Just finished writing Mom-Mom’s (maternal grandmother) obituary, which led me to have some conversations with my mother about her life. I knew her as my grandmother and heard stories about her civil rights activism but hearing them again all together just made me admire her that much more. I was pissed I couldn’t include every single one in her actual obit but I at least wanted to preserve this one for all internet eternity.
So my mother begins the story, “during the war…” I interrupt, what war Ma? I told you what war. No you didn’t. Well what war do you think? World War II, there’s only one ‘war’ ! I reminded her that actually she’s the history buff, I’ve never was and so had no idea that ‘the war’ meant World War II. The question of which war settled, my mother told me how a group of black female factory workers, my grandmother, included traveled by bus from Havre de Grade, MD to Edgewood. On one trip the white bus driver told all the black women to go sit in the back of the bus. Mom-Mom and some of the other women lambasted the man for telling them to do something that was against the law. He insisted and they pounced on him rousting him off the bus. That scene made me laugh and wish I could have been a fly on the wall.
The most disturbing story my mother told me was how in 10th grade my Aunt G witnessed her teacher assault and insult a black boy by throwing an eraser at him. The eraser smacked him in the mouth leaving white chalk powder around his lips. The teacher added insult to injury, adding that the white powder made his lips look like those of his people in Africa. Well my aunt went home and told Mom-Mom who phoned the principle advising that if that boy did not get an apology she was going to contact the school board and press charges. Needless to say, an apology quickly followed.
Even in her 70s, she jumped out of her front door (I didn’t know she was that agile) to confront cops who had driven up on her lawn harassing her two teenaged grandsons who were standing talking under the tree in her front yard. She asked why they were there, they had no clear answer so she sent them fleeing, tails tucked between their legs.
I can’t say I have the same courage to stand up in the face of injustices. I do from time to time but I tend to do so with quivering knees and fear of retribution. I know I’m not alone in that, but if I could choose a quality to appropriate from my grandmother, it would be the courage of my convictions.
R.I.P. Alma Vivian Christie Leeth 1/27/25-3/19/13