Reviews - What do customers think about When We Were Colored: A Mother's Story?
Review from the Wellsley Women's Center's Women's Review of Books Feb 1, 2008
Eva Rutland's When We Were Colored is the slightest of these three books, but in some ways the most intriguing. A collection of personal essays originally printed during the 1950s in women's magazines such as Redbook, Woman's Day, and Ladies Home Journal, they were first published in 1964 under the title The Trouble with Being a Mama. Thus, with the exception of the new preface written for this reissue, the book is not retrospective but rather a series of contemporaneous accounts of her family's experience of what she calls "integration qualms." At times, Rutland would agree with Henry Louis Gates Jr., who wrote in his better-known memoir Colored People (1996), "For many of the colored people in Piedmont . . .integration was experienced as a loss. The warmth and nurturance of the womblike colored world was slowly and inevitably disappearing." However, Rutland's overall purpose was not to indulge such nostalgia, but to educate her readership, who were largely white women. Her pedagogical methods are shrewd. She begins each essay "seeking common ground with white mothers" on issues such as the role of "psychology" in childrearing, helping your children make friends, moving the family to a new neighborhood, difficulties with husbands and fathers, preparing children for school and dating, and joining the PTA.
Once she has built firm connections with her readers, she introduces the "hook" at the end of each essay. She describes the day her brothers, walking home from work, were jumped by a group of "white boys" and cut with switchblades. She ends the essay with a reflection on her brother Sam, a college graduate:
the deep, ugly bruises of a lifetime of blows--the long, long walk on a cold, wintry day to the segregated school, the push to the back of the bus, the climb to the "jim crow" section of the theater to see a special movie, the longing walk past the spacious parks and swimming pools reserved for whites, and job--truck driver, under the supervision of a man whose education could not touch his own. The switchblade marks were only the surface marks--a symbol of "what they think I am." Many essays end with similar anecdotes: her daughter's white schoolmate whose mother won't let her "come over"; a bright black child with excellent grades placed with the "slow learners" in school; a school dance so fraught with racial and sexual tension that her daughter asks later: "I was so embarrassed . . . Why didn't they just tell me not to come?" In places she addresses her audience directly: "But I can only tell you that they are human as are your own children." Of the night she watches Vivian Malone walk past Governor Wallace and enter the University of Alabama under armed guard, she writes, "I cannot help but believe that somewhere, perhaps in the South, a white mother, simply because she was a mother, also watched with tears and pride and fear."
Rutland returns frequently to the theme of social class: her father was a pharmacist and though she insists they were poor, she admits "we were so much better off than many of our Negro neighbors." All her mother's relatives had graduated from college, and her mother consistently had hired help. As a child her world existed "across town," where friends and members of her extended family lived among the black bourgeoisie of Atlanta. Of her friends, she says "All had cars--comparatively rare in my day--many had fine houses, some had maids, and most attended private schools." Returning as an adult to these neighborhoods, she writes:
Visiting Atlanta, I would go from one spacious home to another--luncheon and bridge during the day, parties at night. Or we would visit Lincoln Country Club--the Negroes' private club with its own little golf course. Or we would take the children to visit our alma maters and the other surrounding Negro universities, stroll on the beautiful campuses, listen to a lecture, attend a University Players production, walk through the library. How I wished my children could grow up there, go to school there. How beautiful it seemed--Atlanta with its ermine-trimmed, diamond-studded, velvety cloak of segregation. Though one may read the above sentence as tinged with irony, Rutland was a proud woman: proud of her race and class; proud of her family, especially her compassionate and tolerant mother; proud of her children; and proud of the "brave young people" who decided "segregation was wrong anywhere--schools, bus stations, lunch counters--and picketed all over the country"--even when they shut down her beloved five-and-ten cent store.
At the same time, though she denies it, she is touched by shame. She writes that the color of her skin is the mark of the slave ship, the stamp of shame upon her heritage. As she explains,
The shame transmits itself to you, and you lower your head when confronted with the symbols of your past--a bandanaed Aunt Jemima, a black-faced comedian with a Negro dialect, a bare-footed boy with his face sunk in watermelon.
And the shame becomes a burden on your heart, a chip on your shoulder, carried with you into the marketplace, the streets, the schools. In the next breath, though, she insists that because of her family and her segregated schooling, where she learned Negro history and literature (especially the poetry of Paul Lawrence Dunbar), "I think I escaped the shame altogether, and the chip rests lightly on my shoulder." I'm not so sure. She does have a sense of humor and is able to laugh at herself. But in her urgency to convince her white female readers of the full humanity of Negro mothers and children, pride battles shame. Continually imagining herself through white eyes, she remains shadowed by what "they" think, the double-vision so well described by W.E.B. DuBois in Souls of Black Folk (1903). In the end, pride wins out. Her book closes as she watches the 1963 March on Washington: "But most of all I was proud of the people, black and white, who stood in the sweltering sun, tired and weary, quiet and dignified, saying more eloquently than we ever could, We, the people of the United States."
From the January/February 2008 Issue "Stepping Out and Moving Forward" by Margo Culley
(RAW Rating: 4.5) - African-American Parent on Child Rearing/Racism Nov 22, 2007
Ready or not, here comes the picture perfect African-American family Norman Rockwell never got around to painting. Eva Rutland, with absolutely no formal child-rearing knowledge, is the ever so delightful wife, and mother of four children. She makes it possible for us to sigh and then laugh in WHEN WE WERE COLORED. She shows how raising four African-American children during the early years of segregation was accomplished. There were no textbooks or how-to magazines, and rarely does Rutland seem to be even advised by her own mother; trial and error is the order of the day. Recognizing no priorities keeps her sane, if you can call it that. She is the normal African-American mother who is not afraid to take advantage of segregated neighborhoods and allow her children to develop into who they will become. Rutland is the pioneer of "Mother Knows Best"(tm) or better stated, let the housework wait and just go with the flow. She is the mother who never made it to the sit-coms.
In a very charming and witty fashion, Rutland discovers mothering four different individuals requires patience, delegation, flexibility, and creativity. Plus adequate amounts of keeping her children involved in community and church leaves no time for destructive behavior. Just when her patience runs out, Rutland is canny enough to pass the torch to Bill, her husband. She is brilliantly funny enough to know when to retreat into the bathroom with a magazine and locked door. Readers can follow this mother through her children's dating years and laugh in spite of themselves when she suggests how her daughter can remain a lady on her first date.
You feel the peace emanating from this mother who courageously selects a house in an all-white neighborhood instinctively trusting her children will cope. Yes, Rutland is the quintessential mother of yesteryear and all mothers can learn from reading WHEN WE WERE COLORED: A Mother's Story. It will leave you enlightened and inspired, it will make you proud that segregation, racism, discrimination, riots, and prejudice did not weaken this strong mother, or inhibit how her children turned out.
Rutland's memoir earned several awards and the only thing left to do, is come up with even more awards for this wonderful story.
Reviewed by Swaggie Coleman for The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers
A Trip Down Memory Lane Sep 3, 2007
Eva Rutland takes us back to a time of penny candy, 5and 10 -cent stores, and racism. In times when the world seemed much gentler, some Americans could not simply sit down to eat at restaurants unless it was marked Colored, and could not go to the school of their choice. Ms Rutland struggled to rear her children without the emotional scars that sometimes came with dealing with racism.
Eva had an open door policy. All were welcome at her door; no one was discriminated against. Eva was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia in the house that her grandfather, a freed slave, built himself. That community had not segregated itself. Although Atlanta was segregated, where Eva lived, everyone knew each other and Eva knew how to find common ground with her neighbors no matter what race they were.
Bill Rutland, Eva's husband, was a trailblazer. He joined the Air Force at the time that it was first desegregated. Not wanting to be separated from his family, he packed them up and moved them to California. Bill met discrimination when he went out in advance to find a home for his family. Some neighborhoods were integrated but Bill had a hard time finding them or a realtor that would help him. Whenever Bill found a house that he wanted, he would have trouble procuring a loan to purchase it. He found a run-down house in a neighborhood that Whites had began to desert because of integration. When the family wanted to move to better surroundings they had to get one of Bill's co-workers to buy it for them, much to the outrage of the seller.
Eva combated racism by becoming a den mother, joining the PTA and every other group that she could find; so that she could help her kids understand that not everyone was a racist. Eva found that every mother has the same fears for their children so she reached out to all mothers and not just members of her own race. Instead of looking for adversity, Eva always looked for the common ground. Eva was a tireless worker who was so busy insuring that her children's mental health did not get ruined that she often did not have time for herself.
I loved this story! Rutland wrote strictly from a mother's point-of-view and did not let bitterness enter into the equation. I read this book and cheered for her She bared her heart to her readers and wrote with honesty stating flaws and all. Every man, woman and child, especially the younger generation, could benefit from reading this book. This book is not about color but about a mother trying to do what is best for her children, in a world determined to keep them as second-class citizens. Every race would gain something by reading this story.
APOOO BookClub- .
American Authors Association book review Apr 10, 2007
Book review of "When We Were Colored: A mother's Story" by Eva Rutland, 2007, IWP Book Publishers, ISBN 13: 978-1-934178-00-3, 152 pp.
Book reviewer: Joe Fabel, American Authors Association Review Board
Eva Rutland is a most unique individual who has shared with the reader the wisdom of her life as an individual, a wife and a mother. She is unique because she values the virtues which lie within. Exterior behavior norms are not what she is about for her family. Yes, she teaches her children how to live with others; yet she goes beyond to emphasize the true value of living a life of commitment to excellence. She instills within her children, whenever they will sit still and pay attention, the virtues of living and choosing to perfect themselves as full human beings.
There is reference to her upbringing in the South, a time of sheltering within the black community as defined by white segregation mores. She states that it was a time of comfort in the sense that she and her folks understood the boundaries established, knowing what the segregating Southern whites demanded. There was never a question of what one could or couldn't do.
The quiet segregation experienced among people in the West, the quiet yet definite "lines marked in the sands" is a daily occurrence. Eva Rutland emphasizes that each of her family must achieve academically, socially and personally according to their abilities and gifts. There must be no question of squandering what the good Lord has allotted each of us.
This is a story by an insightful and sharing mother. The book should be on all reading lists of all levels of the schools, available for the parents of all the students. It contains messages by which each individual must live his or her life, be you a child, a parent, a neighbor or simply a citizen. Eva's message is a golden rule to live by.
advance praise for the book Apr 5, 2007
"Eva Rutland has done all of us a grand favor - [to] tell the powerful and poignant story of the courage and love of a black mother in a society that devalues black children." -- Cornel West, author, "Race Matters," Professor of Religion, Princeton University
"Eva Rutland's chronicle of child rearing during the transition from segregation to civil rights is warm, poignant, and funny. It is also a powerful object lesson in how and why women - as mommas and grandmothers -have long anchored the soul of Black America." ---Willie L. Brown, Jr., former Mayor of San Francisco and former Speaker of the California State Assembly
"Rutland brings the reader back to a time and place in this country when there weren't protected civil right, when she couldn't swin in the local pools, when a visit from a neighboring white girl who wanted to use their phone prompted a dangerous visit from the police..." ---Martha Mendoza, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Associated Press
"'When We Were Colored' has an amusing 'Moma Knows Best' sensibility. The book also gives the reader a serious look at the West's black middle class - usually invisible in American storytelling." ---Janet Clayton, assistant Managing Editor, Los Angeles Times
"Eva Rutland's evocation of race, place, and time has near perfect poignancy and verisimilitude. With a wonderful blend of intemacy and sociology, 'When We Were Colored' recaptures the wisdom, resiliency, and love of a family overcoming a world once oppressively divided into black and white." ---David Levering Lewis, Professor of History, New York University, and recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Biography