HELLO AMERICA!—It is no secret that millions of “needy” citizens are celebrating this week when realizing they are able to go to a market and actually have enough money to prepare a decent meal for the family. Of course, there are very few people, it seems, who do not know or remember how it was during the 1930s following the 1929 financial crash when people when hungry, hobos were seen on the highways or latched to a moving train heading anywhere in the country. It was all about survival and no matter how young you were the bite of it all was felt and were forced to adapt to the reality of it all.
Millions of families of four or six slept in one bedroom, there was no electricity in many small towns around the country; oil lamps were seen in the windows after dark, stoves with wood stacked on one side to survive the cold weather. While remembering the outside OUTHOUSES, it plunges my memory how it was during the winter when we had to buildup up enough courage to reach the one we had that seemed too far from the kitchen door. For drinking water, a trip to the highway area was a two-block plunge no matter what time of year.
The school was also a traveling challenge; it involved a two-mile walk which in retrospect for us young kids was nothing to complain about. After all, it gave us kids the opportunity to commemorate and even sing our favorite songs of the day. We were able to adapt to all the so-called hardships of the day because we knew little else to depend on.
The entire village of Green Tree upon hearing the sound of an airplane flying over us was something special, everyone in the village stood gaping as this marvel commanded the sky. Even though there were dirigibles ever so often; we referred to them as the big balloon. Those who had a radio listened to the magic tones of Al Jolson, Bing Crosby, Mary Martin or Jack Benny and of course George Burns and Gracie Allen.
Politically, it was all about Franklin D. Roosevelt, he was considered the big savior of our nation based on how he handled the “crash.” Because of his administration, there were jobs available for everyone who was able to work. Roads were seen with tons of young and old men with shovels and picks and anything else which would get the job done. There were even truckloads of World War I, young men in uniforms being transported possibly to other camps or even a hospital. Since my granddad, Hilary, was wounded and resettled in a VA hospital, the sight of these men only made many of us realize what the nation had survived through.
Even though I was seven years old, I had a rather intense idea of what our country and world were about. When finally moving from Green Tree to the lovely town of Morton, I had a clear notion of who I was and what kind of life I wanted to discover or need. Even though Greentree was just a small village of Black, Greek, Italian and Jewish people, the school was not segregated. However, Morton with a patch of Black people was designated to a school within the area where they resided. It was called Phyllis Wheatley named for an ex-slave who fought her way to freedom.
The teachers there grounded the students during English, History, and music classes about those of color who had contributed so much to arts as well the sciences. It was truly an inspirational experience being taught by those who were so dedicated to the idea of educating young people of color who only knew about the time of slavery. For me, it was Paul Robeson, Roland Hayes, when listening to their voices for the first time; it was magic, tears flooded upon hearing songs such as “Ol’ Man River” or “Steal Away.”
I was determined to emulate them and a special teacher, Rosa L. Watson from Philadelphia understood the dream and because she knew Robeson, took me to one of his concerts, afterward, took me backstage of the Academy of Music and introduced me to him. It was the beginning of a long friendship. Two years after meeting Robeson, I auditioned for Paul Whiteman to get on his weekly show. Skipper Dawes his music director immediately signed me up for the show and each week I was viewed by the nation from Town Hall with this great master of music.
I realized very early that sometimes we experience times of horror and serious moments of disappointments stuffed with emotional challenges, learning at the same time that once you make up your mind you will survive, it is amazing what human determination manifests.