John W. Woods Jr.
told his children. Author Marva Woods Stith followed her father's sound advice and later became a professional black woman in corporate America. In this memoir, she shares the remarkable story of her father, her family, and her challenges and successes.
Black Star Girl provides a poignant account of Stith's life journey as an African American woman beginning in the 1940s with stories of family, most particularly the influence of a beloved,
strong, entrepreneurial father who was her role model. The story continues with her account of her tenacious rise through the ranks and how she joined the vanguard of professional African American women in the 1950s and 1960s while facing the challenges of discrimination in the corporate world.
A vivid and personal portrait with photographs included, Black Star Girl addresses an array of themes-African American and women's studies, the South of the '40s and '50s, black entrepreneurship, the racial divide, and black women in corporate America. This inspirational memoir not only serves as a family legacy but provides an insightful socialhistorical documentary.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)|
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Black Star Girl
By Marva Woods Stith
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Marva Woods Stith
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Chapter OneThe Beginning I Know
In the Appalachian foothills, not far from the Ohio-West Virginia state line in Fleming, Ohio, on a fair June day in 1911, a girl child was born to Jesse and Bertha Adams Newman. It was their second daughter, and they named her Iva Eulalia. She would be the last of their four children. Baby Iva was destined to become my mother.
That summer, in rural Augusta, Arkansas, lived a wise, resourceful nine-year-old named John Wesley Woods, Jr. He was destined to become my father.
John, baby brother to sisters Modes and Odessa and big brother Joseph, was the fourth child born to the union of John Wesley Woods, Sr., and Mary Stewart Woods.
From first knowledge my roots go back to the African continent and the torturing slave trade that forced my people away from heritage and family, I've been fascinated by what I don't know about my ancestors. Only because my father told me so, I know great-grandfather Woods was nineteen years old when released from slavery. My father's birth certificate shows his dad, the son of that slave, was born in Mississippi in 1873. My father was born in Tupelo, Arkansas, in 1902. Hopefully, one day my offspring will learn more about our past.
Daddy told me his mother, also born in Mississippi, died when he was very young. It was a sad fact he credited with propelling him into a constructive adult life.
His father remarried, and the family added two sons, Roger and Robert and two daughters, Ermalee and Cleadria. John Woods, Sr., was a farmer, most likely a sharecropper. I never knew. I did know Grandpa Woods didn't own the land, which inspired my father's goal to become a landowner. John's stepmother ,a diligent housewife and mother, took good care of her large family. Still, I grew up hearing my father's stories of a childhood experiencing motherly neglect. His busy stepmother gave more attention to her youngest, cooking, cleaning, washing, ironing, and mending. My daddy said he was never hungry or dirty, but that wasn't enough. He didn't like being raggedy or unkempt. It was a disappointment to reach into the clothes basket and pull out trousers or shirt-torn, a button missing, belt loops hanging, seams ripped apart, or pant leg needing the hem dropped for the growing boy. Taking the garment to his stepmother, she pushed him away with, "there's the needle and thread, fix it yourself." He did. Mending progressed to sewing, making something new out of something old. He began to cut and stitch fabric into clothing-mostly shirts. He also began cutting and trimming his own hair when he wanted it done. His hard-working dad and mother praised him, and he kept improving.
Daddy may have been playing baseball when Mother was born, it being a summer day and he loved baseball. More likely he was helping with the farming-hoeing, weeding, watering, and feeding stock. My dad admitted he had fun as a kid-after his chores were done-playing baseball, and other games and reading. Still, his strongest memory seemed how he picked up life skills doing what his stepmother didn't have time for. Such was the basis, years later, of his lectures on worthwhile, continuing rewards for children who learn self-reliance at a young age. He earned money when mothers sent their children to him for hair cuts. Grown men even paid "that Woods boy" who regularly cut their hair. I'm sure the productive habits Daddy developed as a child became the performance foundation for his entire life, and particularly as our family's goal-setting, self-sufficient patriarch.
John W. Woods, Jr., graduated from Augusta Arkansas' colored high school and continued his education at Branch Normal College, a predecessor of the state's colored Agriculture, Mechanical and Normal School (AM&N) in Pine Bluff, Arkansas. His studies early in the 1920s at the two-year school included barbering and tailoring. He didn't finish his second year. Later, when I was in high school, Mother shocked me revealing that as a young man, Daddy had married and divorced long before she met him.
Although I never heard the astounding news from Daddy, people who knew him in his early years corroborated Mother's words. Those old acquaintances talked of him being in love, leaving Arkansas, and going to find work in St. Louis, Missouri. He only told us he found work in St. Louis in a factory and didn't like the work. It wasn't like anything he had ever done before. He vowed to make a living either tailoring or cutting hair as he did "on the side." He spoke incessantly of one day having his own business, thus planting a seed to germinate, grow, and blossom into his future, and mine. Someone listened to his passion and passed on the enthusiasm to another who had something to offer the young adult black man who would become my daddy.
A customer's relative who lived in Zanesville, Ohio, was a businessman who owned a vacant shop and was looking for a barber, a trustworthy proprietor. John Wesley Woods, Jr., had never heard of Zanesville. Still, envisioning an opportunity, he made the contact and traveled to explore the possibility in the town surely five hundred miles or more distant from St. Louis, in east central Ohio.
It was the late '20s, early '30s, and Mr. Napoleon Love owned a building where, in the rear, with its private back-door entrance, he ran a thriving juke joint with food, music, drinking, and dancing. Fronting the thriving, noisy business, under the same roof, was a fully equipped barber shop waiting to open and welcome customers as soon as a barber could be found.
John Woods liked the setup. He recognized potential for building a good business.
Nap Love liked John Woods, who presented himself as a hard-working gentleman, demonstrated himself to be a skilled barber, and came recommended by family. Mr. Love rented the barber shop to the stranger from St. Louis.
Soon customers referred others to the new shop located on 2nd Street beyond one end of Zanesville's famous "Y" Bridge at the convergence of the Muskingum and Licking Rivers. (For some time, the bridge was noted in Ripley's Believe It or Not as the only bridge in the world you could cross and still be on the same side of the river.) John Woods's clientele enjoyed invigorating discussions prompted by his avid reading and a mind inquisitive for the point of view of others. The new barber in town ran the profitable business his landlord anticipated.
* * *
Iva Newman met John Woods in 1934 when she came to his barbershop for a haircut. Mother initially visited the shop because she liked a girlfriend's stylish new haircut. Mother returned because she liked the barber.
I once had a cherished photo of my father posed in the open doorway of his shop, the striped barber pole positioned over his right shoulder affixed near the door frame. He looked like a man in charge of an already promising life, in a crisp turned-up long-sleeved white dress shirt and sharply creased dark slacks, exuding confidence galore. No wonder my mother was interested in such a handsome, well-to-do looking man-a dream catch for any single woman. The twinkle in my dad's eye and turn to his head seemed to say, "We should get to know each other."
Daddy's fascination with baseball continued into adulthood. Mother's occasional interest in the game brought them together a second time. One perfect day, Mother and her girlfriends from down in the country came to town to watch a baseball game at the stadium. The Zanesville Black Stars, the local Negro sand-lot team was playing. John Woods was there. They saw each other.
Daddy, never lacking conversation, focused on getting to know the beautiful, chubby doll-like young woman who was to become my mother.
Mother learned the interesting black man who flirted with her was not just a barber. He was one of the owners of the Zanesville Black Stars.
"Yes," Mother told him, "I come to town all the time." And she did. She worked as a housekeeper for a white family who lived on "the Terrace," an affluent section of town with large rambling homes and green, spacious lawns.
He learned she had a day off each week and suggested she stop by the shop her next day off so he could trim her hair. She did.
My father being a barber was definitely the linchpin to the permanent coupling of my parents. Having her hair trimmed became a regular habit. When I was a child, I overheard Mother and her best friend, Edith, laugh about how Mother's hair kept getting shorter and shorter and her grin grew broader and broader.
Mother lived down in Washington County's Barnett Ridge, Ohio, with her widowed father. Grandpa Newman recorded in his family Bible 1874 as his year of birth and his wife, the grandmother I never knew, Bertha Adams Newman, was born in 1878. She died in 1918, leaving my mother motherless from a young age.
Iva Newman was twenty-three years old when she met my dad and well into marrying age. Still, her father; her brothers, Arkley and Cleo; and sister, Cora, disapproved of the baby of the family's interest in an "older man." And he was a black man. In those days, black meant color, not race. On first sight, Mother and her family with their fair or light skin, fine glossy hair, and chiseled facial features might be seen as other than Negro as could many colored families in Zanesville at the time-the Barnetts, the Mayles, the Adams, and the Stevens, to name a few. Being dark skinned was seen by some as an undesirable feature. My father speculated his rich black skin color may have been a truer concern than age for the family of the woman he loved.
In the end, Daddy's respected reputation as a successful businessman, his first-class style, and trustworthy manner helped dispel the Newman family's spoken or unspoken dissatisfaction to him marrying my mother. They married in November 1935. Daddy was thirty-three years old. Mother was twenty-four.
Chapter TwoThe Times
1935-Zanesville, Ohio Population 35,000-36,000 The African-American population is estimated to have been less than 2 percent of the town's population. Only days before Thanksgiving, in a civil ceremony, John Wesley Woods, Jr., married Iva Eulalia Newman.
My parents married with love and in anticipation of a bountiful lifetime together in a country poised to conquer turmoil on several fronts.
In Washington, DC, Congress earnestly awaited President Franklin Delano Roosevelt's signature to legislation designed to keep America out of a second world war. On August 31, 1935, President Roosevelt signed the first of four Neutrality Acts, an effort to prohibit America's involvement in "foreign" wars. The legislation did not work; America entered World War II in 1941.
America was also embroiled in the throes of an economic depression, ever after known as the Great Depression. A devastating freefall of the value of the largest to the smallest companies in the Stock Market wiped out lifetime savings and personal fortunes and caused mortgage foreclosures. Bank doors were chained against customers, employees, and owners. People were hungry; some homeless. "Brother Can You Spare a Dime?" was a serious plea.
FDR had won the presidency over Herbert Hoover, on a platform centered on bringing hard times to an end. President Roosevelt refocused the federal government's power and resources. Federal banking laws were instituted. Programs, including the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration(WPA), were developed providing jobs, transforming the nation's infrastructure, and rebuilding the confidence of individuals and families. Four more years of tough times ahead would challenge the nation's population in every social and economic class.
Seventy years had elapsed since America's horrific Civil War ended. Fought from 1861-1865, the war inflicted loss of American lives in greater number than any war before or since. The Confederate Army of the South surrendered to the Union Army of the North. Seceded Southern states were brought back into the Union. Institutionalized slavery of Negroes in the United States of America was history. Former slaves were made full citizens of the country they or their ancestors were brought to, for the most part, from the shores of Africa, crammed and shackled in the cargo hold of slave ships. Slavery ended, but the battle over the treatment of the country's colored citizens would continue to be waged.
The end of the Civil War found Negroes, individuals and families, migrating from one community to another seeking work and the life of their choice. They traveled the south, to the west, and up east, but the greatest numbers in the years to come headed to the industrialized north in search of job opportunities anticipated in factories and other big businesses.
In the 1920s when the young black man destined to become my father started his migration northward, it wasn't a happy-go-lucky adventure for colored folk moving about to places they might settle down and earn a living. Generally, black men, women, and families were unwelcome-couldn't assimilate into the general population, whether big city or small town. Living where they were allowed, you might find them crowded into industrialized areas of cities to be burdened with finding their way to service or laboring jobs in prosperous outlying neighborhoods. Or blacks might live out on the fringe of established communities and need to make their way into town to earn a living. The prejudices of the time, discrimination and frightening mistreatment by some whites, taught colored people to conduct themselves very carefully outside the insular supportive neighborhoods where there was some sense of security.
The year my parents said their marriage vows, issues addressing the attainment of civil rights for America's colored people were active on the agenda of the Negro leadership. The National Council of Negro Women was founded. Negroes rioted in Harlem. Black college students mobilized to address the injustice of discrimination and segregation, and white folks could expect no backlash or punishment for denying a colored person a place to live, work, shop, be educated, eat, and travel.
John and Iva Woods focused on what could be; what they had resources to achieve and the promise of an improved future.
After all, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the National Urban League had been patiently, quietly working for twenty-five years to change attitudes and the power structure that kept Negroes less than first class citizens. Negro leaders wrote about, debated, preached about, and coalesced with sympathetic whites for a workable strategy to end the unfair treatment of their people in a country whose founding fathers proclaimed "all men are created equal." They called for federal law to override restrictive state laws.
The southern region of the United States was home to the legal segregation of blacks and whites. Prominently posted signs reading No Colored Allowed or Colored Enter Here or Colored Dressing Room or Colored Served Thursdays Only kept segregation in order. Demeaning as the situation was, it did provide for enterprising colored folks to succeed in businesses serving those excluded because of their color. The so-called separate but equal society provided this aspect not seen in the northern states. The mandated segregation also enabled qualified colored people to work for their own people in positions of significant importance. Educated Negro professionals taught and filled responsible leadership positions such as principals and department heads in their colored schools. Negroes in the South took pride in professionally satisfying careers as teachers, accountants, social workers, secretaries, bookkeepers, lawyers, nurses, dentists, and doctors. And in the southern states, black-owned businesses such as clothing stores, restaurants, night clubs, theaters, funeral parlors, grocery stores, liquor stores, and dry cleaners thrived.
In the North, where my parents met and married, legal segregation and laws giving authority to the unfair treatment of African-Americans may not have prevailed but their lives and the living condition of people of color were restricted due to widespread prejudice and discrimination. In the cities, colored folk looking for a job, discriminated against because of their color, found work limited to cleaning, serving, lifting, digging, perhaps working in a factory; likely doing manual labor. Unlike in the Southern States, it was highly unlikely to find people of color clerking in stores, working in offices, or waiting tables. My siblings and I never knew of a black teacher in our public schools.
Excerpted from Black Star Girl by Marva Woods Stith Copyright © 2010 by Marva Woods Stith. Excerpted by permission.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1 The Beginning I Know....................1
Chapter 2 The Times....................5
Chapter 3 Children and More....................9
Chapter 4 The New House....................15
Chapter 5 1941....................20
Chapter 6 Over!....................26
Chapter 7 Church....................28
Chapter 8 Family Working Together....................32
Chapter 9 The National Pastime....................41
Chapter 10 Soap Box Derby....................44
Chapter 11 We Wanted a Dog....................47
Chapter 12 Summertime....................51
Chapter 13 Boys Being Boys....................56
Chapter 14 The Cleveland Experience....................58
Chapter 15 Enduring Challenge....................63
Chapter 16 Moving Along....................70
Chapter 17 Beginning a New Lifestyle....................74
Chapter 18 The Birds, the Bees, My Parents, and Me....................79
Chapter 19 The New School....................82
Chapter 20 Christmas Growing Up....................85
Chapter 21 New Friends-New Lessons....................90
Chapter 22 Parenting Practices....................100
Chapter 23 College Years-Mostly About Money....................112
Chapter 24 College Years-Romance and Recreation....................118
Chapter 25 College Years-The Academic Experience....................124
Chapter 26 On My Own....................130
Chapter 27 I Got Married....................136
Chapter 28 Daddy....................141
Chapter 29 About My Career....................142
Chapter 30 A Dick and Jane Life....................144
Chapter 31 Title VII....................150
Chapter 32 AAP....................151
Chapter 33 Affirmative Action Opens Doors....................153
Chapter 34 The New Job....................157
Chapter 35 What Now?....................161
Chapter 36 Acclimating....................169
Chapter 37 Because of My Father....................172
Chapter 38 Accomplishments....................175
Chapter 39 Cautious Optimism....................179
Chapter 40 The Return....................182
Chapter 41 New Attitudes....................185
Chapter 42 I Shall Overcome....................188
Chapter 43 And Then....................190
Chapter 44 I Seek Help....................193
Chapter 45 The End Begins....................197
Chapter 46 Onward....................201
Chapter 47 A Diversion....................207
Chapter 48 In Charge....................213