Vol. 14


“Mr. Gardner Please?”

1950s; Montgomery, Alabama, USA

My grandmother grew up in Montgomery, Alabama, under racial segregation in the 1950s. Many whites practiced lawful racism (the immoral oppression of, and discrimination against, blacks). Many whites did not consider blacks to be equal, and routinely disrespected them. Blacks and whites had separate schools, restaurants, movie theaters, and libraries, and they rode in separate sections of trains and buses. They also lived in separate neighborhoods.

My grandmother’s grandfather (my great-great-grandfather) was Monroe Gardner. He was born in 1892, and he died in 1972 at the age of eighty. My grandmother called him “Granny.” During my grandmother’s childhood she lived with her grandparents. She lived in the house with seven other people. The house had three bedrooms and one bathroom. My grandmother’s father was a high school principal, and her mother was a superintendent. They worked in Shelby County, about sixty miles away, and came home on the weekends.

Granny had a wood delivery business. At that time most people did not have central heating in their homes or gas stoves in their kitchens like we have today. So they used wood-burning stoves. Granny got the wood he sold from a local lumber company. That lumber company sold wood to contractors who built houses, but the company allowed black men like Granny to collect the unused wood to sell to people for heating and cooking. My grandmother’s family used the wood, too.

My grandmother served as Granny’s secretary. She took the orders and wrote them down for him. One day there was a family emergency at home. My great-great-grandmother had gotten sick, and my grandmother had to call her grandfather to ask him to come home. When the receptionist at the lumber company answered, my grandmother asked to speak to “Mr. Monroe Gardner.” Then the receptionist yelled into the phone, “WE DON’T HAVE A MR. MONROE GARDNER!” She hung up the phone angrily, even though she knew my great-great-grandfather well.

A few minutes later Granny rushed in the door and asked my grandmother what she had done. He said that after her call he had been banned from that lumber company’s property because she had referred to him as “Mr.” After that incident, Granny lost his wood-selling business. Even though he had been mistreated, he eventually found a new supply company.

Morgan Durant; Alabama, USA



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