photoThere are so many women whose lives and contributions have demonstrated amazing courage and whose deeds influenced younger generations.

How many? The list is formidable. How then do I meet the challenge of choosing who to write about?

She was born in 1915 in Austin, Texas, to a 15-year-old mother who had been raped by a distant relative.

She spent her first five years being cared for by her grandmother and an aunt. The 15-year-old mother went north to be employed as a servant by a wealthy family in Boston, Massachusetts.

At the age of twenty, Lorenza Wiliams returned to Texas and took her child to live with her in Massachusetts.

Black folks had a custom, as do other immigrants, of following the lead of family members who’ve moved to a place with better opportunities.

And so Lorenza conscientiously saved the meager earnings paid to her, in preparation for the day she would go West with her daughter to join relatives who were living in the golden state of California.

Seems, back in the day, and probably a custom practiced to this day, folks, as they moved to higher grounds,  tended to embellish the circumstances of both their surroundings and of their place on the ladder of success and inclusion.

Time passed. Lorenza and, by now, her teenage daughter, arrived in Los Angeles and took a cab from Union Station to the address of “Dad” and “Aunt Carrie” (Lorenza’s father and step-mother).

The black cab driver was as astonished as the travelers were when they arrived at a large Spanish-style home on Highland Avenue in Hollywood that sat far back from the street with a stretch of green lawn that seemed to all of them the size of a golf course.

The Golden State was indeed full of golden dreams, they surmised, as they stepped from the taxi cab with ragged suitcases in hand.

“Dad and Aunt Carrie have sure enough done well!” they said they remarked when they would tell this story to future generations of their  family.

In 1930, when my mother and grandmother came to Los Angeles, they knew nothing of racial restrictive covenants that kept blacks and other minorities locked into clearly defined housing areas, which meant they would not be living on Highland Avenue.

Fortunately for the travelers, Bernice and Lorenza, the white family was away and the butler and the maid (Dad and Aunt Carrie) were alone at their place of employment. They were astonished to see their relatives at the front door.

But other relatives had also made the journey from the South and they were not “live-ins” as domestics were called. Instead, they had a variety of jobs in the city. They lived in Boyle Heights and that’s where another cab driver took the two travelers.

No cell phones to call and say they were on their way. In fact, back in 1930, most struggling folks didn’t have any kind of phone.

So for what reason do these two women, mother and daughter, embody the historical category of those who influenced future generations for having lived lives that demonstrated amazing courage?

Neither mother or daughter was accepted into Harvard or Yale. Neither of them developed a cure for a dreaded desease.

According to family lore, each of them led fairly ordinary lives – such as it was defined. But maybe it’s the way we see things that helps the world ignore what’s called ordinary.

They were ordinary women in the eyes of those who categorize us. But in the eyes of the generations to follow, both my grandmother and her daughter, my mother, were women not to be ignored when we talk about Women’s History Month.

These women of the family, with minimal formal education but with a plethora of mother wit, saw to it that the children they were responsible for raising would understand that their role in life was to journey forward with a ragged suitcase or with a fine leather satchel.

And the destination, whether at a wrong door in an up-scale Los Angeles neighborhood or on the east side of the city in Boyle Heights, should have the same end results.

To be bold. To be daring. To take a chances. To travel outside the comfort zone.

There are millions of women’s stories that make us all eligible for recognition during this month of March that celebrates our history.



This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Greta Pruitt

    Nothing “ordinary” about those women. It is logical to know their descendants are also not “ordinary” women. As you and your sister Beverly repeatedly showed to others your unique talents and skills have proven, “ordinary” women can, and often do, very extraordinary things. Thank you for giving us this personal peek into your own family’s past and path. The journey on which you have traveled throughout your life is worthy of repetition and replication by those who follow.

  2. Jean C. Troy

    It is amazing how much our backgrounds seem the same. My parents migrated from St. Louis to Los angeles by way of Kansas. They had little money and a promise of getting a job. They got the job as cook and butler in North Hollywood. They took 18 years before they bought a home but they did. My Mother who was the heart of our family worked as a Day worker to help the family prosper. she had an 8th grade education but made sure that all her children at least got 2 years of college. This took faith hope and the willingness to work hard.

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