Flowers Out of Bone
by Ethel Morgan Smith
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.
“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