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 unitelligible muttered words 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 altogether and park 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. But our Sunday drives, mostly spent looking for a good place to have a picnic lunch, were a constant reminder of the reality in which we lived. Separate was rarely ever equal.

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.

Historic Schools of Fauquier County, Virginia


Watching
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

Watching
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

Watching
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

Sources:

Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County, 2015, “Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County Online Database”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://www.aahafauquier.org/

Fisk University, 2001, “Fisk University Rosenwald Fund Card File Database”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://rosenwald.fisk.edu/

National Trust for Historic Preservation, 2001, “History of the Rosenwald School Program”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from http://www.preservationnation.org/rosenwald/history.html

Place Keeper, 2014, Future Works LLC, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://www.placekeeper.com/

Virginia Home Town Locator, 2015, “Fauquier County VA Historical Schools”, retrieved 5/22/2015 from http://virginia.hometownlocator.com/features/historical,class,school,scfips,51061.cfm

Wikipedia, 2015, “Julius Rosenwald”, retrieved 5/17/2015 from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Julius_Rosenwald

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.


Watching
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.

Hard To Find


Watching
Factory Worker. Photo courtesy: https://commons.wikimedia.org

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.


Watching
Factory Worker. Photo courtesy: http://www.seattlelighthouse.org

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 took care of me 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 into 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 afterwards. 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, “Its so hard to find good Black help”, he 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 she quit her job at the factory, apparently saving the money she needed to get her new car. Stag learned that not only was good black help hard to find, but so were good friends. He would be a lot more particular in choosing his from then on.

A Good Place to Land

Do you know what the really sad part is? The really sad part is that the story you are about to read is true and the names haven’t even been changed. Remember that old saying before every Dragnet episode? “The names have been changed to protect the innocent”, remember that? Apparently, no one is innocent anymore. See, last weekend I decided to take my truck to the repair shop, the one I’ve been taking it to for the past twenty some years. The shop is only a mile and a half away from my house, so I thought it would be a good idea to drop off the truck, then I’d take a leisurely walk back home. I did that with little or no incident. But while I was walking back home, a motorcycle cop passed by me going in the opposite direction. I nodded politely as he passed, he nodded back and all was good with the world. I’d been home about 3 hours when the shop called to let me know that my truck was ready for pick-up, so I started back on foot to get it. Wouldn’t you know it, that same motorcycle cop came by going in the “other opposite direction”, so I nodded at him again, only this time he didn’t nod back. He just stared intently as he crept by on his Harley. That’s when it hit me! If anything ‘went down’ anywhere near where I was right then, in his mind, I’d be the most likely suspect. There I was, well over 300 pounds, walking down the street in a jogging suit and obviously having no intention of working up a sweat… (Heck, now I’m starting to think I look suspicious.)


Watching
“Just out walking officer, no problem here”.

That’s when I subconsciously began scanning my surroundings. I was looking from the sidewalk to the field for a soft, wet spot that I could get to in a hurry. I was looking for a place to land just in case I was slammed, face first, to the ground, like is happening to so many these days. I wish I were kidding, I began to make plans as to what I should do if that cop pulled up along-side me and started to question me for one reason or another. As I politely answered his questions, with a “Yes sir” and a “No sir”, I’d slowly edge my way off the sidewalk, my plan was starting to come together. Moving so inconspicuously that he would not even notice I was moving away from him inch by inch. The next thing he’d know, I’d be standing in the middle of a grassy field shouting my answers back to him, but by then I’d be in a nice soft place for the inevitable “take down”. It sounds a bit funny, almost laughable, but its a downright dirty shame. It’s easy for those unaffected by this new trend to say things like, “he shouldn’t have resisted”, “all he had to do was do what he was told”. That’s so easy to say if it isn’t you being gripped in a choke-hold, or it isn’t you with a knee on his neck and his arms being forced to go in directions they weren’t intended to go.

But this is an argument that can go either way. I’m pretty open-minded, I’m sure that if I were a cop, I’d have a complete 180 degree take on the whole matter. They do a tough job and make tough decisions, no one can deny that. They have to make tough, split-second decisions, the kind that, once made, can’t be taken back. There are no do-overs for our men in blue, so they have to be right the first time. The take-down is one of those decisions that doesn’t seem to fall into the category of being a tough decision to make. Not if the person being taken down is already in cuffs and under control. At any rate, I shouldn’t expect there to be a possibility of my being slammed to the ground by police during a leisurely stroll down the street. A person driving a red sports car should expect to be pulled over more than most when he or she is just out driving. A black man shouldn’t expect to be thrown to the ground when he’s just out walking, not even if they’re in the wrong. This is still America, isn’t it? If it is and I know it is, something is wrong with this picture.


In the day
This may be too far back, but back in the day you could argue with the police man and not be concerned that he might shoot you.

Back in the 70s I had a few run-ins with the police, for traffic violations. I even argued with the police once or twice, got right up in their face. I once tore up a speeding ticket right in front of the deputy who issued it to me and all he said was that he’d been nothing but polite and that he expected the same from me (and oh by the way, “you’re still responsible for paying the fine, torn up ticket or not”). I even argued with a state trooper once and was so vehement that I hadn’t been speeding he finally admitted that his radar gun may have been off by a mile or two and he let me go. That was back when radar guns were a new thing and their accuracy was still in question. But at no time did he or any other officer “fear for their safety” or I for mine, even if we got into a heated debate. I wouldn’t attempt to argue with the police now, “Just tell me what you need me to do, officer” and I’d then do it. If you comply to all commands you are given, the chances of being body slammed are reduced exponentially. At least that has always been my expectation of what should happen. Otherwise, if I do anything other than comply, I can expect to find my face pressing against the pavement.

But the new catch phrase now seems to be, “I feared for my safety”, and it apparently gives anyone with the most minimal authority the right to do just about anything they want. Security guard: “I slammed the child down in the hallway because I was afraid for my safety” or “I feared for my safety or the safety of others and shot him because it looked like he was reaching for my weapon”. Regular citizens on the street haven’t gotten any tougher than the folks in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, have they? They’re probably a lot softer, but I guess, so have the authorities. I can’t fathom sheriffs like Luther Cox or Sam Hall or deputies like Butler Grant or any of the piece officers from that era saying that they did ANYTHING because they were ‘afraid’. I don’t think the words would have come out of their mouths, they were men Dammit! We’ve got county sheriffs, state troupers, Army Generals, presidents, in front of television cameras crying on a regular basis, what the heck is going on? If someone is going to slam me to the ground, they should say they did it because I came at them, not because they were afraid or in fear. Don’t slam a 300 pound man (or a 90 pound girl, for that matter) to the ground, then claim you did it because you were afraid they were going to hurt you. People in fear go in the opposite direction of that which they fear.

The point is that it’s a terrible reason to use to maim or injure someone, someone who was confronted for “looking suspicious” or may have had a fake ID. Can we please stop the madness, I don’t want to have to look for soft place to land as I walk through my own neighborhood. I know that this is all going to fall on deaf ears. If you aren’t in the demographic of the individuals most likely to experience something like this, then there’s no way I could expect you to get it. You won’t get it, not until you or someone you love is affected by it. Unfortunately, this type of trend tends to spread rather than dissipate, so… I suggest we all start looking for a good place to land.

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