Flowers Out of Bone (12)

Flowers Out of Bone

Photo of Ethel Morgan Smith

by Ethel Morgan Smith

Chapter 1

Flowers Out of Bone (12)

            “Yes. Lurleen B. Wallace, only forty-one when she died from cancer. Her husband couldn’t run for governor anymore; he had exceeded the law. So they ran her. She died after a year in office in 1968, a little bit more than a year after she took office.”

            “The same year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.”

            “That’s right. What a note in history. George C. was known more for barring the door at the University of Alabama to keep four scared Black students from enrolling. ‘Segregation now and segregation forever’ was his motto.”

            “Wonder why Gram didn’t tell me that?”

            “Folks around here weren’t concerned about him keeping Black students out of the University of Alabama. They knew his family; he wasn’t an outsider. The devil they knew. And he gave us new textbooks.”

            “What do you mean?” Emma asks.

            “Before that, Big Mama and other women in the community used to fish discarded books from the trash bins at the white school.”

            “Really?” Emma put her hands over her mouth.

            “Yes. Often, the white students wrote, GOOD LUCK NIGGERS all over the books.”

            “Mom, I’ve never heard this before.”

            “Our parents cleaned them up with erasers the best they could. We didn’t write with ink pens like today. They also wrapped them in newspaper and brown paper. Our home economics teacher showed us how to press flowers on the outside of the books, with stencils, after they were wrapped.”

            “When did you get new textbooks?” Emma asks.

            “Eleventh grade.”

            “That’s so awful Mom.”

            “We didn’t think it was so awful. Our parents would shake their heads and say, “‘Lord have mercy on Alabama.’”

            “You see, when they said, ‘Lord have mercy,’ they meant it for the white folks. We had the high ground and prayed for others. Even though the others seemingly had so much more than we did,” I continue.

            “This is amazing.”

            “You know, one of those scared little girls who George C. Wallace was trying to keep out of the University of Alabama was Vivian Malone Jones.”

            “I’ve never heard you mention her.”

            “I don’t tell you everybody I know. We used to sit on some of the same nonprofit boards together. I think Vivian was the bravest person. I could’ve never done what she did.” I look toward the sky. Our walk slows into more conversation. I am pleased. Birds are tweeting and the sky seems wider. We aren’t talking about college, boys, money, or all of the other serious issues in our lives.

            “Did she graduate?” Emma asks.

            “Of course, the first African American to graduate from the University of Alabama, and with honors.” I smile.

To be continued

Reading Example

Are you curious? Here is the link to a reading example of Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany


Before I arrived in Tübingen I knew what my teaching schedule would be. I had proposed to the Council on International Exchange Commission to research the political momentum of Afro Germans. The only Afro German I met was Tina Bach, a student in one of my classes, who was the only person I saw, who looked anything like me. Berlin or Cologne would have been better venues to work on such a project. I kept good records about my experience, and trusted the writer in me to know that I would have something to write about after my years’ experience.

In the meantime I wanted to write. Writing is different when you’re away, and I couldn’t have been more away. Since Germany was in the middle of Europe, I was free to travel and see the new world I had been awarded. And Tübingen is about 30 minutes from Stuttgart, which is considered a gateway to the world by many Germans.

My host professor had telephoned me early one Friday morning, six months before I was to arrive. It was 8:00 a.m. for me and 2:00 p.m. for him. “Hallo, this is Bernd Engler, the person you’ll be working with in Germany.”

“Oh. Good morning.” Hoping I didn’t sound as sleepy as I was.

“Did I wake you?”

“No. Not at all. You see, I live alone and you’re the first person I’ve spoken to. That’s why I sound sleepy.”

He laughed. At least he had a sense of humor. All I’d been told was that Germans were orderly and arrogant. Although my old boyfriend, Helmut had been orderly, but he wasn’t at home in Germany, instead he had been in the States trying to fit into American culture.

“I am calling to introduce myself and say welcome. I also wanted to see what your needs are with regard to housing.”

“I am looking forward to being there. Thank you.” He didn’t sound German. His accent was only slight, more international. What did Germans sound like? Helmut hadn’t sounded German either, unless we got into a fight.

“After this call, we can then communicate via email.”

“That would be fine.”

“Your needs,” he said.

“I need a bathtub.”

“Anything else?”

“Sure, but that’s a main need.”

“What about a kitchen?”

“I figured there would be a kitchen.”

He laughed again. Did I have a better sense of humor than I thought? I didn’t think asking for a bathtub was such a big deal, at least not laughable.