1954, Coming of Age….

I’m writing about my life to explore the influences that have shaped my life. My stable girlhood is central to my understanding of all that has formed me.

In the fall of 1954 I was nine. Our family had grown to six. Lea, the youngest, was two years old. Lea was a beautiful girl-child with silvery blonde hair. She became the “pet” of the neighborhood. Everyone called her “baby Lea” until she was four or so. Marsha, soon to be four, was a helpful middle child. Karl, who at age 7 seemed to always have a grin on his face, was starting second grade. Every school day Karl and I rode our bicycles to school. We had no pets because mother said she had enough to take care of already. Dad worked long days at his job as a land surveyor while building the addition to our house as I discussed in my last blog in December.

Our family attended the Miami Springs Presbyterian Church most Sundays (at my mother’s urging). Our social life centered around some church functions, but especially around sports and the Miami Springs Recreation Department activities as well as school activities. I remember mother being involved in a women’s volleyball team for awhile. Dad always had bowling league activities he enjoyed. At times, we would all go bowling together. Marsha later became a professional bowler for several years.

Mother served as a cub scout leader for Karl for several years. Each Tuesday night when she did cub scout meetings, I was tasked with making dinner. My single specialty was tuna casserole made by mixing canned tuna with cream of mushroom soup. That mixture was sprinkled with crumbled potato chips for a crusty top–always Wise potato chips, then baked in the oven to be served hot. Probably I made a simple salad too. Marsha never liked this dish, so I would put a pre-packaged pie tin of macaroni and cheese in the oven to heat at the same time. Mother was always accommodating about our dinner preferences. Some say she spoiled us, but we kids appreciated her concern for our taste buds.

We were a average white family going about daily life in a white world in the deep south of the 1950s. We lived in a white community that more than likely had restrictive covenants hidden in the mortgage paper work making it illegal to sell any property in Miami Springs to blacks or Jews. These legally binding documents were assembled by the early developers of the town. In 1922, the sales brochure for the first development of Miami Springs “promised that the new community would be carefully zoned and restricted”.1

When my parents bought their basic cinder block, two bedroom house in 1947 they may or may not have been aware of those restrictive covenants. They were a young couple trying to find affordable housing even though it meant a long commute to work for my dad.

Segregated schools were the norm for public schooling in the Greater Miami area in the 1950s and into the 1960s. As a young person I never had another option. “Segregation is not always a choice or a result of self-selection. In the case of Miami, and many American cities, it was an intentional separation [by the authorities] of non-whites from whites in an effort to provide separate services, schooling, facilities, and housing. It is a part of history that can be tracked and seen through law, private deed restrictions, and bank policies of redlining.”2

I can assert that my parents were caught in the web of racism prevalent at the time, but I want to acknowledge that they benefited from a system that insured their property values would probably be stable. And, as home ownership usually allows homeowners to spend less on housing over the decades and to build equity, the whites-only covenants of that time benefited me and my family.

“Segregation, disparate access to credit and home ownership, and the consistent devaluation of homes in black neighborhoods combine to constrict the ability of African Americans to build equity and accumulate wealth through home ownership.”3 In other words “housing market discrimination is a contributor to labor market and economic inequality,” writes Gregory D. Squires.4

Mother was a avid reader of the daily newspaper, The Miami Herald, so we were aware of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling outlawing school segregation based on the landmark decision from Topeka, KS when it happened in May, 1954.

From a current Miami Herald newspaper website we learn that

The landmark Brown v. Board of Education desegregation ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court came out in May 1954, but it wasn’t until 1959 that Miami-Dade County’s schools admitted the first group of African Americans to Orchard Villa Elementary School, which had been all white. Seven-year-old Gary Range and three other black students broke barriers when they walked onto the grounds of the Liberty City school.

White students left the school, black students and faculty were transferred in, and by the summer of 1960, only one white student remained. In the 1970s, busing of students erupted as a new flashpoint in the battle over integration. Today, some civil rights activists and researchers say some schools in Miami-Dade and the rest of the country have undergone a “re-segregation” process.5

“Brown outraged white segregationists as much as it energized civil rights activists. Throughout the South, where state constitutions and state law mandated segregated schools, white people decried the decision as a tyrannical exercise of federal power.”6

US Senator Harry Byrd demands a “Massive Resistance” movement in 1956

Senator Byrd from Virginia: “If we can organize the Southern States for massive resistance to this order, I think that in time the rest of the country will realize that racial integration is not going to be accepted in the South.”

Many schools, and even an entire school system, as part of this Massive Resistance movement were shut down in 1958 and 1959 in attempts to block integration.

Byrd’s goal was to unite white politicians and leaders in Virginia in a campaign of new state laws and policies to prevent public school desegregation. White Citizens’ Councils throughout the South capitalized on whites’ dominance over financial capital, land ownership, and industry to punish civil rights participation.

Bombings claimed the lives of NAACP activists, including Harry and Harriette Moore, teachers and founders of the NAACP chapter in Brevard County, Florida (located east of Orlando). Their deaths in an explosion at their home on Christmas Day in 1951 led to protests across the nation but no immediate arrests.7 No one was ever tried for these murders. To read more about these activists follow this link https://www.history.com/news/first-civil-rights-murder-harry-harriette-moore-florida

Throughout Florida: “City ordinances require Negro [bus] passengers to ride in the rear.”

As a girl, I read about all these horrifying attacks and watched some on television news programs. I believed that “liberty and justice for all” was a sincere commitment when I saw federal government officials trying to implement school integration. I was unaware of the federal government’s involvement in ‘redlining’ various parts of cities (usually poor and/or black), which meant mortgages, other loans and insurance were unavailable by declaring the area a financial risk. I was unaware of all the other ways government, at all levels, institutionalized racism. I was naive girl who was hopeful for a better future.

Nothing changed in my schooling. Strict segregation was the reality for me for all twelve years of my public schooling. I graduated in 1963 from Hialeah High School in a senior class of over a thousand students–all white. Jeanne reports that her high school of about two thousand students in a Morton Grove, a suburb to the north of Chicago, was also segregated when she graduated in 1969.

In 1967, 13 years after Brown, a report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights observed that “violence against Negroes continues to be a deterrent to school desegregation.” Other methods proved useful in upholding the racial caste system “such as criminalizing, arresting, and imprisoning peaceful protestors, [which]foreshadowed the modern mass incarceration era.9 The same source points out, “The Supreme Court was a reliable partner in maintaining slavery and in the campaign to rebuild and strengthen racial hierarchy and white supremacy after the Civil War. When the Court changed course in the mid-20th century and began striking down laws that authorized racial discrimination and segregation, many white people in the South felt betrayed.”

When political leaders and the leaders of other patriarchal institutions continue to make policy and to use tactics to strengthen racial hierarchy and white supremacy we all suffer the consequences. White nationalists have been re-energized by those who believe they can benefit from the chaos. “Separate services” were declared unconstitutional in 1954 when I was a young girl, but the practices that support the racial caste system still dominate the landscape of the U.S. in January, 2021.

Postscript from Florida, February 6, 2021: “Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing legislation on ‘disruptive protests’ that could lead to more arrests and more accusations of racial profiling. The proposed legislation could put protesters in jail for up to 15 years if police determine at least nine people took part in a riot.” from https://www.dailykos.com/stories/2021/2/4/2013906/-Don-t-be-fooled-by-GOP-bills-claiming-to-avert-repeat-Capitol-attack-Real-attack-is-on-Black-lives?detail=emaildkre

1 https://books.google.com/books?id=somhCAAAQBAJ&pg=PA37&lpg=PA37&dq=restrictive+covenants+used+by+Glen+Curtis+in+miami+springs+FL&source=bl&ots=Tf8dUSzDxd&sig=ACfU3U1-cFk-nUl-1RbXn6SI17vMH5ImHA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwjzt_XFpMLuAhWQKM0KHRjyC0gQ6AEwCXoECAkQAg#v=onepage&q=restrictive%20covenants%20used%20by%20Glen%20Curtis%20in%20miami%20springs%20FL&f=false p.37

2 https://miami-grid.com/2019/04/10/segregated-miami/

3 https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/07/15/469838/racial-disparities-home-appreciation/

4 https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/economy/reports/2019/07/15/469838/racial-disparities-home-appreciation/

5 “The linchpin of Massive Resistance was a law that cut off state funds and closed any public school that attempted to integrate.” https://www.virginiahistory.org/collections-and-resources/virginia-history-explorer/civil-rights-movement-virginia/massive

5 1959 photo of a mother and her two daughters https://flashbackmiami.com/2014/05/14/school-integration/

6 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.htmlhttps://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

8 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

9 https://segregationinamerica.eji.org/report/massive-resistance.html

Restrictive covenants are binding agreements (now illegal) that hold homeowners (in this instance) to certain behaviors and practices around renting or selling their house.

The term “racial restrictive covenants” encompases agreements, most of which “run with the land,” that prohibit the homeowner from selling or renting to anybody of a specific race or ethnic background. The wording may differ from covenant to covenant, but the crux of the issue is the same: Racial restrictive covenants were designed to create and maintain neighborhood segregation. from https://www.homelight.com/blog/buyer-racial-restrictive-covenants/

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2 Responses to 1954, Coming of Age….

  1. Susan Wiseheart says:

    So excellent, Paula. It is wonderful how much research you do and present. The photos, graphs and comments from the times add so much to the story. We addressed housing at the OLOC End White Supremacy meeting on Jan. 29 (last Friday) with Sally presenting all she learned from The Color of Law (which two others of the 20 + who attended had also read in full). Then Q & A, discussion, small groups and more discussion. We had a lot of positive feedback and the next one, now called End White Dominance, is to be on economics and banking. I think personal stories like yours add a lot to what is available to us.

    • Paula says:

      Miami and Miami Springs was the center of my life for almost twenty years, yet there was much I never knew about. Until we choose to look at our own training as “whites” I don’t see how the system will change. Our personal stories all add up to name the problem and to seek solutions together.

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