My Black History: Social probation

Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”

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Back in the day, Morehouse Hall had two entrances, with steps from both porches. Morehouse North, my dorm, was the left side of the building.

In Savannah my Spelman College village influence drove some of the rules for me at home. Wearing a dress or skirt, never pants, was de rigueur, required because at the time, Spelman women never wore pants or super casual clothes away from home. Spelman women were good writers, appreciative of the arts and culture, spoke in a gentle southern voice, but learned to effectively communicate to show how well-prepared they were to become leaders.  These were traits that governed my childhood, and prepared me to become a Spelman woman.

“We had to dress up with hats and gloves, stockings and leather shoes every time we left the campus,” Aunt Catherine, who graduated from Spelman in 1936  would tell me, even for a shopping trip to Rich’s downtown on Atlanta’s Peachtree Street. It was as if Spelman women were in uniform, wearing modestly fitting dresses and perfectly prepped for suitable off-campus presentation.  When I enrolled at Spelman in 1967, we could not wear pants until after 7:00 pm, and they were only to be worn on campus, never at the all-male Morehouse or co-ed Clark colleges across the street. At night when we could “take company” with a young man in the dormitory lounge, we could not wear pants in my freshman year.

Our 10:30 pm weekday/11:30 pm weekend curfews were strict. Violation of curfew resulted in punishment of social probation, a verdict meted out by women we called dorm mothers. 

As freshmen we were not allowed to ride in cars except with close family members, unless our parents placed a letter on file giving a family friend permission to fetch us for dinner or some social event. Our normal mode of transportation was walking  or public buses.

One day some high school friends from Savannah drove to Atlanta because our high school basketball team was playing in the state AAA championship game. I had the audacity to walk off campus and meet friends who were in a car. No permission from home, I just got in and went to the arena. Our team won the game. But on the way back to campus we had some kind of car breakdown and I missed curfew. I was placed on social probation for two weeks.

Next: Lady Bird Johnson and my grandmother’s mirror

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Author of the memoir "Coming Full Circle: From Jim Crow to Journalism." Available for book talks and signings, speaking. (Signed copies available on this site)

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