when she should have listened to His Word, she had thought evil thoughts toward her ex and cussed him in her heart and mind.  Tears poured down her cheeks.  “Forgive me, Lord”, she cried.

“I already have,” He said.  “But you need to forgive Daryl.  You need to let go of the bitterness and anger that you have in your heart.   Only then can you begin to heal.  Do not fear, for I am with you;   do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you, I will help you, yes, I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.”

His Words filled her heart with peace.  The toxic emotions which had overtaken her were dissipating.   The hurt and anger were still there and would take a while to go away but at least she had God to help her to reach the place where she could find it in her heart to forgive Daryl for breaking up with her and move on with her life.

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Sources:  James 3:11; Isaiah 41:10

Mary Eliza Mahoney

Mary Eliza Mahoney

She made history as the first African American to study and work as a professionally trained nurse in the United States. Mary Eliza Mahoney was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Her parents, originally from North Carolina, were freed slaves. They moved north before the Civil War, where they would face less discrimination. Mary Eliza attended the Philips School, one of the first integrated schools in Boston.

From an early age, Mary Eliza knew that she wanted to be a nurse. For fifteen years, she worked at the New England Hospital for Women and Children, now known as the Dimock Community Health Centre, before she was accepted into its nursing school, the first in the United States. She was 33 years old when she was admitted.

After she received her nursing diploma, Mary Eliza worked for many years as a private care nurse. She worked for predominantly white, wealthy families who praised her for her efficiency. Her professionalism raised the bar for others in her profession, especially among minorities. She was recognized for her skills and preparedness. And this reputation earned her the respect of some of the families she worked for who insisted that she join them for dinner but she was a humble woman. She ate her meals with the household staff she worked with.

Her reputation opened many doors for Mary Eliza whose goal was to change the way of patients and their families thought of minority nurses. She wanted to abolish any discrimination that existed in the nursing field, believing that it had no place there and that all people should have the opportunity to pursue their dreams without any fear of racial discrimination.

Mary Eliza served as director of the Howard Orphan Asylum for black children in Kings Park, Long Island, New York from 1911 to 1912. The asylum served as a home for freed colored children and the colored elderly and it was run by African Americans. It was at this institution that Mary Eliza ended her nursing career.

In 1896, Mary Eliza became one of the original members of Nurses Associated Alumnae of the United States and Canada (NAAUSC) which later became known as the American Nurses Association (ANA). In the early 1900s, the NAAUSC, a predominantly white association, did not welcome African American nurses into their association, so, Mary Eliza retaliated by founding a new and more welcoming nurses’ association with the help of other founders. In 1908, she was the co-founders of the National Association of Colored Graduate Nurses (NACGN). Not surprisingly, this association did not discriminate against anyone and its goal was to support and congratulate the accomplishments in the registered nursing field and to eliminate racial discrimination in the nursing community. A year later, Mary Eliza spoke at the NACGN’s first annual convention and in her speech, she documented the inequalities in her nursing education and in the nursing education at the time. She was given a lifetime membership in the NACGN and a position of chaplain.

During her retirement, Mary Eliza was a strong supporter of women’s suffrage. In 1920, after women’s suffrage was achieved in the United States, she was among the first women in Boston who registered to vote. She was an active participant in the advancement of Civil Rights in the United States. She died in 1926 at the age of 80.

Notes to Women salutes this woman who was and still is an example of professionalism and champion for civil rights and women’s rights. She challenged discrimination against women of African Americans in nursing and proved that she had what it took to enjoy a very successful career and at the same time, transcend racial barriers. She held firm to the conviction that everyone should be able to achieve their dreams without having to deal with racial discrimination.

She was the first woman in the United States to graduate as a registered nurse. A pioneer for the nursing profession, she received many honors and awards and inducted into the American Nurses Association Hall of Fame in 1976 and to the National Women’s Hall of Fame in 1993.

Mary Eliza Mahoney was the epitome of professionalism and an outstanding example for nurses of all races. In recognition of this, the NACGN established the Mary Mahoney Award in 1936.

We are forever indebted to Mary Eliza for paving the way for the advancement of equal opportunities in nursing for minorities.

 

Mary Eliza Mahoney
Source:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mary_Eliza_Mahoney

Lena Horne

In celebration of Black History Month, Notes to Women are going to celebrate a few notable women.  We begin with singer, actress, Lena Horne.

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was born in Bedford-sTuyvesant, Brooklyn.  Her father, Edwin Fletcher Horne left the family when she was three years old.  Her mother was the daughter of inventor Samuel R. Scottron.  She was an actress with a black theatre troupe and travelled extensively.  Lena was raised by her grandparents.  When she was five, she was sent to Georgia to live.  For seeral years she travelled with her mother.  For two years, she lived with her uncle who would later serve as an adviser to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

At the age of sixteen, Lena joined the chorus of the Cotton Club and became a nightclub performer before she moved to Hollywood.  In Hollywood she had small parts in movies, notably Cabin in the Sky and Stormy Weather.  She was never cast in a leading role because of her race and the films featuring her had to be re-edited for showing in states where theatres would not show films with black performers.  Interestingly enough, Lena was the first African American elected to serve on the Screen Actors Guild board of directors.

In 1951, Lena wanted to be considered for the role of Julie LaVerne in the MGM’s version of Show Boat but lost the part to her friend, Ava Gardner due to the Production Code’s ban on interracial relationships in films. Lena stated in the documentary, That’s Entertainment! III that MGM executives wanted Ava Gardner to practice her singing using Lena’s recordings. Both actresses were offended by this.

Not surprisingly, Lena was disenchanted with Hollywood and she began to focus more on her nightclub career.  She made two major appearances in MGM films in the 1950s, Duchess of Idaho and Meet Me in Las Vegas.  It was during this time that she was blacklisted for her political views.

After she left Hollywood, Lena made waves as one of the premier nightclub performers of the post-war era.  She headlined clubs and hotels throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe.  In 1958, she was the first African American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical”.  She appeared in variety shows on TV such as The Ed Sullivan Show, The Dean Martin Show and The Judy Garland Show and in 1969., she starred in her own television special, Monsanto Night Presents Lena Horne.

In 1970, she co-starred with Harry Belafonte in ABC’s show, Harry & Lena and in 1973 with Tony Bennett in Tony and Lena.  She toured the U.S. and U.K. with Bennett.  In 1981, she received a special Tony Award for her one-woman show, Lena Horne:  The Lady and Her Music.  In the 1990s she was active in the recording studio.

Lena was also a Civil Rights activist.  She was involved in the movement for years.  In 1941, she sang at Cafe Society and Paul Robeson, another blacklisted performer.  During World War II, Lena refused to perfom for segregated audiences or for groups where German POWS were sitting in front of African American servicemen.  The U.S. Army refused to have integrated audiences so Lena ended up putting on a show for a mixed audience of black U.S. soldiers and white German POWs.  When she saw that the black soldiers were forced to sit in the back seats, she walked off the stage to the first row where they were seated and performed with the German POWs behind her.  Way to go Lena!

She was a participant at an NAACP rally with Medgar Evers the weekend before he was assassinated and she met John F. Kennedy at the White House two days before he was assassinated.  She participated at the March on Washington where she spoke and performed on behalf of the NAACP, SNCC adn the National Council of Negro Women.  She also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt, another champion of civil rights, to pass anti-lynching laws.  She received the Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1983.

On a more personal note, Lena was married to Louis Jordan Jones.  They had a daughter and a son.  Sadly, their son died of a kidney disease.  In 1940, Lena and her husband separated.  They divorced in 1944.  In 1947, she remarried.  Her second husband was Lennie Hayton, Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM.  In the early 1960s they separated but never divorced.  Lennie died in 1971.  In her biography, Lena, she recalled the pressures they faced as an interracial couple.  She admitted that she married him to advance her career and cross the “color line” in show business but had learned to love him very much.

Fame runs in the family.  Lena’s daughter, Gail, a best-selling author, was married to director, Sidney Lumet.  Their daughter, Jenny Lumet, a screenwriter, is known for her award winning screenplay, Rachel Getting Married.

On May 9, 2010, Lena Horne died in New York city of heart failure.  Among those gathered to pay their respects at her funeral were Leontyne Price, Dionne Warwick, Liza Minnelli, Jessye Norman, Chita Rivera, Cicely Tyson, Diahann Carroll, Leslie Uggams and Lauren Bacall.  At the 83rd Academy Awards ceremony held on February 27, 2011, actress Halle Berry presented a tribute to Lena.

Notes to Women salute this phenomenal woman who was not afraid to speak out against racism and was the first African-American actress to have a major studio contract with the stipulation that she would not have to play any demeaning, stereotypical roles.  In doing this, she paved the way for other African American actresses.

In my early days I was a sepia Hedy Lamarr. Now I’m black and a woman, singing my own way.

I was unique in that I was a kind of black that white people could accept. I was their daydream. I had the worst kind of acceptance because it was never for how great I was or what I contributed. It was because of the way I looked.

Always be smarter than the people who hire you

It’s not the load that breaks you down, it’s the way you carry it.

My identity is very clear to me now, I am a black woman, I’m not alone, I’m free. I say I’m free because I no longer have to be a credit, I don’t have to be a symbol to anybody; I don’t have to be a first to anybody. I don’t have to be an imitation of a white woman that Hollywood sort of hoped I’d become. I’m me, and I’m like nobody else.

You have to be taught to be second class; you’re not born that way.

I never considered myself a movie star. Mostly, I just sang songs in other people’s movies.

 

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Sources:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lena_Horne; http://womenshistory.about.com/cs/quotes/a/qu_lena_horne.htm; http://www.qotd.org/quotes/Lena.Horne; http://www.blackclassicmovies.com/Artist_Profile/lena_horne.html; http://www.biography.com/#!/people/lena-horne-9344086; http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0395043/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm