By Stacie Kitts
When I was 5 or 6 years old in the early 70’s, my grandparents lived in an upscale community on a quiet block in Johnson county Kansas. I can still recall the white colonial style home with its black shutters. My grandmother had strong views and was fiercely protective of family. She was not the type of person that you could easily push around. My mom would tell me stories about how her mother had embarrassed her when she was little. One story I found particularly amusing was a fight grandma had with a dry cleaner. She claimed the cleaner had shrunk a dress. The dry cleaner denied it. As my grandmother stood arguing over the counter, she suddenly proclaimed, “oh ya oh ya”, and began removing her clothes. The dry cleaner pleaded, “Lady, lady, what are you doing? Stop.” Grandma stripped down in front of all to see and put on the ruined dress spread her arms and proclaimed, “Does this look like it fits?” She of course got her money for the ruined dress.
My grandmother also liked to move. I don’t really know why. But she enjoyed buying and selling her own homes. Sometimes she made money, sometimes she didn’t. During my lifetime, she bought and sold a home almost every year.
During the summer of 1970 or 1971 she was in the process of selling her cute white colonial. She had signed a contract with a young African American family. What happened next is burned into my brain and forever shaped my views on injustice and prejudice in America.
Somehow and for some reason, the neighbors learned that the buyers were black. It’s not clear how that information spread. Possibly the realtor was involved. But however it happened, the white neighbors – in this all white community – were incensed. I remember conversations about property value and uppity Negros. (apologies for the terminology). The level of anger was intense. What was even more unbelievable is what my grandmother did to assuage the situation. My grandmother, the woman who had once stripped down at the dry cleaners in the 1950’s, took the house off the market. I can still recall my mothers’ outrage and those hateful conversations centered on race. Even my young child’s mind knew what happened wasn’t right. It was cruel and unfair. I can’t even image how that injustice forever impacted that African American family……
To this day, whenever I see or hear injustice, To-This-Day, I’m instantly taken back to memories of grandma’s white colonial house and how a young African American family was denied the American dream.