Audio Stories


Lary May: He did take great pride in having a White woman as his girlfriend. And like I can remember there was a restaurant in Harlem that we used to go to, and it was basically a show-business hangout, and it was all White waiters. Now you pay a lot of money for that... And they used to talk about, "I'm so rich I can have a White maid." This was right in the heart of a racist society.

June Cross: So Peggy always used tell me that you used to say to her that grandma doesn't know that there are black people like you.

LM: Well, that's true. Yeah, I did say that to her. She-well, Granny grew up in a white world, and her perceptions of blacks was not the black bourgeoisie,I mean, the black middle class. Or Sidney Poitier. I mean, you know, it was like, which , you know, I mean, people like Poitier who exposed that I think was a positive development. I mean, intelligence isn't necessarily linked to race. So she had no concept that there were people like Peggy who was a very refined, intelligent, professional woman. Now, we know that Peggy had some problems, but nonetheless, I mean, that group she just did not know existed.

JC: Do you remember meeting the Gregorys? You met the Gregorys.

LM: Oh yeah, I knew the Gregorys quite well. The Gregorys are long-time community leaders in that segment of the black community, and Peggy had all those ties, those voluntary associations, and those churches, and both of them were from groups who are descended from - I know that now, I didn't know it then - but of the free blacks in the North. And I can remember Mrs. Gregory once saying to me, "We didn't, we had no descendants who were slaves." I remember saying to her, "Well, how did you get here?"

JC: ... from Africa.

LM: But it had been so long, you know, that they were part of the black wing of the abolitionist movement out of Oberlin. I remember her telling me all this one day, and I found it, you know, reflecting back on it, it's quite enlightening. And they also had a picture of Judge Tanney, who was the one who was involved in the Dred Scott decision, which led to the Civil War, and they claim - and I have no reason to doubt that it isn't true - that Judge Tanney had a black mistress and that they were part of the descendants.

JC: That's an interesting tale, yes. This was one told to me by Mrs. Gregory, and they actually brought out Judge Tanney's picture.

LM: So, you know, this is a long line of, and what we know, we as historians know, it's those free blacks who went South, and reconstruction, and were the leaders. I mean, they're all part of that group.

JC: So mom presumably hadn't met black folks like this before either, don't you think? There's show biz folks and then there were -respectable

LM: No, no, no. I don't think she -It must have -it might have been a definitely a revelation for her, too because there was -. She moved from a hanger-on of wanting to be an actress and hanging out with show business people in New York to the relationship with Jimmy, and then into Atlantic City that we lived with Peggy, and it was through Peggy that we began to know all the Gregorys.

JC: Right, what do you think your children have gotten out of having a black auntie?

LM: Well, It'll be interesting to ask them that. You could do that at Thanksgiving. I don't know how much kids of their age are free of racism that was just so much a part of the air that you breathed in the world that I grew up that I haven't even met Jimmy, and I start to call him, "boy." You know, that, those kinds of attitudes just aren't there at least with my children. Now is it because they've had a Black auntie or has had amongst the culture of White kids at that age that it's just gone. What they don't know how to handle is the class issue, which, or the inequalities of wealth which are enormous, which on some levels, I do if I see my mother and my, my grandmother in different ways, There was something admirable about my grandmother. She had a very strong sense of class and the little people. And Blacks were part of the little people, and they should get a share - And the rich were screwing you in my grandmother's opinion. And I still think that's a pretty accurate description of the way the world works. But she wasn't as good on race. But then my mother has no sense of class. It's like those two need to get together a little better on these issues.

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