Was it me? I’m not sure, or was it someone else? I vaguely remember the parties. I do remember the black face. I keep questioning. I don’t remember it being me. I do remember it being.
What was it that made us do it? What did it represent: Amos and Andy, Al Jolson singing “Mammy.” A member of a minstrel show with banjo. Was it de-facing? Was it intentionally demeaning? My memory is not of shoe polish, but of using burnt cork to blacken one’s face leaving open bulging eyes. Sometimes blue or green or hazel. I ask myself now. If I can’t remember exactly, should I accept the governor’s quandary of his not remembering?
I started questioning my behavior in all those years before the King marches and the riots. I recall the riot barricades in my neighborhood across from Pimlico racetrack. We could not get beyond. I rode my bike to the demarcation and watched as cars were diverted.
I remembered Pennsylvania Train Station in Baltimore with bathrooms across from each other, benches in between these signs – White, Colored. That’s what we called people not white – colored or Negro. Pennsylvania Avenue at North denoted the split - White – North. Colored -South - more or less. The schools I attended were all segregated, even into my early college years. I grew up in an all white neighborhood- Italians and Jews.
How could I as a Jew disparage or imitate? But I did. There were neighborhoods with restrictive covenants. Falls Road was the dividing line. No Jews or Colored even at swimming pools. I remember my first year of college going with friends to a local swimming hole greeted by the sign “No Colored, No Jews, No dogs! My roommate and I were the only Jews in the all girls dormitory. We did go swimming that day and others. We could pass. We were white.
As I was, so called, “breast beating,” examining my conscience, behavior, and history after that week of racist disclosure by high level state political leaders. My son consoled me.
“But Mom, you’re talking about your life in the 50’s and early 60’s. Not the 80’s.”
Do the years or the decades make a difference in the lives of young people who grew up in segregated times or after, with bold, historic stories of Confederate valor? We cried to “Gone With the Wind.”
My home in Maryland, by geography, was below the Mason-Dixon line that measured and divided the Northern and Southern States – the Confederacy and the Union. Its people were divided in loyalty to these two entities. A century later our prejudices were still not discouraged nor our acceptance of lesser and the myth of separate and equal, or was it separate but equal?
Did I smear burnt cork all over my face and hands? Did the black come off when I bobbed for apples? ? Was it me? Who was it?