Diversity Among Friends in the 1950s

My maternal grandmother (mamma) Alice Loretta Lathrop Ford and her son, my Uncle John Austin Ford, were known for liking people and keeping them close. A few of these people stand out in my memories from the 1950s (in no specific order).

Robert Peterson, “Pete”: A 30ish, handsome, slightly built man of American Indian descent from Kingston, New York. Uncle Johnny befriended him and he seemed to be a great guy. Johnny introduced him to one of his stepdaughters. Pete was immediately smitten but to no avail. By 1960 our families had moved out of Capitol Heights and no longer lived next door to each other. My parents moved us to District Heights, MD, (a big step up from where we had lived in our minds). When I was 13, I remember Pete found us in our new neighborhood and came by for a visit. That’s the last time I remember seeing him.

Alex Sorensen, from Sweden, rented my grandmother’s upstairs apartment that he helped her build in Capitol Heights, MD. I remember Alex had white hair and wore it in a crew cut. He was average height for a man and probably in his 60s. Alex was an atheist and I found my grandmother’s friendship with him strange because she was a devout Christian and I didn’t figure the two would mix well. (Well, to my credit, I was probably 10-12 years old at the time.) Anyway, Alex was a great handyman, a great storyteller, and quite a nice person to be around. Like my grandmother, Alex suffered from severe diabetes. I’m not sure why or when Alex moved on, but when he passed, authorities contacted my grandmother because he had no known family to contact. So sad.

Josephine ? was my grandmother’s and sometimes my mom’s “cleaning lady.” But their relationship was so much more than employer/employee.

1950s Shanty

1950s Shanty

Mamma and Josephine, despite the segregation and racism of the 1950s, were very close. I remember Josephine wore the traditional corn-rowed hair and was always saying “yes ma’am and no ma’am.” But they also talked a lot together as women friends do. I remember at least one occasion when Josephine brought along her young daughter and son to play with me while she worked. I remember riding along with my Uncle John a couple of times when he was taking Josephine home at night. Josephine and her children lived in the “shanty town” part of Seat Pleasant, MD. The site of these dirt-poor, falling-apart dwellings left vivid and everlasting images on my mind and in my heart. My stomach still churns today when I think about the injustice of inequality that caused two strong, seemingly similar women to live such disparate lives during a time when most American families were thriving. In fact, when Mamma and Roy moved from Capitol Heights to Glendale, MD, maybe 20 miles or so away, Josephine tried to trek on foot amidst the cold December days to reach them. Unfortunately, Josephine’s body was found alongside George Palmer Highway (now Martin Luther King Highway) where she had apparently suffered a heart attack and died along the way. It was Josephine’s son who shared the news with my grandmother. My family had Brownie Hawkeye cameras in the 1950’s and we have many pictures of loved ones together in the 1950s. I only wish someone had captured a picture of Josephine and my grandmother together.  They were truly friends and had a close bond.

3 thoughts on “Diversity Among Friends in the 1950s

  1. Joanne, I just found your blog, thanks to GeneaBloggers. I absolutely love your photo in your “About Me” category…and the fact that you also consider yourself an autodidact. Makes me wish we could sit down for a long chat over coffee (or tea).

    Best wishes as you continue your blogging efforts!


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