Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
My mother, Gloria, was pregnant shortly before she turned 19 years old. She was dating John Smalls, a young man from Savannah with whom she had gone to high school. Gloria, a December baby who was put in school earlier than her peers, graduated from high school when she was 16. Perhaps way too young to be away from her parents and out of the house, she left Savannah for Fisk University in Nashville and she later transferred to Howard University for a short time. From what I have been able to discern, Gloria and John were both students at Howard. She was an undergraduate student and he was in law school, he told me the one time I met him in my adult years.
During the pregnancy, Gloria dropped out of college and moved to Ohio, to live with her brother, Watson, by then a surgeon in private practice. Her brother would undoubtedly assure that she had great medical care far away from the Jim Crow South, where many women were still giving birth at home. Maybe she was hiding her pregnancy from her parents back in Savannah. I never asked.
John Smalls followed Gloria to Ohio and lived there long enough to establish residency, marry my mother about a month before I was born and legally give me his last name. The marriage didn’t last long.
Six weeks after I was born, my mother left Ohio and took me on a train ride to Savannah, carrying me on her lap. We lived with my grandparents in the house on West 41st Street. My father spent a short time in Savannah with us, but he was gone long before I would remember his presence in my life. The Walkers never spoke of him. And I never asked about him.