Mae Mallory, Alice Childress’s Mildred and Love and the Colored Maid / by Paula Marie Seniors

As the biographer of Mae Mallory with my upcoming book  Mae Mallory, the Monroe Defense Committee, and World Revolutions: African American Women Radical Activists (1958-1987), The University of Georgia Press, 2018,  I would like to share an excerpt of my 2014 essay "Mae Mallory and "The Southern Belle Fantasy Trope at The Cuyahoga County Jail 21st and Payne PAIN,” From Uncle Tom’s Cabin to the Help, Palgrave. I hope you enjoy.

 

Mae Mallory, Alice Childress’s Mildred and Love and the Colored Maid

 Paula Marie Seniors Collection, COPYRIGHT

Paula Marie Seniors Collection, COPYRIGHT

In Monroe, North Carolina 1958 after the attempted rape and brutal beatings of two African American women by white men and the loss of these court cases, African American women demanded the founding of the Negroes with Guns Movement, with Robert F. Williams as the leader to meet “violence with violence.”[i]

In 1961 African American working class self-defense and radical activist Mae Mallory a devotee of Williams Negroes with Guns Movement traveled to Monroe, North Carolina to support him and the visiting Freedom Riders sent down by CORE and others to show the effectiveness of passive resistance over self-defense.[ii] On Sunday August 27, 1961 5000 armed Ku Klux Klan including the police viciously attacked the demonstrators, and invaded the heavily armed Black community. The Stegall’s a Ku Klux Klan couple invaded the Williams home where he sheltered them from angry Blacks. They left unharmed.[iii] Mae recalled that Chief Mauney “threatened to have us all hanging by our heels within thirty minutes.”[iv] Williams and his family abandoned Mallory and made their way to Cuba and Mae escaped first to New York, and then Cleveland where she was arrested by the FBI.[v] Accused of kidnapping the Stegall’s she was incarcerated for thirteen months in Cleveland, Ohio at the Cuyahoga County Jail-21st and Payne PAIN where she faced extradition to Monroe.

Mae Mallory’s writing offered her an important strategy for surviving incarceration, through Carole Boyce Davies and Barbara Harlow’s Prison Blues and resistance literature, incarcerated women’s writing to resist domination, class oppression, and patriarchal authority; writing that challenged state repression aimed at those who resist hegemony.[vi] Mae Mallory’s “Of Dogs and Men” from the Workers World and the pamphlet Letters From Prison by Mae Mallory: The Story of A Frameup, provides us a window in which to view her inner life and personal experience as one of the many children and women incarcerated at 21st and Pain.  Using “Of Dogs and Men,” Alice Childress Just One of the Family,” Kathryn Stockett’s The Help and Tony Kushner’s Caroline or Change, I explore how Mallory used her writing to fight white female supremacy in prison to survive incarceration.

In The Help Kathryn Stockett earnestly expresses the belief that Demetrie her very own colored maid remained “lucky to have us [the white family to work for]. A secure job in a nice house cleaning up after white Christian people.” [i] Demetrie she contends remained lucky because she “had no babies of her own, and we felt like we were filling a void in her life,”  and “if anyone asked her how many children she had, she would hold up her fingers and say three. She meant us: my sister, Susan, my brother, Rob, and me.”[ii] How magnanimous of Stockett, how noble, how astute and sickingly altruistic. For Kathryn in maintaining the Mammy Trope remains convinced that Demetrie loved the little white children in the family, but especially little homely Kathryn. Stockett, and legions of others who maintain the Mammy Trope never give a thought to the reality of the relationship. In Just Like One of the Family Alice Childress resists this concept. Childress’s African American maid Mildred contextualizes the relationship---Mrs. C. bragged loudly to her friend that Mildred “just adores our little Carol!”  Mildred felt compelled to inform her “I do not just adore your little Carol. I think she is likeable, but she is also fresh and sassy,” that “luckily my mother taught me some inhibitions or else I would smack little Carol once in a while when she’s talkin’ to you like you’re a dog, but as it is I just laugh it off the way you do because she is your child and I am not one of the family.  Tony Kushner offers a similar stance of resistance. Caroline in Caroline or Change does not hold warm sentimental feelings for Noah the white Jewish boy whose family she works for. Noah is constantly under foot in the basement where she washes clothes, she tells him “Now muse yourself, I got no use for you. This basement too darn hot for two.” [iii] When Noah leaves his holiday money of $20 in his pants pocket, he demands that Caroline return it, her initial inclination is to return it. Notwithstanding the fact that his stepmother humiliatingly gave Caroline permission to keep any money left in the laundry, to teach Noah not to carelessly leave money in his pockets. Because of the mounting viciousness in Noah’s tone she refuses to return the twenty dollars as she sings “[n]ow I can take my boy to the dentist!, Now I can buy real presents for Christmas.”[iv] Noah responds

There’s a bomb!

President Johnson has built a bomb

Special made to kill all Negroes!

I hate you!

I hate you

Kill all Negroes!

Really! For True!

I hope he drops his bomb on you!

Caroline.[v]

 

Without a word to the family Caroline does not return to work, but soon must return for financial needs. Noah tries to make amends in the basement and asks “will we be friends then? Caroline answers, “weren’t never friends.”[vi] To further understand the relationship between the Black maid and white child Mae Mallory’s experience offers an abject lesson. In “Of Dogs and Men,” the white children remain non-entities, non-existent, faceless, and nameless; they do not register or play any role in Mae’s story. Therefore, Mallory fully contests the contention that love exists between the Black mammy and the child. How can anything exist when the child does not exist in the narrative?

As Alice Childress’s Just Like One of the Family, Tony Kushner’s Caroline or Change, and “Of Dogs and Men” illustrate and according to Evelyn Nakano Glenn “Caring has been mythologized as love, rather than labor, as a private matter, and as an activity natural to women,” ultimately unworthy of proper pay because the maid in this business arrangement is defined as “part of the family,” or like Mildred so aptly asserts “I do not feel like no weekend guest. I feel like a servant,” in need of a raise. Or as in many cases an invisible member, with no name and no social life.[vii] Comparably, In Raising Brooklyn Mose Brown discusses the concept of maid work in the 21st century as caring work. She writes of how white families in Brooklyn exploit West Indian maids that work for them by “asking providers to work later than usual by making them feel as if all “family” members had to chip in.”[viii] Nakano Glenn aptly notes that “caring work” in the U.S. was and is ultimately performed under “conditions of un-freedom and dependency,” beginning with African enslavement, the tracking of African Americans, Mexicans in the West, and Japanese in Hawaii into domestic labor as children. Similar to the African American nurse who reported in 1912 that she began working at the age of 10, or the case of Hawaiian Plantation owners who coerced Japanese workers to give them a wife or daughter to care for white children. The consignment to “caring work” ultimately shut these women out high school, college, and other forms of labor and education.[ix]

But back to Kathryn Stockett who laments that alas, alas, she never asked Demetrie “what it felt like to be black in Mississippi, working for our white family,” not about her dreams or her aspirations.[x] Stockett centers the question on the white family, not around a singularly African American life, unencumbered by whites. It never occurs to her that perchance Demetrie, wished for a life free from this white family, that she held fast to the idea of family and a life for herself. That Caroline in Caroline or Change might want to stay home and raise her own children, rather than find herself confined to a below sea level laundry room. That Mildred in Just Like One of the Family does not like her little charge, or that in the teenaged Mallory’s case these children do not exist or register in her Universe.

Tony Kushner’s Caroline or Change remains in conversation with Gurley Flynn, “Miss Deep South’s” and Stockett’s accounts. The Jewish playwright regales the playgoers with the story of eight-year old Jewish Noah and African American Caroline in 1963 St. Charles, Louisiana.[xi] The play is a reminiscence of sorts of Kushner’s childhood growing up with his own requisite Black maid. In the play, Caroline remains confined to the basement laundry room “sixteen feet below the sea,” with singing appliances, washing machines, dryers- African American women and male performers who magically metamorphisize into Super Mammies and Super Uncle Toms.[xii] Think about it! Kushner gives Broadway audiences and white supremacists their idealized dream of Black womanhood as singing working machines, the definitive representation of Mammy reminiscent of the stereotype of the happy singing slave, the ultimate Stage Negro that materialized after slavery to make the argument that African Americans “liked” being slaves, it was good for them.[xiii] Caroline makes thirty dollars a week like her real life Doppelgängers described by Mose Brown, Nakano Glenn, “More Slavery in the South” (1912), Marvel Cook’s “The Bronx Slave Market,” Claudia Jones 1949 “An End to the Neglect of the Problems of the Negro Woman,” and the New York Times articles by Kirk Semple, Monique P. Yazigi, and Constance Hays. They all contend that Black maids make below the minimum wage and experience exploitation given that they work over 50 hours during the week. [xiv]  Or Mae Mallory who wrote in “Of Dogs and Men,” that

 

 “For both the lady and her dog to be dressed in mink and “go strolling down Fifth Avenue” was considered smart.” But if I were paid a decent salary by her, it would be considered stupid; if I would have demanded more money, it would have been considered impudent. The dog really led the best life.” [xv]

 

Mae Mallory’s experience challenges us to consider the governments’ role in ensuring unfair labor practices aimed at keeping non-white domestics in a marginal position in U.S. society, by defining domestic work and “babysitting” as not real work. The government denied these workers Social Security through the 1935 Social Security Act that excluded domestics and farmworkers from coverage, the majority of who were Black, Asian, and Mexican. The ultimate refusal by Congress in 1974 to define households as workplaces and domestics as workers rather than as family members excluded them from protection under the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act, and sealed the fate of non-white domestics, as exploitable low wage laborers.[xvi] This according to Nakano Glenn ensured “the ideology of caring work” as not work “and therefore not deserving of protection and entitlements formalized by U.S. legal and regulatory structures.” These laws and acts ultimately maintained African Americans, Mexicans, and Japanese domestics as working poor class, very much like Caroline in Caroline or Change, Mildred of Just Like One of the Family, and the Bronx Slave Market Domestics. [xvii] 

COPYRIGHT

 

[i] Kathryn Stockett, The Help, (New York: Berkley Books), 2010, 250; Tate Taylor, The Help, Touchtone Pictures, 2011, 448

 

[ii] Stockett, 448

 

[iii] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change,(New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2004), 104

[iv] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, 38, 104

[v] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, 104

[vi] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, 123

[vii] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Caring and Inequality,” Women’s Labor in the Global Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices, Edited by Sharon Harley, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 2007, 48; Alice Childress, Like One of the Family: Conversations from a Domestic’s Life, (Boston: Beacon Press), 1956, 1986, 3

[viii] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Caring and Inequality,” Women’s Labor in the Global Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices, Edited by Sharon Harley, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University, 2007, 48; Tamara Mose Brown, Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbean’s Creating Community, (New York: New York University Press), 2011,17.

 

[ix] Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Caring and Inequality,” Women’s Labor in the Global Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices, Edited by Sharon Harley, 53-54; “More Slavery at the South,”A Negro Nurse, “More Slavery at the South,” Independent 72, No 3295, 196-197 (January 25, 1912).

 

[x] Kathryn Stockett, The Help, (New York: Berkley Books), 2010, 250; Tate Taylor, The Help, Touchtone Pictures, 2011.

 

[xi] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2004), 17-18

 

[xii] Tony Kushner, Caroline or Change, (New York: Theatre Communications Group, 2004), 17-18, 36-37

 

The very talented Tonya Pinkins made a name for herself as “The Countess” in All’s Well That Ends Well and Measure for Measure New York Shakespeare in the Park,  Livia Frye the lawyer on the soap opera All My Children and on Broadway as glamorous beautiful African American women in Thoroughly Modern Millie, Radio Golf, Jelly’s Last Jam, The Wild Party, Play On, Chronicle of a Death Foretold.  Only to be consigned to the angry character of Caroline.

 

[xiii] Paula Marie Seniors, Beyond Lift Every Voice and Sing: The Culture of Uplift, Identity, and Politics in Black Musical Theater, (Columbus: Ohio State University Press), 79; Hazel V. Carby, Reconstructing Womanhood: The Emergence of the Afro-American

Woman Novelist (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1987), 34; Jo A. Tanner, Dusky Maidens: The Odyssey of the Early Black Dramatic Actress (Westport: CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 8; Nathan Irvin Huggins., Harlem Renaissance. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1971), 250-251, 255;  Jacqui  Malone, Steppin’ on the Blues, (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1996, 51–52; Eric Ledell Smith, Bert Williams: A Biography of the Pioneer Black Comedian (Jefferson, NC, and London: McFarland & Company, 1992), 11; Nathan Irvin Huggins, Huggins, Harlem Renaissance, 250–51; Robert C. Toll, Blacking Up: The Minstrel Show in Nineteenth-Century America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1974), 36, 54, 67; James Hatch, Errol G. Hill. A History of African American Theatre. Cambridge University Press, 2003, 104.

 

[xiv] Tamara Mose Brown, Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbean’s Creating Community, (New York: New York University Press), 2011, 23-25, 39, 45-46, 49-51; A Negro Nurse, “More Slavery at the South,” Independent 72, No 3295, (January 25, 1912), 196-197; Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices, Edited by Sharon Harley, 46; Dayo Gore, Radicalism at the Crossroads: African American Women Activists in the Cold War, (New York and London: New York University Press), 2011, 104, 107, 110; Erik McDuffie, Sojourning For Freedom: Black Women, American Communiscm, and the Making of Black Left Feminism,  (Durham and London: Duke University Press), 2011, 167; Carole Boyce Davies, Claudia Jones, 45

 

 

Kirk Semple, “A Boon for Nannies, if Only They Knew,” The New York Times Online, 14 April 2011, 1; Monique P. Yazigi, “So Hard to Find Good Employers These Days,” Style, The New York Times online, 15 August 1999, 1-2; Constance Hays, “The Nanny’s Life,” New York times online, published 28 August 1994, 4-5; Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Caring and Inequality,” Women’s Labor in the Global;; .

 

In 1912 an African American nurse reported that she worked from sun up to sun down “fourteen to sixteen hours a day. I am compelled by my contract, which is oral only, to sleep in the house.” (A Negro Nurse, “More Slavery at the South,” Independent 72, No 3295, (January 25, 1912), 196) She writes that she doesn’t “know what it is to go to church; I don’t know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment or anything of a the kind; I live a treadmill life.” (A Negro Nurse, “More Slavery at the South,” Independent 72, No 3295, (January 25, 1912), 196) Her salary as a maid was ten dollars a month. She wrote about her inability to pay her bills and support her children on such a small salary. (A Negro Nurse, “More Slavery at the South,” Independent 72, No 3295, (January 25, 1912), 196-197); Evelyn Nakano Glenn, “Caring and Inequality,” Women’s Labor in the Global Economy: Speaking in Multiple Voices, Edited by Sharon Harley, 46)

In  The Help Abilene makes $172 a month in Jackson Mississippi in1963 (The Help, (New York: Berkley Books), 2010, 16) In 1994 Rhonda Allayn from Barbados made $200 in New York City as a maid. Allayn-“that was no money. You had to clean the whole house, and the house was humongous…[t]he day I was ready to leave was the day they fired me. I was going home. There was no way I was going to be a slave.”  (Constance Hays, “The Nanny’s Life,” New York times online, published 28 August 1994, 5) While in 1994 Guyanese Nannies salary was initially $310 a week until she began cleaning and then it rose to $425 a week. Constance L. Hays, “The Nanny’s Life,” The New York Times online, 28 August 1994), 4) In the 2000’s West Indian maid Arlene found herself working for $340 a week. (Tamara Mose Brown, Raising Brooklyn: Nannies, Childcare, and Caribbean’s Creating Community, 49-50)

 

[xv] Mae Mallory, “Of Dogs and Men,” from Letters From Prison by Mae Mallory: The Story of A Frameup, PG 25-26, The Monroe Defense Committee, The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture;  Mae Mallory, “Of Dogs and Men,” from Letters From Prison by Mae Mallory: The Story of A Frameup, PG 25-26

 

[xvi] George Lipsitz, Wages of Whiteness, 5, Rhonda L. Williams,  The Politics of Public Housing; Nakano Glenn, “Caring,” 53-55; Erik McDuffie, Sojourning For Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism,  (Durham and London: Duke University Press), 2011, 113, 126-127, 132

 

[xvii] George Lipsitz, Wages of Whiteness, 5, Rhonda L. Williams,  The Politics of Public Housing; Nakano Glenn, “Caring,” 53-55; Erik McDuffie, Sojourning For Freedom: Black Women, American Communism, and the Making of Black Left Feminism,  (Durham and London: Duke University Press), 2011, 113, 126-127, 132