Soon after I got my current job I called my mother, told her the good news, told her the name of the university and the new town I would be moving to. Oh you know your mother has been there. That’s where your grandmother took her classes.
Let me provide some background. My mother grew up in a small town in the rural south circa 1950s. My maternal grandparents were teachers in the town. I knew both had college degrees, an uncommon thing at the time certainly for African-Americans in the south1. My family has since more or less been in the business of education (both receiving and disseminating). That’s were my knowledge got fuzzy and my new town and new university come in. They are where my grandparents went to graduate school. I should emphasize, it is geographically no where near our home state or where anyone in my family lives or had lived. It is over 600 miles from my mother’s hometown. Why on earth would two full time teachers, with three small children (at the time), travel (by car) that far to take a few classes?
Because it was the nearest school that would take Negros.
At least for their program of interest, graduate level education classes. Their home state had a program but would not allow them access. Apparently neither would the 8 or 9 states that would have been closer to home2. So for several summers during my mother’s childhood they packed everyone up and drove the several day journey to this town. The journey was not trivial as the roads were not quite like they are now with the big interstates and attention had to be paid to where they could and could not stop (I don’t know if they actually had a Negro Motorist Green Book but that was the gist). They’d stay in the town all summer, while my grandparents both took classes.
Of course when you can only take classes part time during the summer, you have a full time job, 3 kids with more on the way, and classes are 600+ miles from your home, it’s going to be difficult to finish. My graduate school days certainly did not include such demands and the situation in their time and place was quite different to make an understatement. My grandfather never quite finished but grandmother did eventually receive her masters degree years later. My grandmother, who was raised by her grandmother (the custom at the time) who herself was a former slave3. Remembers being freed. The original Juneteenth. So that’s just what they did.
I had not really known much of this prior to speaking with my mother. Much of the details of the history have been lost or forgotten over time, unsurprisingly4. What I thought was me breaking new ground (geographically speaking) was more of a return to where a leg of this particular journey occurred. A reminder of how things are, attached, whether or not I know the details. What is past is prologue. There are essentially only a few dots to connect the line from way back in Juneteenth times to me, now. This is one of those dots.
1. The overall percentage for college degrees for Americans at the time was about 10%. That’s for 25-29 year olds. That number is now around 30%.
2. A friends grandmother did the same from a state even further away. Seems like most of the South was off limits.
3. That puts me 4 generations removed. That’s not a lot in terms of generations.
4. I spent some times in the university archives and, thanks to a helpful librarian, found some of their records from that time. I now have copies of transcripts and such framed on my wall.