My first gift was a woman from Columbia University who is writing her Master’s thesis on the Sunfire series of teenage historical novels. I wrote several in the series. She graduated from Yale and plans to get her doctorate in American Studies.
It is always a pleasure to hear from fans. When she interviewed me, she told me she loved my books because they were about independent women with interesting work and I felt as though I had a part in her success. It also reminded me that things can change. When I wrote those books, Yale didn’t even accept women.
The Sunfires were different from my other teen romances because they were based on actual history. I have always loved historical fiction and I loved researching and writing them. Mine were about a one-room schoolteacher, a Lowell mill girl, a telegraph operator caught the Johnstown flood, a 1930’s movie star, and a young woman during the bombing of Pearl Harbor. My favorite was Corey – an escaped slave who walked to Philadelphia freedom. The Sunfire series was a first and Corey was an even bigger first because it pictured a black heroine.
The History Fairy also brought two impersonal gifts. They were TV documentaries on the Freedom Riders and the Women’s Movement. Both events touched my life personally.
I have had a deep interest in racial equality since I was fourteen, and attended a teen conference sponsored by the American Friends Society. One of the presenters was a Philadephia Quaker named Bayard Rustin. He spent the war in prison as a conscientious objector and then began a struggle for equality in the South.
Rustin absolutely fascinated me. He wore denim work shirts and played the guitar even though he was a very educated man. He taught us enthralling protest songs that were as inspiring as his words. I had never met anyone like him and I fell in love because I was a silly young girl, but I also fell even more deeply in love with his message.
I never learned much about him. I know he was with A. Philip Randolph, and organized of the March on Washington. I believe he spent most of his life in the shadows of the movement because of his homosexuality. It is only recently that I’ve seen his name and work openly acknowledged.
As I watched that documentary on the violent confrontations in Alabama and the prison jamming in Mississippi, I realized how slowly ideas change. I was also reminded how important courage is. Those “agitators” of the early ‘60’s saved the soul of our nation. I believe those amazing non-violent young people are the true spiritual leaders of our time.
I’ve known for a long time that poverty is the partner of ignorance and education is the key to change.I have learned that good laws create new opportunity and they do eventually work. It was wonderful to see that Truth condensed into one TV show. I realized things have changed for the better. Not finished, but changed.
I was a small contributor to the march toward equality – a few dollars, a few parades. I volunteered for a few social programs, did a few press releases for Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s campaign, volunteered for classroom assignments where I could do some good.Over the last 66 years my ideals have not wavered and I know that foot soldiers are important to the march of history.
I was very glad so much was caught on tape. Thank God for brave journalists. I was also sad as I remembered how naive we were. In the beginning, we mostly believed racism was limited to the South. Not so. But I believed it then. Didn’t I have friends who were black? I know better now.
The second show reminded me I’ve changed a lot of ideas about women’s issues as well. I’m ashamed to remember that in the early seventies, I told my boyfriend I wasn’t a feminist. He was black and he said quietly, “Then you don’t know what’s been done to you.”
I think I resisted jumping on the feminist bandwagon because I wanted to be beautiful and sexy and successful. The propaganda about the women’s movement was ugly and fierce. I did join NOW almost immediately and I did go to those consciousness raising meetings.
My consciousness may not have been raised as much s startled when the leader suggested my problems might not all be psychological. She said they were sociological! I was busy having an identity,or mid-life crisis. At any rate, I chose to be an aging hippie instead of a insistent feminist. It never occurred to me just to be ordinary.
Part of my resistance was that I detested thinking of myself as a victim. However, when I got drunk, I whined a lot. I obviously thought my life was pretty unfair. Also, I desperately wanted to believe Prince Charming was out there somewhere and would be coming along to save me very soon.
In the end, Prince Charming let me down and I sobered up. With the help of Bill W and Ernest Holmes, I combined my spiritual emergence with attention to my feminine side. Two friends and I wrote a small workbook for women alcoholics. We started the first women’s meeting in town. Getting sober meant looking at my life in new ways.
As American life changed, I also changed. I learned to be grateful for my journey and to enjoy the remainder of the trip. I thought I was getting smarter as I aged but it may have been that new ideas were exploding all around me and I didn’t want to miss the fun. Who knows?
That was then and this is now. What I know for now, for certain, is that we all very connected. On a clear day, I can see a direct line from Eleanor Roosevelt, my girlhood idol, to Michele Obama who is reinventing First Lady.
We all have a part to play in our march toward discovering our spirital magnificence. When one person finds more Light, it opens us all up to more Light. The poet, John Donne wrote in the 1600’s. No man is an island… do not ask for whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.
At age 14, I thought that poem about a bell was all about Gary Cooper blowing up a bridge for love of Ingrid Bergman. Now I know the poem was written for love of all of us. We Are One.
What are three ideas you changed over the years?
Why did they change?
Did your change impact others? How?