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“A riveting and inspiring story of a true American hero from Possum Trot, Alabama, who in her own compelling voice tells the story of how she broke down barriers throughout her life, and in the process gave all women in this country the right to get equal pay. A must read.”
—Marcia Greenberger, Co-President, National Women’s Law Center
Many years later, when I first started working at Goodyear, the union guys liked to tell the women that they were going to "pick" us. That is, they were going to catch us and pick each pubic hair from our bodies. Like so much that happened there, when you put it in words and see it on paper, it sounds too unreal to believe. But they were always up to some prank or another, often making work a dangerous sport.
One day, a woman worker, fed up with the constant haranguing, actually dropped her pants and dared the men to do it. With her pants bunched around her ankles, she stood there in her plain white underwear. The guys backed off her but kept up their nonsense with the rest of us. I knew I'd never do what she did, but I also knew they often made good on their word, one time pinning down one of the new young guys and picking him clean. I went home and found one of Charles's knives to carry in my pocket, the hard leather sheath resting against my thigh in case they ever decided to test me.
Countless times throughout the years at Goodyear when I needed courage, I remembered how Mama had finally tamed Papa that summer afternoon. I never doubted my mother would have used the butcher knife that day, and in my moments of fear and anger, I never doubted I'd use my own knife if necessary.
The place where I grew up during the 1940s is a small bend in the road along the foot of Choccolocco Mountain in northeast Alabama. Just like those pinch-faced gray possums that roamed the pine forests, the people in that small community in the foothills of the Appalachians knew a thing or two about survival. They worked in the cotton or steel mills or scratched a living from the dirt. Some worked in the foundries or the army depot in nearby Anniston or, if they were lucky, had a good-paying job at Goodyear in Gadsden. The folks I knew would walk over broken glass to help a neighbor and just as soon kill you if you did them wrong.
In 1946, I was in second grade when my father came home from the navy and my parents bought land from Papa to build a slightly bigger house across the road from him. Life started looking up for my family then. It took me a while to adjust to the gleam from the naked bulb hanging off the thin cord from the ceiling, since I'd been so used to the soft glow of gaslight. A couple of years later, we got indoor plumbing and things really changed for the better. Gone were the days of tiptoeing through the wet grass in the black of night, wondering if I'd step on a rattlesnake on the way to the outhouse.
Our new house wasn't much to look at, but we were lucky. We were the only ones in Possum Trot, besides the brick mason, who owned a television. Daddy worked the night shift at the Anniston Army Depot six days a week, where he reworked engines on the battered military tanks sent home from Korea and later from Vietnam and the Middle East. Before we bought the TV, in the evenings when Daddy was gone, Mama and I had nowhere to go and nothing to do--except for Saturday evening, when we turned on the radio, silent all week to save batteries, and listened to the Grand Ole Opry. But once we got the TV, folks gathered in every corner and doorway of our small house many evenings to watch the nightly news.
During the day, I had to come up with my own entertainment, and I ran wild, disappearing for hours to climb trees and explore the woods. My cousin Louise and I spent entire days searching for caves or hunting for arrowheads in the Indian cemetery. We also loved to mimic the holy dancing we saw at the church campground down the road.
Despite these wistful memories, nearly all of my childhood was spent in endless work. In the misty summer mornings Mama and I picked beans and okra before the sun started blazing down on us. After we headed back to the house to bathe and change, we spent the rest of the day hulling peas, skinning tomatoes, and blanching vegetables to can for the winter. We only stopped canning to sleep. On the weekends we roamed the woods to fill our syrup buckets with huckleberries and blackberries for jam and cobbler, slapping the itchy bites from the invisible chiggers with Listerine to keep them from driving us crazy.
Growing up, I never lacked for essentials, and I certainly never went hungry. I knew we were better off than a good many folks. Of course, I was also painfully aware that we weren't as well off as some others--like my best friend, Sandra. I'd known her since first grade. While I wore homemade bloomers, Sandra could afford silk panties. Every day she came to school in a coordinated sweater and skirt, never without a perfect strand of pearls. Even the teachers called her "little princess."
Sandra's family lived in New Liberty, a neighborhood where no one whitewashed their trees or kept chickens running around the front yard. There, children didn't have to share a bedroom with their grandmother, like I did. Sitting in front of the large mirror at Sandra's elegant dressing table, I'd angle her hand mirror every which way to see my reflection, hoping to improve my profile. But there it always was, clear as day, the bump in the middle of my nose, the same mysterious Indian nose as Granny Mac's and Daddy's.
Every time I came home from Sandra's, I felt inferior. Just the sight of my dingy white house and dusty dirt yard made me ashamed even though I knew how far we'd come. I dared not say anything about my disappointment. I saw how hard my parents worked. But the older I got, the more transparent the differences in my life and Sandra's became, and my sense of embarrassment stayed with me, as indelible as a birthmark. I was keenly aware that all this privilege was due to Goodyear, where Sandra's father worked. New Liberty was where the Goodyear families lived. And it's where, more than anywhere, I wanted to be.
I used to stare at the Goodyear plant when I passed it on my annual summer Greyhound bus trip to Aunt Mattie Bell and Uncle Hoyt's small duplex house in Gadsden. Right before you got into town, there was the plant, next to the Coosa River. A giant redbrick building with slits for windows, it sprawled for blocks behind a tall steel fence like a fortress. The huge smokestacks billowed black smoke. Riding past the plant, I dreamed about what it would have been like to ride around in a brand-new Mercury every few years like Sandra. Or I imagined swimming in the Gulf Coast during spring break like she did. I even fantasized about how smooth my hands would be if my daddy worked at Goodyear. Maybe even best of all, if he did, I'd never have to pick cotton again.
All my life I'd been surrounded by one continuous cotton field. I started picking cotton there before I entered first grade and had been picking ever since. It was the only job around, and I was in the field every weekend with my cousin Louise making extra money for the family. When I was older, during the summer Louise and I chopped cotton before it matured in order to earn some spending money of our own. We slung our hoes into the ground, attacking the johnsongrass that spread like gossip between the rows, sputtering complaints to each other that we dared not offer to anyone else. It wasn't just the cotton. When we picked corn, we bellyached the same way, row after row, as cornstalks slapped our bare necks and scratched our hands.
At the end of the day, two men shouldered a pole between them and hooked our sack of cotton onto the P ring as Papa--all six foot five of him--loomed above me and slid a heavy metal ball across the bar to determine how many pounds we'd plucked from the prickly stalks. It took days to fill our long, skinny sacks. Sometimes it felt like I was trying to fill the sack with clouds.
Chapter 1 Possum Trot 9
2 Marrying Charles 22
3 Going to Work 43
4 Becoming a Rubber Worker 66
5 Lighthearted, Light-Footed Lilly 92
6 Up to My Knees in Alligators 117
7 Holding the Tiger by the Tail 145
8 Protecting My Good Name 164
9 Ms. Ledbetter Goes to Washington 201
10 Becoming the Grandmother of Equal Pay 222
My Speech at the 2008 Democratic National Convention 239
President Obama's Speech upon the Signing of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act, January 29, 2009 241
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act 245
The Paycheck Fairness Act 249
Further Reading 268
Posted April 6, 2012
Lilly Ledbetter is what they call in the South a “steel magnolia”. She scraped and sacrificed for her family. In this very candid memoir, this southern lady shares her story of trying to make it in a world of change. Her big break was a position at the Goodyear plant. There Ledbetter hoped for more opportunity and better pay.
What she discovers, years after the fact, that she was paid much lower than her male counterparts. Rather than smile and fade into the background, Ledbetter took on this multi-million dollar corporation to point out how she was wronged. Her case went all the way to the Supreme Court and she ended up losing. However, her fight led to the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Restoration Act of 2009. This would ensure that what happen to her will not happen to other women.
In this book, Ledbetter speaks of her family, her passion of ballroom dancing, and the thrill to dance with the newly sworn President Obama at his inauguration. Her life is full of twist and turns and now she is an advocate for women’s working rights.
An inspirational story of how one woman can make a difference.
3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 7, 2012
I am totally grateful to Lilly for writing her Memoir and it is so much like sitting down beside her in her home kitchen and listening to her tell her life story in her own way and in her own words. It is a most amazing story from beginning, through middle and end, and you are so glad to learn that it is still ongoing. She is a true American Hero and she has deeply won my heart and my admiration. Yet she is not distant from us normal folks! She is so very, very much just like you and me.
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Popular but small, windclans is probably some what feared. Windstar is a small kind.caring. loving tortoseshell shecat. We live in part moor and part forest. Took out some dog packs in revenge for killing deputies and leders close friend. We r on all the time. Some ppl r on at dawn and dusk(me) some go into the night and some go into school hours. So w r on all the time. We r so looking for ppl who can advertize. So come to windclan at moor res 2
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