When We Were Colored: An Interview with Eva Rutland
by Amy Anderson
Eva Rutland's memoir, When We Were Colored: A Mother's Story, is about her experiences as a black mother raising children in the 1950s, when schools were beginning to integrate and barriers beginning to fall. Rutland raised her kids in the Sacramento neighborhood my own grandparents grew up in, which made me even more eager to read her book. She's now in her nineties and still writing.
mamazine: Over and over as I read your book, I found myself marveling at how much has changed in Sacramento and in the world as a whole, while at the same time feeling like you were living a life that was similar to my own life as a mama in 2008. I know that part of your intent in writing When We Were Colored was to show just that: that a black mother raising four kids in the 1950s had many of the same concerns and hopes for her children and complaints about housework that her white neighbors had.
One chapter in particular left me feeling like you'd seen the future. In "You Have to Join," you write:
I'm all for kids lying on the ground and looking at the sky and making their own rules and excluding grownups, especially excluding grownups, because all these organizations for the spiritual, moral, and cultural development of youth take a mite of spiritual, moral, and cultural energy--and by that I mean Mama's energy.
I particularly liked how you detailed the costs, in terms of time and money, of organized activities for kids. Can you tell us a little about what led you to be the PTA president, Brownie troop leader, and everything else you did when your kids were young, as well as why you ended up wondering if it was all worth it?
Eva Rutland: I joined because I didn't want my children to be segregated in this new movement towards integration. Because they were black, I realized that my children would be, if not excluded from many school activities, easily overlooked. I took an active part in the PTA and as many other organizations as I could, Little League, Girl Scouts, Cub scouts etc, to protect them and to help them through this period. While it was exhausting, it was worth it because it made my children more comfortable in a mostly white world that was not always very welcoming to black children.
mamazine: Parts of your book were first published in the 1950s, and the children you were writing about now have adult children themselves. How has raising children changed over the years, from your perspective?
Eva Rutland: The world has changed. The world has gone crazy. It's more dangerous. I didn't have to worry about gangs and drugs. Certainly, there was sex in my day but sex was not so prominent or as accepted as it is today. I think raising kids is harder today. Sometimes I wish I was back on Crumley Street in Atlanta in the bad old days of the segregated south- back in my mama and daddy's big yard where all the kids were welcome and everyone was safe.
mamazine: Can you tell us a bit about IWP Book Publishers?
Eva Rutland: IWP stands for Isaac Westmoreland Publishing. Isaac Westmoreland was my grandfather, who was born a slave. After the Civil War he built a prosperous boot making shop in downtown Atlanta. He sent 9 of his 11 children who survived to adulthood to college. Ours is a very small company. We have published only one book so far, When We Were Colored: A Mother's Story, but I'm working on a sequel, tentatively entitled Tales of a Negro Grandmother. Later we hope to republish some of my Harlequin Romance novels. I've had more than 20 published and have recently re-acquired the rights to some of them. Wish us luck. And thanks for asking.
Eva Rutland will be signing books in Sacramento on Saturday, December 16th at 4:00 PM at the Avid Reader on 1600 Broadway St.<iframe src="http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=mamazinecom-20&o=1&p=8&l=as1&asins=1934178004&fc1=000000&IS2=1<1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifr" style="width:120px;height:240px;" scrolling="no" marginwidth="0" marginheight="0" frameborder="0">
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