ST. PETERSBURG, FL — When we returned back to St. Petersburg, we were required to make a scrapbook/journal of our reflections as well as to take an exam demonstrating that we knew the major people, places, events, and  laws that resulted from the Civil Rights Movement. As I write this, I still have to read two more books and write a paper.  I was a bit obsessed with keeping all this straight in my mind. So my scrapbook is chronologically organized and may not seem too personal.

Slide show of Freedom Bound scrapbook.


I was a child living in Buffalo, NY  in the 1960’s. But, I remember the major sanitation strike in Buffalo in 1968. Furthermore, my mother was a assistant professor at University of Buffalo at the time. Downtown Buffalo and the UB campus were the sites of major civil rights demonstrations.

I had many reflections during the trip that I recorded in my notebook. But the overwhelming thought was that I had grown up during this time and I knew very little about the “movement.” I remember these events as isolated incidents, not part of a “struggle” for  black civil rights. I didn’t even know what was meant by civil rights.

My parents reaction to these news events are what I remember. In general, they believed that a lot of the trouble was caused by “outside agitators”. Now I am the outside agitator!

To complicate the picture, we had a “member of the family” who was not mentioned — our black nanny, Stelly. Stelly had been with us since 1960 when my mother went to work at UB. Stelly brought up my younger sister, who was only 6-months old at the time. For nine years Stelly “held the fort down”, from 8:00 a.m. to whenever my mother arrived home from the university, usually around 5:30. So Stelly was a BIG presence in my life.

One of the biggest Aha! moments I had on the trip was when John Seigenthaler mentioned that he had a black nanny also. Seigenthaler was from a wealthy Nashville family. Wealthy southern families had nannies to help stay-at-home mothers. Stelly was the only adult in my childhood home during the day. She was there when I left for school and when I returned. She was the AUTHORITY in my house from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. But Seigenthaler described a very similar situation — the nanny was there, was appreciated for her service, but she was actually  invisible. How could someone be invisible who was the authority in the house? This is what Seigenthaler meant by invisible: Stelly worked for us for 9 years yet, we do not have a single photo of her. I know only vaguely where she lived in Buffalo. She took the bus to get to my neighborhood and walked a block from the stop to my house.  I don’t know when her birthday was. I don’t know exactly how old she was, I do know she had three grown children when she came to work for us.  I do know she liked to go to Florida for two weeks to fish for catfish on her vacation. I think she actually used cane poles as fishing rods. I remember she brought us back a live catfish in a bucket one year to show me and my three siblings what a catfish looked like when we were curious. Now, I think, what a major hassle it was to hall a buck of water and live catfish 1,500 miles back to Buffalo from Florida! Oh, and I don’t know exactly where in Florida she took her vacation. That is what Seigenthaler mean by nannies being invisible. They appeared and disappeared at the end of the day.

My mother would kill me if I didn’t make it clear that she very much respected Stelly. She made sure Stelly was paid a fair wage. She had a phone installed in her apartment and paid the bill each month. I think she paid other utilities for her too. She made sure her Social Security was paid. Many “domestic” servants  were not claimed on tax forms (and still are not claimed),  so they didn’t get the Social Security that was due to them at retirement. I am sure she paid many other incidental expenses. This was no small thing because we were almost as poor as Stelly! My mother was the sole support for me and my three siblings. Even though she had an Ivy League education, she was constantly fighting discrimination at work. She always feared she would be fired because she knew her male colleagues considered her  just a housewife!

The Civil Rights tour brings up all the questions about race and class in America that are not openly discussed in the U.S. because we are supposed to be a classless society. The subject is a political tinderbox. This was clear the day after Barack Obama was elected president. Donald Trump’s recent campaign questioning Obama’s citizenship is evidence that racists/TEA Party types are looking for an acceptable spokesperson to remove the “Socialist”  black president.

This is too big a subject to cover in a blog post. But, all in all, the Civil Rights tour made me aware that racial issues dominated US politics in the 1960’s, and far from being settled, the issues are alive and well 50 years later.