Black History Month is winding down and I am confident that there are certain citizens who will find that a relief. Always having been fairly fascinated with the concept, nuances, and issues of race I am always surprised to encounter people who would rather have a root canal than discuss it.
Growing up in the East End of Xenia, I was not exposed to racism, or more accurately was probably protected from knowing about it when it occurred. It was like growing up in a separate town from my white counterparts. The fact that they called downtown”uptown” was only part of the disconnect one had with them. Because the East End was so thoroughly segregated, it was possible to feel that we had our own town which just happened to be connected to the rest of Xenia.
The East End had its own businesses so that the only thing you had to go to town for was new clothes and cheaper groceries. We had small markets, Mrs. Smith’s and Anderson’s to name two, but they had limited stock and were relatively expensive.
There were certain establishments in the East End that were considered important community centers. The first was Cue’s Drug Store, which was next door to Zion Baptist Church and the recipient of many a dime that had been given to the child for the collection plate. I was not allowed to go into Cue’s because “bad” people hung out there according to our minister Reverend Hanley. That, of course, made it very attractive to me and I snuck in whenever I could, especially to get a Tin Roof Sundae for 15 cents. Cue Rickman, the owner, knew my father well and so I often got treated to my sundae. He also probably knew I was not supposed to be in there but he never ratted me out.
His establishment was not in the same forbidden league as Jim’s Pool Parlor, across the street from Zion. Jim Wilson who owned it was our neighbor across Market street and his daughter Sarah Anne was my friend. I went to the poolroom with her once to get something from her father. l got a thrill at the idea of being in such a supposed den of inequity but was disappointed to just see a few guys playing pool.
Besides drug stores and pool halls beauty parlors were the most fascinating places to visit for me. Having “good” hair I did not have to have my hair straightened. The beauty parlor of the 1950’s and 60’s was a place of fire and smells. Ethel Jane’s was one and Mildred and Mack’s was another. Johnson’s funeral home occupied the front of the house and Mildred and Mack’s the back. Convenient, they could also do the hair of the corpses, but I digress.
Getting your hair straightened involved heating metal combs over open flames, applying some kind of lubricant ( most black people’s hair does not produce oil) and then drawing the comb through the hair to straighten it. I was not pleased to not get the black beauty parlor experience except when I went with a friend.
The East End I grew up in was nurturing and a great place for your start. It gave you confidence and sheltered you from a lot of what was assumed and said about black folks at the time. Although I am obviously not in favor of bringing back segregation I do wish current day America could get back to the idea of community where neighbors looked out for each other and every adult thought they were your parent and both watched and watched out for you. Maybe someday we can get back there if we work at it.
Cookie Newsom is a Greene County resident and guest columnist.