We hold these truths that we all have expectations for ourselves and others. I see this as one of the hardest aspects of genealogy (or doing a family’s history). The more I uncover about the Flowers family the more expectations I hold for each individual. When I first “met” Rachel Flowers, I thought she was quiet and reserved. Basically, a woman who simply lived her life keeping to herself. Despite my assumptions, I discovered Rachel was loud as in she was an advocate for racial justice, a singer, actress, partied (I say this in the best way possible, but think 1930s, 40s, and 50s parties not today), hostess, and more than I could ever imagine. It only prepared me for what I would soon discover about her other family members—Vincent, Gladys, Nancy, Harry, and Hilda. The best thing to do while doing a family’s history is to BRACE yourself, you never know what you will uncover.
With all this being said, as I was in Jackson, MS at the state archives, I came in with certain expectations for Hilda. Nothing negative. I felt as if she was this sweet young lady who was devoted to fighting for the rights of blacks and wanted a change. Well, I was in for a bigger treat when I came across her letters, notes, and even tax returns. You gain a great amount of insight on a person’s life nevertheless their personality when going through six boxes of information about them.
Some aspects of her life expressed her great sense of humor. It reaffirmed in my mind why she was considered the most popular person so to say within the Flowers’ family as reference from an article written in 1931. It is featured below.
The note stated, “ Hello Ugly, Keep your pressure down, See you soon. Love, Cakes.” This letter made me laugh. I am sure it made Hilda smile as well.
She was also…well…I do not know how to put this…abrupt, out-spoken, umm a little rude. This was shocking for me. See for yourself.
The letter above refers to an incident between neighbors and Hilda’s tenant at her Philadelphia residence, Mrs. Viola V. Rucker. The incident(s) must have been horrible because Mrs. Rucker had consider moving. Hilda pushed her tenant to remain living at the home because of the contract she had signed and also because of the “moral issue involved.” Here is her response:
Perhaps over the years, some of you have forgotten that you moved either directly or indirectly from areas known as SLUMS. As a matter of fact, some of you had very large families. It was necessary to tell the realtor that your family was smaller than it was, in order to secure a house. Have you forgotten? I haven’t. I can remember that it was an every-day occurrence to have 10 to 30 young people going in and out of everyone’s terraces—including my own. I do not remember anyone signing a petition to have people who are renting, removed, It did not occur to you then that maybe your children were annoying other people. Now that your children are grown and you have finally paid for those old houses, you feel obliged to harass other people. I can also remember when some of the houses had as many as 15 people in them.
Mrs. Rucker is a hard working mother, who I understand from other sources, minds her own business. I also understand that her children are well-behaved. What have you done to help her?
You seem quite upset when WHITE BIGOTS ran Black people out of Folcroft, Kensington, and Cicero, Ill. Do you feel that negro bigots are any better???
Perhaps you could use your IDLE time more constructively by LEARNING the new Federal and State laws regarding housing. They now allow BLACK people to move into any place that they can afford to pay the rent for. While you are looking that up—the information can be had from any state or federal office—also look up the law regarding motorcycles. The only requirement is that the owner must have a STATE LICENSE. Did anyone tell you what kind of car that you had to buy? Some people like motorcycles as a mode of transportation. The Amish like the horse and buggy; some people still like mules. Who makes that decision???
To those of you who call yourselves “CHRISTIAN”, maybe you could use some of that idle time and have your minister or priest explain to you this quote, “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for such is the kingdom of God. Unless you become as one of these little ones, you cannot enter therein.” Also ask about Christ’s Sermon on the Mount, “if you say that you love God and hate your brother, you are a liar and the truth is not in you. For how then can you love God whom you have not seen and hate your brother whom you have seen???” How then do you justify calling yourselves Christians???
I therefore advise you to cease any action that you are planning against my tenant, Mrs. Rucker. If not, I will be obliged to take legal action against all signers of any petition. I shall take out a peace bond against harassment, sue for all or any income lost to me by any such action, plus court fees.
From what law book did you gather information that you can tell me what to do with my own property/ I do not remember telling you to run your homes, nor do I remember asking any of you to pay one cent of mortgage money or tax money. DO YOU??
She had a point, yet she could have made her point in a better way. At the same time, you have to do what you gotta do and I am not aware of the entire situation, however, this attitude was also reflective in her work. Some of her letters to her fellow employees were extremely blunt, but before I became quick to judge, I ran across this letter between Hilda and her friend Catherine.
Obviously, these images were not scanned, but taken on an amazing friend’s iPhone. I apologize in advance for the quality. This letter provided a backdrop to perhaps Hilda’s attitude in Mississippi. Catherine, who is writing the letter, starts off with:
You have been much on my mind, but I have not been free to write many letters, I hope you do continue to try to get the PPC (Poor People’s Campaign) back on a more cooperative operation.”
It is really sad that those who are trying to help the people out of bondage use the tactics of their own masters on the people they are trying to help.”
I can only assume that PPC’s administrators were drifting away from the true mission of the organization, which might have fueled Hilda’s attitude. By 1973, the relationship between Hilda and her director was down right horrible. This eventually lead to her termination.
Even after her job termination, Hilda continued to be an advocate for justice and children which lead to a leadership position on the Advisory Board for the Mississippi Institute for Early Childhood Education.
There were good and bad sides to Hilda’s personality, but it only made me realize one thing—she was a fighter, not one to back down towards a challenge. If anything, she always spoke her mind, which is a quality everyone should have.
As I was researching for this post, I stumbled upon other documents that sparked some interest. The first was a correspondence course application from the University of Mississippi.
She was taking a History course on the Roman Empire and also a course in English Composition. She last attended Tugaloo College, which I never knew!
My internship has now ended and I am headed to NYC to visit my sister and the New York City Archives. Cannot wait.
Until the next post.