I Married a Black Man
As a white college student in the 1960s, I married my anthropology professor who was a hereditary Mende chief from Liberia, West Africa. After 30 years of marriage, we wrote together Slaves to Racism: An Unbroken Chain from America to Liberia, which was published in 2009. In it, my husband describes the effect of racism upon his home country, comparing it with America’s racism, using examples from his experiences in the black community during the 1950s & 60s. where it was not uncommon to see black women supporting black men. The following is an excerpt in his words:
Black Women Supporting Black Men
In St. Louis, in the Negro barber shop, Negroes were polite to a well-dressed man. The minute he left, they said, “Those are the ones who have women supporting ‘em. I know a day worker who gives all her money to him. He ain’t nothin’ but a nigger.”
The barber asked me, “Do they do that in Africa?”
“No, the men support the women.”
“You see? Africans are really good. We’ve left all that thing. Men are supposed to support women. But here women support them.”
Livin’ in a Car
One day, Milford, my mulatto friend, introduced me to a man he knew who owned a large, late-model, four-door Chrysler that was always polished. The man was always well-dressed. He wore a hat and his shoes were always shined. Sometimes he wore dark glasses.
My first wife, Ruth, said to Milford, “Your friend must be loaded with money. Where does he work?”
“Work? That guy doesn’t work. He preys on women. You see his car and you think he’s rich. You think he’s a businessman.”
I said, “He doesn’t work?”
“Oh, he works here and there. Sometimes he helps me distribute beer. I pay him and he works for other people too when he wants to. He spends most of his time in beer joints and pool halls. He has no address. He sleeps in his car at night.”
“Anyone can sleep in a car? Just like that?”
“There’s no law against it. I’ll show you how he sleeps.” One night at eleven o’clock, Milford drove me to a fairly nice Negro neighborhood. He knocked on the window of the guy’s car. He was sound asleep. After a few minutes, he said, “Who is it?”
Milford said, “Hey, man. I have Benjamin with me. You wanna help me deliver some beer?
The guy laughed and said, “One of those all-night deals, huh?”
Milford said, “Yes,”
He whispered to me, “I didn’t wanna wake him up for nothing. I have to give him some work to do.”
We went over to Milford’s garage that was stocked with beer. The guy loaded up his car. After he left, Milford told me, “You can tell Ruth that’s his work.”
“Find Out How He can Live in a Car”
When I got home and told Ruth, she said, “I wonder how he feels. I can hardly sleep in a bed. Talk to him and find out.”
One day I asked him, “Say, how is it that you sleep in your car?”
He told me, “Well, I may not have a place to live, but I’ve got a good car to sleep in. I don’t need a garage cause everyone parks on the street. If I come early, I can always find a parkin’ space. Some nights I even park by Milford’s house.”
“Tell me, why couldn’t you get a place at the Y and sleep there? How do you take a bath anyway? Your car’s not a camper.”
“Well, I’ve got a lotta friends. I’ve got a friend now who’s stayin’ in the Y, so I go there for a shower. One of my friends was keepin’ some of my clothes, but he moved to East St. Louis. Man, I went three days without takin’ a bath till I found another friend.
“This guy likes his beer. I give him some when I sell beer. He says I can stay with him. But he’s only got one room and I can’t be cooped up like that. Besides, I’ve got to drive my car. You can’t have a car like mine and just keep it on the parkin’ lot. People have to see you drivin’ it. Man, these girls in East St. Louis! I can have any one I want.
Image is Everything
“A policeman even gave me a break the other day. I didn’t have any money for the parking meter and went up to this guy’s office to see about a day job. When I came down, there was this policeman writin’ me a ticket. I said, ‘Good morning Officer! What’re you doin’?’
“He said, ‘Is this your car?’
“I said, ‘Yes, sir, I was just stoppin’ by. I wasn’t gonna stay. When you start talkin’ business, you forget the time. I’m sorry, officer.’
“He told me, ‘I’m sorry, Sir, I didn’t know. Next time, be sure you put somethin’ in the meter.’”
I asked the man, “How can you pay for a car like this? You don’t have a regular job.”
“Well, I’m not payin’ rent. I only got my car payment. I haven’t finished payin’ for it yet. Sometimes I miss a month here and there, but I’m payin’. My girls help me sometimes too.”
“No, my girlfriends.”
I Wrote our Love Story
After my husband’s death in 2009, I coped with my grief by writing our love story, Beyond Myself: The Farm Girl and the African Chief. In it, you’ll read the whole story.