Thinking About Mama

At Home
Earlene Brown holding her daughter Marcia…

It’s two o’clock on Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in my living room watching an old Western on TV. I leaned back in my chair and peeked over into the kitchen, no one was there. There were no smells emanating from that direction that would indicate that food was being prepared and it wasn’t very likely there would be any time soon. My immediate reaction was to think to myself, “When I was growing up, mama would have already had the table set and would be calling us to Sunday dinner”. And immediately after that the realization set in that those days were long over. In our house now, home cooked Sunday dinners are mostly for special occasions. Families don’t sit down to dinner much anymore, if they do, they aren’t talking about it.

When I and my siblings were growing up, we received two home cooked meals a day, breakfast and supper and a bagged lunch to take to school and a snack (usually in the form of a peanut butter or bologna sandwich) after school. As I recalled those days, it dawned on me how much went into feeding, clothing and raising seven children. The majority of that effort came from my mother.

At Home
Mom ran a day care center that never closed.

I’d never realized until then how much work really went into taking care of us. Dad definitely did his part, he brought home the bacon and meted out the real discipline when he had to. Sure Mom kept us straight, but when things happened that required a stronger hand, she turned us over to our father. I seriously don’t know how they were able to raise us all on a single income.

My wife and I both worked and we still were just able to feed and cloth our kids and put them through college. My wife worked her fingers to the bone outside the home, then came home every evening and cooked, cleaned and took care of our five kids. I don’t know how she did it. But our kids are all grown now, with lives and families of their own. I think we did ok. It was a team effort, but like most two parent households, Moms do most of the heavy lifting when it comes to rearing the family. Hats off to Mothers, you do so much for so little. Your real reward is watching your children grow up to become responsible adults.

Nowadays there aren’t very many stay at home moms, but they’re moms none the less. They are loving, caring, supportive and nurturing and we are all blessed because of them. So hats off to mothers, you’ve done well. Don’t take your mother for granted, I lost my mom just over a month ago and my sister, Marcia, one week ago today. I surely do miss them. Mom took so much pride in her children. I hope I can continue to make her proud. I turned off the TV, got up out of my easy chair, went to the kitchen, made myself a bowl of cereal, smiled and thought about mama.

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A Friend of the Family

Watching and waiting
Baby Ray held Bajean’s hand as they watched down the road for Mr. Amos, but he wasn’t coming to see them

“Is it time for you to go Mr. Amos? OK, I’ll walk you to the door”. My cousin Clarence stood up and reached out his hand to take the hand of his friend. I was too young to remember, but according to Clarence, Mr. Amos stood about six feet tall, so Clarence had to reach up to grasp hold of his fingers. Any physical description comes from how my cousin Clarence described him to me. Clarence slowly and somewhat sadly walked to the door with his arm outstretched to hold his friend’s rough dried hand, he opened the door, moved to the side to let Mr. Amos out then said, “Goodbye Mr. Amos, I’ll see you tomorrow”. For a good 3 minutes he stood watching at the front door, watching his friend walk up the road and out of sight on pass the trees, brush and briars. That much I remember, I remember seeing Clarence standing at the door waving goodbye to Mr. Amos. When my cousin finally turned back to us he said, “Let’s go play at the well”. We all went out to the well and played for the rest of the day, we played until time to go in for supper. This was the routine that played itself out almost everyday since Clarence had arrived. It was summer and Clarence was spending a few weeks with us, he lived in Sioux City, Iowa and he came to visit in the summer months at least two or three times when I was young. This year was different, immediately after his arrival, Clarence met Mr. Amos out at the dirt road and brought him directly to the house. After that first day, Mr. Amos came down the road to see Clarence every day. They seemed inseparable, Clarence seemed happy, they were best friends. I was only two or three years old, so as I said, I don’t remember much but, according to Clarence, Mr. Amos must have been about 70 or 80 years old. He was an old dark, leathery-skinned black man with white straggly hair, who lived just up the road from us. We had never been to or seen his house but he was a regular at ours while Clarence was there.

When Mr. Amos was at the house we didn’t get much of a chance to play with Clarence. He stayed at the table or in the corner of the living room talking to him. Sometimes you could hear him telling his friend what he’d been doing all day but mostly it was Clarence telling Mr. Amos to go here, go there, do this or do that, apparently Mr. Amos was quite accommodating. His visits were so commonplace that we barely even noticed when he was there and when he wasn’t anymore, he practically became a part of the family. But once Clarence said his goodbyes we would find plenty of things to keep us busy. He, Ba-jean, Bay-Ray and I spent a lot of time playing on the swing set out by the well or Clarence would don his shirt and shoes when we’d see Mrs. Nita and her son Johnny Arstino walking up the road on their way to see her parents. Johnny would stop and play with us while Miss Nita stood out in the road talking to our mother, we knew they’d be there a while so we took advantage of it. This was all before Miss Nita learned how to drive, so she went by quite regularly on her way up to visit her folks. One day we saw them walking up the road in front of the house so we ran out to say hi, “Hi Miss Nita, Hey Miss Nita”, we all chirped as we ran out. Clarence blurted, “Hi Miss Nita, Hi Johnny! Hey Mr. Amos!”, he ran out, quickly pulled his friend toward the house, disappearing inside so they could go sit in the closet with the door shut and talk, they did that a lot. Miss Nita spoke to us and Clarence, but didn’t acknowledge Mr. Amos at all, she continued on up the road to the farm. This is the same farm where we played rock walk and the farm where years later, Raymond and I would find ourselves stuck in the mud, fighting for our very lives.

Watching and waiting
Bay-Ray, Ba-jean and Stanley wait patiently for Clarence to say goodbye to Mr. Amos

It had been almost two weeks since Clarence arrived for his visit and my mother was starting to become concerned about him and his new found friend. At first she didn’t seem to mind this odd relationship, but when Clarence pulled Mr. Amos from the road to ride with us to go shopping and had us move to the back seat to make room for him in our station wagon, this was more than a body could stand. (How did Mr. Amos know we were about to go grocery shopping? They wondered) It was then she decided it was time to do something. Nowadays, a similar situation would probably warrant getting the authorities involved, maybe even social services or worse. A friendship of this kind would probably not be allowed to flourish today, let alone exist at all, but back then it wasn’t considered that uncommon, some people thought it was normal. But the problem wasn’t Mr. Amos, the problem was Clarence. But Mom never had to say anything about Mr. Amos, for some reason he just stopped coming by. Just as he seemed to have appeared out of nowhere he left just as abruptly.
Because you see, Clarence was the only one who could see Mr. Amos. Clarence was the only one who could hear Mr. Amos, because Mr. Amos wasn’t real, Mr. Amos was just Clarence’s imaginary friend. That’s right, Mr. Amos didn’t really exist, he was imaginary… imaginary to everyone but Clarence, that is.

I recently ran into cousin Clarence and I asked him about his childhood friend. To this day Clarence swears that he could not only see him but could describe what he wore and how he talked. I’ve since learned that the new owners of our old home place created a haunted trail this past Halloween in the woods where Clarence first saw Mr. Amos walking, the same path that I feared to walk on as a youngster is their haunted trail today. My only warning to them is that, if you are on that trail and you come upon an old dark leathery-skinned black man with white straggly hair, just nod and keep on walking. Don’t pause to make eye contact, don’t stop to talk, He may just be old Mr. Amos, he may just become a friend of the family.
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Nothing to Cheer About – The Desegregation of Fauquier High School

From the Taylor Middle School web page, “W.C. Taylor High School opened in September 1952 when schools were segregated by race. Taylor was the Negro high school for Fauquier County touted in The Fauquier Democrat as “a model of its kind. Without unnecessary frills, it still contains every modern feature that the latest in school design can incorporate. And according to School Superintendent Carson M. Bradley, it is built to last.” Construction cost for Taylor was one million dollars, and the new school was named for Mr. William C. Taylor, who taught in Fauquier County schools for 65 years. Mr. Taylor was still living when the school was named for him. When Fauquier County schools integrated in 1969, Taylor became a junior high school, housing students in grades 8 and 9; seventh grade was added later. In 1995 the school changed grade configurations again and now houses grades 6-8 as W.C. Taylor Middle School.”

Fauquier High School 1969, the start of a new era..

1969 brought forth the start of a new era for the Fauquier County School System and especially for its students. That was the year Fauquier County was forced by law to complete desegregation of all county schools. This meant students no longer had a choice in which high school they wished to attend. Fauquier High had been admitting African American students for quite some time, so this wasn’t a matter of integration. Some of my friends had attended Fauquier High from the beginning of their high school careers and had never seen the inside of W.C. Taylor High School. So it wasn’t an issue of Fauquier High School becoming integrated, it was the issue of Fauquier County Public Schools no longer providing “separate but equal” facilities for blacks. I was very happy with the situation as it stood prior to 1969, I had no desire at all to attend Fauquier High School. Over the years we’d seen some of our best athletes recruited personally by Fauquier High’s principal. He would come to Taylor to pitch the benefits of playing sports for his school rather than ours. So, as far as our football and basketball players were concerned, they already knew that they at least had a chance to make the team when they arrived at their school, if they were good enough.

Other students weren’t quite as lucky as the athletes coming from Taylor. When I arrived at Fauquier I’d already been in Taylor’s marching and concert bands for 3 years and I expected to continue my musical career at Fauquier, but this was not to be. We were shocked to learn that we would have to undergo an audition to earn a spot in the band. That part wouldn’t have been so bad, but this was a blind audition, we were to bring our instrument without any clue of what we would be asked to perform. One after another we were all rejected. All except one, a tuba player, he was very good. I had first written a negative report about the experience, but in retrospect, the fact that he made the band at all is a good indicator that I and others probably would have made it had we performed well enough.

Other than having both blonds and brunettes, the cheer leading squad was not very diverse when we arrived at Fauquier High.

As far as the cheerleading squad was concerned, they weren’t scheduling any auditions, they weren’t doing any try-outs, there were no invitations to join. If you wanted to be a Fauquier High School cheerleader, you had to be white. That fact drastically reduced the chances of us having one of our girls make the team.
I wish I could tell you who finally got angry enough to organize a protest, I don’t know, but some one did. I remember Francis “Doola” Washington and Garland Walker approaching me in the hallway one day to inform me that there was going to be a sit-in in the school lobby to protest that there were no blacks on the cheer squad. At the time I payed little attention to it, from my perspective who would want to be on that team. All they had were 15 second routines that displayed robot-like moves for each cheer and they never seemed to get the crowd fired up during games. Pep rallies were different, the crowd participated a lot more during pep rallies. But why would anyone want to join that stiff bunch, that was my question. We were used to seeing some hip action at Taylor, some bumping and grinding, like with those Washington girls from uptown, “Chill”, “Tooda” and “Doola”. Just like our band, who had whole families in the marching band (mine included), there were whole families that were brought up in the cheer-leading squad at Taylor, the Washingtons and Bumbrays, just to name two. They knew how to get the crowd involved and get the crowd motivated and they looked and sounded good doing it. That wasn’t something I saw at Fauquier, not saying others didn’t see it or that there was no public display of school spirit, it’s just not something I noticed. But if the girls wanted to join the team, they should at least have an opportunity to try out for it and they weren’t being afforded that option.

Mrs. Jacqueline Baker signed a hall pass so I could attend the anti-establishment protest.

The day of the sit-in was like any other day for me. I was headed for math class and noticed the lobby filled with students, both black and white.
There were signs and posters, they were actually blocking the entrance. Some students found another way to enter the building while others walked in and sat down and joined the protest. Someone yelled out to me to come join them, I yelled back that I had to put my books up and come back. I didn’t put my books up, I went to class. While sitting in Math class the gnawing feeling kept at me, telling me I should be there showing my support. I knew that meant cutting class and probably getting expelled, so I had to find a way to participate and no get caught up in the obvious trouble everyone was in for. I devised a plan.

I waited until my second period Spanish class and went back down to the lobby to see how things were going. The protest rally had grown in volume, both in size and sound. Mr. Campbell and Mr. Ward were busily warning people not to block the entrance, if it continued the Fire Marshall would have to be called. I spoke briefly to Garland and went to my 2nd period Spanish class. Once I arrived there I raised my hand and told Miss Baker that I wanted to be excused to go down and to ‘just observe’ the protest proceedings in the lobby. I asked if I could get a hall pass to do so. That’s right, I asked permission to participate in a protest rally. Surprisingly, Miss Baker agreed. Not only did she agree, she instructed me to report back to class what I observed. I was participating in a civil rights protest as part of a class assignment.

The fire alarm sounded and we were ordered to exit the building or risk being arrested.

I went down to the lobby and joined a group of friends, by then they were chanting and more determined than ever to have there demands met. The students were warned not to disturb classes in any way. Not long after I joined in the Fire Marshall arrived to inform us that it was illegal to block the entrance to the school and that there had to be a clear path for people to enter and exit the building. The group complied by making a small opening within their ranks. But that wasn’t enough, that didn’t disperse the protesters as planned. so Mr. Campbell conducted at least two fire drills, informing us that if we did not leave the building during those drills we would be arrested. Unfortunately for him, the drills went off without a hitch, we all exited the building, the lobby and building were cleared. When everyone was allowed back inside, we all returned to the lobby steps and to the spots they had occupied on the floor. This was solidarity at it best.
Not long after, I returned to class and reported what had taken place and during that time, the third period bell had sounded. I took my hall pass to my 3rd period teacher, Mr. Wilson, to show that I had already gotten permission to observe the protest from my previous teacher, Mrs. Baker and I needed one from him to continue my ‘project’. Miraculously, Mr Wilson chuckled to himself and I was given another hall pass and returned to the lobby. At the time I felt was very appropriate that Mr. Wilson taught African American History.

Mr. Wilson was nice enough to allow me to return to the sit-in.

Once I found a seat on the entrance steps of the lobby, Mr Campbell left for a while. When he later returned, he was carrying a sheet od paper, it was a sign up sheet. He hushed the crowd to make an announcement. He explained that if our demands were to be taken seriously he would have to present them to the school board. Mr. Campbell went on to explain that he needed to gather the names of all of the participants as a way to show the board how much support this cause was receiving. They might then be swayed to make changes. This would be like signing a petition for him to take before the board. But something about this didn’t sound right to me. I was suspicious, so when the sheet made its way to me, I took a look at it and realized that this paper would provide him with all of the names of all the people who had participated in this breach of school regulations, he was definitely up to something. I borrowed a pen from someone and where I should have signed my name, I signed “Daffy Duck” and passed the sheet on to the next student. I warned the person beside me that I suspected Campbell was up to something, but I left it at that. After all the names were taken Mr. Campbell assured us he would take care of the rest and we could return to class. We left feeling as though our mission had been accomplished and our voices would at last be heard. Soon after, word got around that every who’s name had been on the sign up sheet was being expelled from school for two weeks. Everyone except me, at least, all of the black students were kicked out of school and a few of the more well known trouble making whites. There had been a sit-in the year before by the long-hairs and Campbell had learned his lesson from that, this time he would take no prisoners. But I had a double indemnity insurance policy, my name wasn’t on the list and even if it had been, I’d received permission to be there from two very well respected teachers.

The next two weeks were brutal, I worked uptown after school and had to walk past the expelled students who sat on the post office steps everyday. I was heckled and called me a traitor as I walked by. They thought I should have fallen on the sword and gotten expelled along with the rest of them, but I didn’t see it that way. “You shouldn’t have signed your names” was always my come back. It wasn’t until much later than I came to agree with them, I played it smart, but I’d taken the easy way out.

The class of ’71 Fauquier High Cheer Squad
A dash of color had finally been added to the group.

Eventually, the sit-in paid off because a while later word came down that an audition would be held for next year’s cheer leading squad. Unfortunately, we still got shafted anyway, in my humble opinion. At the time I felt a conspiracy had taken place, the tryouts were held during Summer break and not many people were aware of when that would be. The other issue was since the try outs were being held out side of normal school months, few people would be able to make it to the trials. I have since realized that many sports try-outs and practices are held prior to a school’s scheduled opening, but at the time, it seemed a bit underhanded from them to play out that way. The other issue was even though an African American was chosen from those who auditioned, she was not a former Taylor High School student, they chose someone who had been attending Fauquier her entire high school career. To me this was a smack in the face of the former Taylor students and to those who valiantly protested for the right to have an African American on the squad. I am sure I was in the minority with that stance, most were satisfied just to see a black face representing us during pep rallies and sporting events. I will admit that it didn’t hurt that Cindy was both cute and talented, so it softened the blow quite a bit on how things were done. The revolution was over, they’d met our demands and most everyone walked away happy. With that, the cheerleader sit-in of ’69 ended. The class of ’71 returned to school with a black representative on the squad.


Apparently, Taylor students and the Fauquier High administration were not on the same page as to what we expected to see from our cheerleading squad…

Note: The above information is based solely on my memory of the events and what I believe took place. If you have issue with any of these details, please feel free to comment below, allowing your issues to be duly noted and history to be properly recorded. If anyone has additional documentation tat can fill in any of the blanks, you are welcome to provide it.

Growing Up Colored
Copyright ©1997-2014
All rights reserved
Revised: 8/2013

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Separate But Equal

Designated Negro Picnic Area along Skyline Drive
Lewis Mountain Negro Picnic area had closed by the time our family started enjoying Skyline Drive.

When we were growing up, our dad really enjoyed taking Sunday drives through the country. We’d drive for hours. The night before our outing mom would fry up a big batch of chicken, she’d make her world famous potato salad and pack up paper plates, cups and plastic utensils. If you’ve never had a Ritz cracker topped with potato salad (with eggs), then you don’t know what you’re missing. Those Sunday drives were something we all looked forward to, well, maybe not mom so much. She did a lot of prep work in advance of those outings that went mostly unnoticed until we were older and more able to appreciate it.

Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
My family and I on one of our many visits to Skyline Drive, that’s me on the right

The problem with going to Skyline Drive (which we loved) was that there were no places for black people to picnic. By the time we came along, the Negro picnic area had been closed and the park had been integrated. Whites and blacks were supposed to picnic together, no separate but equal facilities anymore. The park had advanced, yes, the park had advanced, but the people, not so much. It was painfully obvious that we weren’t welcomed in those newly integrated picnic grounds, after all the years of segregation, the mixing of the races looked good on paper, but the concept was not so easily embraced by all.

Rather than get evil stares, grunts and unintelligible mutters while sitting and trying to enjoy our meal, we would spend hours driving around looking for a secluded place to stop and have our lunch. Most of the time though, we would leave the park entirely and stop somewhere on the side of the road. Maybe one of the roadside picnic tables / rest stops would be available. I don’t see those anymore, nowadays.

Family outing along Skyline Drive, in the Shenandoah National Park
Mom takes a photo of Dad and us near Big Meadow.

I lived most of my childhood oblivious to what it meant to be segregated from the rest of society. But our Sunday drives, mostly spent looking for a nice quiet place to have a picnic lunch, were a constant reminder of the sometimes harsh reality. Living separate wasn’t that bad, but it was rarely ever equal.

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Historic Schools of Fauquier County, Virginia

Remington Colored School class picture, taken @1900.
Photo courtesy of the Brown/ Gibson family archives

Historic Schools of Fauquier County, Virginia USGS Topo Map
Bethel School Marshall
Blackwell Town School Midland
Cherry Hill School Linden
Crest Hill School Flint Hill
Fenny Hill School Upperville
Foster Hill School Marshall
Goldvein School Goldvein
Good Hope School Somerville
Hitch School Flint Hill
Hume School Flint Hill
Hurleytown School Warrenton
John Barton Payne High School Remington
Lake Field School Rectortown
Landmark School Middleburg
Litchfield School Remington
Merry School Midland
Midland School Midland
Morgantown School Orlean
Pilgrim Rest School Thoroughfare Gap
Piney Mountain School Jeffersonton
Piney Ridge School Remington
Public School Number 18 Marshall
Rosenwald School Catlett
Rosenwald School Warrenton
Saint Stephens School Catlett
Turkey Run School Catlett
Waterloo School Jeffersonton

Warrenton Training Center (aka Rosenwald).

Rosenwald Schools (may also be listed above as historic)

A vast library of photos and details on historic Rosenwald schools in Fauquier County can be found by visiting the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County
using the following search criteria
Name USGS Topo Map
Rectortown School Rectortown
Routts Hill School Opal
Crest Hill School Flint Hill
Greenville School Greenville
Piney Ridge School Remington
Rosenwald School Catlett
Rosenwald School(Warrenton Training Center) Warrenton
Morgantown School Orlean
All Rosenwald Schools in Fauquier

Catlett School.

Below are three links to YouTube videos created by the students of Liberty High School…

Blackwelltown School – AP US History Project

Routt’s Hill School – AP US History Project

Piney Ridge School – AP US History Project


Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 2015, “Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County Online Database”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from

Fisk University, 2001, “Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from

National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2001, “History of the Rosenwald School Program”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from

Place Keeper, 2014, Future Works LLC, retrieved 5/22/2015 from

Virginia Home Town Locator, 2015, “Fauquier County VA Historical Schools”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from,class,school,scfips,51061.cfm

Wikipedia, 2015, “Julius Rosenwald”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from

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The Association

I’m done, I got nothing left. No more stories. I’ve completely run out of tales about growing up in Remington, Virginia. To some of you, I know this comes as good news. How many childhood stories can one person conjure up anyway? More than 40. That’s right, if you check the pages of this blog you will find that more than 40 stories have been published. That’s enough, it’s more than enough. Yeah I know, I could probably come up with one or two more, but why bother? Sure, there’s the story about how, in 1965, our church received notice that we would be hosting the Northern Virginia Baptist Association’s Baptist Convention in Gainesville, Virginia. Yes, I could write about that, but I won’t. There’s really not much to tell. I must have been no more than 12 or 13 at the time, so my memory is a bit foggy on the hows and what fors that went on. All I know is, as the host church, we would be responsible for providing volunteer workers during the weeklong session. They needed several of our members to stay on site for the week during the day and live overnight in the barracks or bunk houses there. All the other workers could come and go on a daily basis and be available to help during speaking events and conference sessions.

My friend Ferdinand and I jumped at the chance to spend a week at “camp”. We would spend 7 days “roughing it” in the wilderness in Gainesville, VA. But there’s nothing to report, nothing happened. We arrived, cleaned buildings (and there were a lot of buildings), picked up trash, escorted guests from one place to another and kept concession stands filled with supplies and various sundries. That went on every day for an entire week, but it was on the first day when Ferdinand and I rounded the corner of the mess hall/ cafeteria that stopped us dead in our tracks.

There, standing against the building with a Tootsie pop in her mouth, was a pretty freckled faced, red haired girl. I thought she was cute, Ferdinand thought she was beautiful and he proceeded to fall head over heels in love right then and there. She looked to be about his age, he was a year or two younger than me. Unfortunately for me, from that point on he was of no more use to me or the Association, he was hooked. Ferdinand spent every waking hour either following her or looking for her so he could follow her. And that’s all he did, followed her and watched her from afar. Most of that time was spent between working up the nerve to talk to her or trying to figure out if she was black or white. One day He leaned over from behind a tree where he was staked out waiting to see her pass by. I was sweeping the sidewalk when she rounded the corner. He whispered over to me, “She is colored, right?”, he had that crazy, bewildered look on his face that he often had. I looked at her red hair, her freckled face, deep down I could see just the tiniest trace of blackness. I whispered back, “She gotta be colored, else she wouldn’t be here”, and turned back to my sweeping. Ferdinand just stared.

OK, Ok, this isn’t her, but it’s as close as I could get on short notice.

While I was making sure the ushers had clean kerchiefs for those overcome by the spirit, the pastors had fresh pitchers of water to keep them longer at the pulpit and the guests knew how to locate their next destination, Ferdinand was somewhere hiding behind a rock or a tree, peeping, staring at his newest heart throb. That was what went on during the day, at night we took the time to find ways to get into trouble. I remember one night after our chaperone had fallen off to sleep in his bunk, Ferdinand and I decided we wanted some ice cream. And it just so happened that there was a freezer case full of ice cream sandwiches, fudge pops and popsicles in the chow hall. What else could we do, we sneaked out of the barracks, crept down the hill to the cafeteria, found an unlocked window and edge our way inside. Thirty minutes and ten or fifteen ice cream sandwiches later, to our surprise the lights inside the chow hall switched on and one of the elders who managed the site came in with our chaperone. Luckily, after a few furrowed brows and some stern warnings we got off by agreeing never to try something like that again. They escorted us back up the hill and ushered us back into our bunks.

The next day I was back at my job of weeping and wailing and my friend Ferdinand was back at his job of watching and waiting. All-in-all, it was a great week away from home. We’d never been to any type of camp before, so this was as close as we would get and better than we could have ever imagined. The week came and went, on Friday we left the site and returned home to Remington. No, Ferdinand never said more than a hello to his crush, but he had lots of memories of what might have been to hold him for summers to come. And its because the whole experience was so uneventful that I’ve decided that its not worth the telling of it. The red haired girl never knew how close she’d come to being courted. And the Northern Virginia Baptist Association will never know it’s lasting effect on us, because this one won’t be told, this one stays in the vault.

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Hard To Find

Factory Worker. Photo courtesy:

Stagalee had been working at the gun factory in Midland, Virginia for almost a year by the time Celestia Brentwood Farnsworth was hired there in 1979. Stag ran the CNC machine, milling and boring pistol parts. Having Celestia operating the sanding and grinding tools just across the aisle from him was like a breath of fresh air in the stale environment of the shop. The way the shop was laid out, there was a circular walkway or aisle that cut a path through the rectangle building. Machines were scattered on both sides of the aisle. There were drills, mills, sanders, saws of all types arranged in departments based on the company’s gun making process. Even though you couldn’t tell by looking, there was an actual work flow. There was a method in the madness of noise, dirt and dust. Most folks didn’t bother familiarizing themselves with the whole process, they learned just enough to keep the pay checks coming week to week.

Celestia made sure everyone knew she wasn’t just any ordinary worker, living pay check to pay check. From her first day on the job she told anyone in earshot that her father was very wealthy and that she didn’t really need to work there. Celest drove her father’s Mercedes Benz to work each day from their family home in Middleburg, Virginia. As she had done all of her life, when she wanted something, she simply went to her father and said “Daddy I want…”. Up until this last time, she’d always gotten what she wanted. This time, she’d gone to her father and said “Daddy, I want a car”. For the first time in her life her father bulked at a request she made. “Not this time baby, you think money grows on trees. You need to find out where it really comes from”. According to Celeste, her father told her she would have to get a job, any job, and save the first $500 of the cost of a car. Once she’d earned that amount, he would put the rest to it. And that, she proclaimed was the ONLY reason she was working at that “God-forsaken place”. It was the first job she’d ever had, the only one she could find and she’d only have it long enough to earn the money she needed to get that car, she made no bones about it.

Factory Worker. Photo courtesy:

Stagalee and Celestia hit it off from day one. They met and talked every chance they got. Stag would tell Celest of his aspirations in life, he hoped to some day become a high school Phys. Ed. teacher. She would tell him of her plan of someday becoming a partner in her father’s law firm, but first things first, get that car! They took their two daily 15 minute breaks together, sat outside at the picnic table and ate lunch together. To passersby, they were always laughing at some unheard joke, whispering shoulder to shoulder or just sitting quietly, enjoying each others’ company. They were friends, real friends. Stag had other friends, but she was special, they “got” each other, they had a connection.

After weeks of enjoying Celestia’s company, Stagalee came to the realization that his feelings toward her had begun to stray beyond the realm of friendship, he liked her as more than just a friend and wanted very much to move beyond it. It was during one of their daily breaks that Stag decided to share his feelings with Celest, they were so close, he was sure she must be feeling the same way he did. “Celest, we really get along well don’t we? As far as I’m concerned you’re my best friend”, Stagalee confessed. Celest looked at Stag and smiled, “Sure Stag, you’re really the only person I know here”, Celest took Stagalee’s hand as she spoke. This was going even better than he’d imagined. Even though Stag had never dated a white girl, he didn’t see her in those terms. He didn’t think race would be a problem for them or anyone else, after all, this was 1979 for cripes sake! “Celest, I was thinking that maybe you and I could go out, you know, on a date, maybe to a movie”. Stag held his breath.

Celest looked off into the distance, he noticed that the faint smile she always seemed to have had left her lips. She removed Stag’s hand from her grasp and her face became expressionless before she began speaking, “You want to date me? You and I?”, she seemed to be thinking aloud rather than speaking to Stag. “That would mean that eventually you would want to kiss me at some point. I’ve only ever kissed an adult negro man once in my life”. Stag was a bit surprised to hear Celestia talking this way, he hadn’t realized that she even thought of him as “a negro”, he thought she simply saw him as a friend. She continued to speak, “When I was growing up we had a butler who lived with us, his name was Jerome. Jerome had taken care of me ever since I can remember. He practically raised me, but then he became deathly ill. Once we knew there was no hope that he would recover, I went ito his room and visited with him as he lay in bed ready to expire. I leaned over and kissed him on the cheek, he died not long after. We all loved Jerome, we knew there was no way we could ever replace him”. Then she looked directly into Stag’s eyes and stabbed him in the heart with her final words,”…And it’s a shame because it’s so hard to find good black help anymore”. Stag almost choked, did she say what he thought she said? Was she serious? Was she just trying to put him in his place?

Well, there you have it, that was that… “Its so hard to find good black help anymore”, Stag knew exactly where he stood. With that, he rose from the picnic table, went back inside and returned to his milling machine. They never spoke again. A few weeks later Celest quit her job at the factory, apparently having saved enough money to get her new car. Stag learned that not only was good help hard to find, but so were good friends. He would be a lot more particular in choosing his friends from then on.

Posted in Country Living, The 70s | Tagged , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Norfolk State College: The Untold Story

1971 Norfolk State College Student Union BuildingThe Norfolk State College Student Union building, where I spent every waking moment in the ping pong room 1971-1972

“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Oh no, here he comes again, Moses Rose, football star extraordinaire, walking through the quad of the Norfolk State campus singing about his favorite subject, himself.
It was just after Christmas break early in 1972 and Moses Rose was the big man on campus. Before that Jo Jo Bethea held that crown. He doesn’t know it, but he and I were in Phys. Ed. together, but that is the extent of our contact or my knowledge of his short stint on campus. One minute we were in Gym class together, the next thing I knew he was thrilling the crowds at Clemson and later at the Norfolk Scope with the Virginia Squires in the American Basketball Association. But Moses Rose was “Da Man” now and he let everyone within earshot know it by singing that one verse song of his (I won’t repeat it again here).

As far as I and my friends were concerned Rose could have his fame on the football field, we had ours in the ping pong room. We spent morning, noon and night playing table tennis. There was me, Trinidad (Trini), Trinidad #2, Jerome and “Plastic” and a few other names I can’t recall. It is my opinion that there has been someone on campus named Trinidad every year since the early 1960s. Our problem is that we had two Trinis, one was a great table tennis player and the other was a wannabe of the other Trini. Yes, you’ve already guessed it, they were both from the island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. Trini #1 was small and frail. He was what we called a professional student, when I matriculated in 1971, he had already been in school for six years and from the amount of time he spent in the Student Union building, he could look forward to staying another six or more. I don’t think the other Trini was actually a student, he could be seen working in an office on the upper floors in the building but always found time to make his way down to the basement where the ping pong room was located.

“Plastic” was the only female in the group, well, there was Gwendolyn, but she wasn’t as dedicated as the rest of us, she actually spent some of her time going to class. “Plastic” was a good player though, she had game. The reason we called her Plastic is because of the shiny make-up she always wore, it made her look like a mannequin in a store window. She wore a big afro, red lipstick, had rosy cheeks and was beautiful to boot. Plastic had a really nice personality, I think she was the one who sold me down the river. When I arrived on campus I told everyone I was from Washington, DC. I didn’t see the point in trying to explain that I was from a small little town way out in the country 50 miles away and besides, no one would ever know. Well, it didn’t take long for someone to ask what part of DC I was from, “Southeast”, of course. “Where in Southeast? What street do you live on? I know all about DC, did you go to Spingarn or Ballou?”. Well, that was all that it took, I was sunk. I said I went to Spingarn. “Spingarn? Spingarn? Spingarn is in northeast, Ballou is in southeast. Yeah, you’re from DC, Ha!” From that moment on we were best buddies, she called me “D.C.” and I called her “Plastic”.

The inspiration for our endeavor came one day while we were taking an outdoor break to watch little Trini show off his skills at soccer. Then, from off in the distance you could hear the faint sound approaching…
“Big – Bad – Moses – Rose!”

Great! Here comes Moses Rose, “That’s right, that’s right, step aside, make way for Moses Rose. Moses Rose is passing through”. For some reason he always referred to himself in the third person. I have to admit, the guy was impressive, built like a brick you-know-what, but in all fairness he was pretty entertaining, you had to like the guy for his self confidence, if nothing else.

NSU LibraryI could hear Moses Rose singing from across campus. When I looked up and saw that he was headed for the library, I turned and walked in the opposite direction.

It was then that someone spoke up, “Why doesn’t the school have a soccer team? We could all be on the soccer team” (I’d never played soccer in my life). Trini agreed and someone suggested that we just start one up, how hard could it be to start up a soccer team and schedule games, right? That’s how it all got started. The next thing you know we had not only organized a soccer team, we’d put together a chess team (the chess room was directly across the hall from the ping pong room). The student union was built with lots and lots of glass. The walls to each of the rooms in the basement were made of glass, as were the walls to the entrance of the building and the entrance doors. I can’t tell you how many newbies walked right into the walls and doors face first, trying to get into the building. You could just stand at the entrance to the basement and pick out the kids who were going to run into the glass “SMACK!”
So, by the end of that week, we had organized enough people to have a soccer team, a table tennis team, a chess team and a spades (card game) team. The next step was to make some phone calls to other schools to see if they would be interested in organizing representatives from their campuses to compete against us and other schools, yet to be determined.

Before Long we had schedules for traveling from one to school to another. We were the first to travel and first on our list was a visit to Virginia State in Petersburg. I remember that outing like it was yesterday. We all jumped in cars and drove to V.S.U. There must have been at least 10 to 12 of us. It was too cold for soccer so it was just the ping pong, chess and spade teams. We all basically rotated from one team to another so even if it were warm enough for soccer, the head count would have probably been the same. We arrived late Friday night with games scheduled for Saturday morning. The first thing we did was go to the student center and hang out. This was a learning trip if ever there was one. When we arrived at the center, we were met with music and dancing, there was a party going on. In the center of the room was what appeared to be a very intoxicated girl dancing on one of the tables. All she needed was a pole and you would have thought we were in a strip club. I asked someone from the school who the girl was, he said, “Oh, that’s not a girl, she’s a transvestite, a cross dresser”. I’d never seen anyone like that before and it made me realize that I needed to start paying closer attention to who I was talking to. After the party we went to a predetermined dorm and crashed for the night. Oddly enough, directly across the hall was the cross dresser’s dorm room. The noise from across the hall kept us up all night. There were guys in and out of that room all night, all going there for the sole purpose of having their hair braided. In with a fro, 30 minutes later, out wearing braids. We barely got any sleep at all.

The noise must not have affected us because the next day we won three out of four ping pong games, two of four of the chess matches and swept the spades games. It was a very successful outing. Three weeks later V.U. visited our school, but I have only a minute recollection of it. Our next stop was to be Virginia Union. There was a really bad snow storm that weekend so I decided not to go. There were two or three cars battling the elements to get there on that fateful day. I wasn’t able to make that trip, so I only have what I was told to go by. But apparently, the car that Jerome (Alias) and Plastic were in was trying to make it through the blinding snow when it skidded off the road and slid into a guard rail. Neither of them were hurt, so they got out of the car to inspect the damages. They circled the vehicle to see if it was drivable, but as they stood behind it looking it over, another car turned the corner and did exactly what they had done. That car plowed into the rear of their vehicle pinning them between the two bumpers. I was told that Plastic died at the hospital, Jerome had to have one of his legs amputated. I lost a good friend that day, two good friends. I never expected that Jerome would return to school, but he did. I would occasionally see him on crutches making his way to class, but he never came back to the ping pong room.

The school landed in a hot water because of the accident and the fact that it happened while students were participating in unsanctioned athletic events. Ultimately, back then at least, the school was deemed responsible for the students while they were in their care. Needless to say, that no more tournaments took place. I have found no formal record that this incident, or the events leading up to it, ever took place. Of course, I am using aliases to protect the privacy of those who suffered during this tragic time in the school’s history. But the least I can do is memorialize what I know about what took place in writing, here and now.

Posted in School Life, The 70s | Tagged , , , , | 5 Comments