Another of the social causes of the migrants’ leaving was that at times they did not feel safe, or it was not the best thing to be found on the streets late at night. They were arrested on the slightest provocation. (1941). Jacob Lawrence.
Okay, so I posted the Mummies wild cover of this song, but I keep returning to this version by the Coasters. Alvin Robinson did the original in 1964, and it’s a mighty fine version, (http://arrowsonthemoon.tumblr.com/search/alvin+robinson) but the Coasters version is the one that makes me laugh and it has a great feel to it. Funny for two Jewish guys to write about “ole Bessie Lou”, who is so down home. Maybe that’s why I like the Coasters version so much - the Coasters were from Los Angeles, where many African Americans leaving the south moved in the 40s and 50s (this the history teacher in me saying this), so no doubt this resonated among many of the younger generation, who had less connection to the south. (I will not discuss the Rolling Stones or Old Crow Medicine Show versions)
“This isn’t just my history or an African American story…. This is American life.” Read Chase Quinn’s powerful essay about One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North. The exhibition closes September 7.
Pictured: (Esther) Juanita Jackson Smart and Richard Smart with daughter Deborah Smart. My mother.
Korean War Vet and Teacher, Richard, and English Teacher, Juanita, left a segregated South Carolina when my mother was about 6 in search of better opportunities for their two children and for themselves. They moved to Detroit, Michigan where they both worked in the school system, influencing the lives of hundreds of kids over the course of their careers. They both studied every summer at various universities to complete their Master’s degrees. As fervent believers in education, they insisted on sending my mother to the best schools in town. As a result, my mother integrated two elementary schools in Detroit and was the only black child in each school until her younger brother, Richard Smart III, joined her.
My mother, a copious reader, inhaled thousands of words a week. She won the school spelling bee. Her prize, a shiny new encyclopedia was stolen out of her locker. The school authorities accused her own brother of taking it because “none of the other children in the school would ever steal.”
The encyclopedia was never found.
Unphased by school nonsense, mother continued to read books and get A’s. She graduated from Cass Technical High School with a focus on the sciences. The following year she attended The University of Michigan where she then became the only black student in her organic chemistry classes. She studied hard and made up songs to remember anatomy.
She took Calculus as an elective because “it was fun.”
She studied some more.
Riding her bike down South Division street, she stopped at her mailbox during her Senior Year to find a letter from the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine. She was accepted to medical school. My mother continued making up songs and studying all the way through medical school, continuing to be unphased by her position as one of the only students of color.
She became Dr. Deborah Y. Smart in 1979. Her younger brother went on to graduate from The University of Michigan and The Wayne State University Law School.
Dr. Smart dated and intimidated several men who were not accustomed to a well-read black woman doctor for a girlfriend. She decided she would likely adopt a child and live her life happily as a mother and a full-time physician who loved to read.
She met my father at her best friend’s wedding. He was nice. He often brought food to the hospital where she worked when she was on 24-hour call. Eventually she agreed to marry him.
Richard and Juanita Smart continue to live in Michigan and are active in several national and city organizations. They are still fervent believers in the power of education and support and encourage their grandchildren to do and be their best.
They travel to South Carolina at least once a year, making sure to visit the family cemetery where they say: “If you could only see what we did, Momma and Daddy. If only you were here.”
42. They also made it very difficult for migrants leaving the South. They often went to railroad stations and arrested the Negroes wholesale, which in turn made them miss their trains.
(1941). Jacob Lawrence.
What is the legacy of Jim Crow? On April 15, a trio of leading social-justice activists discuss the laws in conjunction with the exhibition One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North. The event features Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture; Sherrilyn Ifill, President, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund; and Cornell Brooks, President and CEO, NAACP.