Monday, March 3, 2008

Negro History Week: Gordon Gartrelle’s Pre-History

In light of the Baldwin quote Chauncey posted last week, we would like to kick off Negro History Week by exploring our personal histories. Today I will provide a context for my respectable negro-ness by offering up this Did You Know? installment about each of my parents.

Did You Know that Gordon’s father…

…Was told that his own father, a sharecropper, was caught with a white landowner’s daughter, and rather than submit to being whipped, buried an ax in the white man Jack Nicholson style? And that according to family legend, Grandfather Gartrelle changed the family name to evade the authorities?

…Was sent to work on his grandmothers’ farm as a small boy, but got out of doing farm labor by reading (the Bible) voraciously?

…Overcame white employers’ attempts to discriminate against him, which included scheduling his multiple physicals in two different states on the same day?

…Was terrified after hearing rebel yells when he first went to work in a cannery, where he was later told he had to eat in the “executive lunchroom” apart from the other white workers and was reprimanded for bringing a knife to work (it was a boxcutter that all employees used to open boxes)?

…Became the first black person to work for his city’s unemployment office (as a minority rep), but only received the job because there was an “audit” of the local office and they needed to have a black person on staff?

…Worked payroll at a shipyard, where he drew the ire of white employees because he didn’t need a calculator to do his job, and where he made sure to “lose” the paychecks of any white men who called him out of his name?

…Played in and led a series of successful bands that allowed him to befriend The Allman Bros and War, among others?

…Accompanied his middle aged mother when she voted for the first time after passing a ridiculously difficult “literacy test” that was only given to black voters?

…Graduated from a black college and received a Masters from a respected “white” school after moving to the West Coast?

Did You Know that Gordon’s mother…

…Trumpets our family’s Indian lineage and says that her grandmother had an Indian name?

…Claims that one line of her maternal ancestors passed for white, but helped their darker relatives?

…Was told that her family worked for a landed New Orleans family for several generations, and eventually owned a great deal of property themselves?

…Had a father who played in the Negro Leagues?

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