The Rawleigh Lady: Through Changing Times

Last week I wrote my first post about Mama’s role as The Rawleigh Lady. Her route was in the neighborhoods where Black people lived, the area referred to as “Colored Town” by White folks. One of my readers, MJ commented, “Your Mom was a trailblazer”; and she was right. It’s taken me years to realize just how much she was –especially during the turbulent sixties in our Southern town.

On Saturdays, when I was in elementary and junior high, I would accompany Mama on her route. As I mentioned, not only had I known Black girls through my work in tobacco, I got to know some of them on Mama’s route. I described the one I knew best:

“A girl, who was the granddaughter of Mama’s customer, was just one grade younger than me. We ran up and down the path to the railroad track that passed in front of their concrete block house. Sometimes, when it was raining, she would ask me to come back to her bedroom to play; I rarely went pass the living room on our Saturday calls. It was interesting for me to see her collection of special toys, including a black baby doll from when she was little. We got along well, and I came to think of her as kind of a friend.”

At a time when things were changing, even from the perspective of a girl, I kept my Saturday trips into Colored Town a secret. I was torn between being deeply interested in what I saw in those neighborhoods and keeping to the familiar of the areas I’d known all my life. At some level, I felt shame that my experience was different from my White peers.

From last week’s post:

“I never told any of my friends about my trips into Colored Town; what would they think of me, of Mama, that we were in that ‘part of town’ every Saturday?”

During my eighth grade year, things started heating up in my town; racial tensions increased and the images on the evening news were scary. Along with racial uprising, we were in the Vietnam War and I had cousins in the military. I didn’t understand either of those conflicts. What I knew was from Walter Cronkite and overhearing adult conversations. It was a confusing time for a kid.

I don’t remember hearing Mama and Daddy talk about the racial tension in front of we three daughters. But somehow, I knew that Daddy didn’t really want Mama to continue on her route in Colored Town. He had to work on Saturdays so he couldn’t go with her, and I guess he thought it would be safer if I went along.

One day, as I remember it, we got a call from my Colored Town friend on behalf of her grandmother. She wanted to add to her order and have Mama bring it the next Saturday. After the girl told me what she wanted, I held the phone away and called out to Mama. I told her which product the grandmother needed, and then I said, “but I thought Daddy didn’t want you to go into Colored Town anymore.”

Mama just acknowledged that she had the product in stock and would bring it.

I put the phone back to my ear to tell the girl. I could hear background noise, but my Colored friend didn’t speak. At that moment, I realized she’d heard, for the first time, me refer to her neighborhood as “Colored Town.” Eventually, she mumbled some type of acknowledgement, then hung up with an abrupt click.

Everything changed with us at that moment.

After that, I didn’t go in her house on Saturdays. I stayed in the car and if I saw anyone coming by, I’d hide behind an outstretched newspaper, pretending to read it, hoping no one knew it was the Rawleigh Lady’s daughter. I was in eighth grade, and anything and everything, could be embarrassing when you’re fourteen and your world is in that much confusion.

The next year when I moved to the high school, racial tensions increased to the point that the police monitored our hallways. We were adjusting to our two junior highs merging into one school, with divergent White kids from the east and west side of town, and Black kids from Colored Town. Along with our racial struggles, I struggled with Algebra. A friendly Black girl, Sandra sat in the row next to mine and I saw how quickly she performed the class assignments. She didn’t appear distressed in math class like I was.

I’d known Black girls who were funny, athletic, lively, and dramatic. But it came to me like an “Ah Ha!” that Sandra is smart. She patiently helped me when I asked her how to work the equations. I don’t remember if we were in any other classes together in high school. Many years later, when I took Mama to her bank, Sandra was working behind the counter. We talked about the old times, about how she’d helped me in math, and how her ability now served the community.

That ninth grade year, I’d mostly forgotten about my friend in Colored Town that I’d insulted. I never saw her. But the next year when I was in tenth grade, she entered as a freshman. I hardly recognized her when I saw her in our crowded hallway between classes. Instead of having those controlled braids of childhood, she had an Afro like others and wore a Black Pride tee shirt with the raised fist. When we made eye contact, I knew she recognized me and there was a cold look in her eyes. My shame from that day on the phone returned.

Photo by Matheus Natan on

Later, I got a part-time job and stopped going with Mama on her route; but she didn’t stop. I remember that one of her customers told her, “Miss Mary, you be sure to get out of this neighborhood before dark.” I don’t ever remember Mama saying or doing anything that showed that she was afraid. I think she genuinely cared about her customers and she needed the income her Rawleigh sells provided. Mama was both caring and pragmatic.

Eventually the tensions died down– at least to a more manageable, everyday extent. My memory of my friendship with that girl faded and I had no idea what happened to her–until recently.

My younger sister, Peggy lives in our hometown. She worked for many years as a School Social Worker and now continues to serve in the educational system. Recently, she has been on a committee to review grants for McKinney-Vento services that help provide and protect educational rights of homeless children.

When I saw Peggy a few weeks ago, she said to me, “You’ll never guess who’s helping on the grant reviews.”

She told me that my friend from Colored Town was on that committee. Peggy also said that the girl is now working on her doctorate. Another smart Black girl, I thought to myself. Another smart Black woman.

How abruptly things had changed because of my careless words. I imagine she had a very interesting life over the years. If I’d been on a committee with her at this point in life, how would she have responded to me? Could we have talked about that day when we were girls on the phone? Would we have enjoyed remembering our days running up and down the path to the train track? Would we have been able to discuss our individual perceptions of the chaos around us back in the sixties, our views from Black and White perspectives?

Over the past few years, with the racial tensions that continue in our country, I’ve been reminded of those days in the sixties, those days of my childhood when things were confusing. I realize the value of listening to perspectives from both sides of the Black-White divide, then working together to live in the same community.

And now I think, should I try to go back and repair my broken friendship with the girl from my childhood? I know how to get in touch with her; I could apologize for my hurtful words. I could try to learn how things were from her perspective, what happened in her life after that incident.

I’ll end this post with that idea, and let it germinate in me. Do you have a similar story of things that happened and you wonder if there’s value in going back now?

May we all look inside and see what we need to do next, how we can be part of healing old tensions, of bringing clarity out of confusion.

Blessings to you all,


2 thoughts on “The Rawleigh Lady: Through Changing Times

  1. Connie, this is not right. Today, I finally read (and not scan) your post, and now to find that there were no comments. This is so great that you would open up and express your feeling, without realizing the possible ramifications. A lesson we seem never to learn is that our mouth set the motion and the brain later defines the actions. You worked all my emotions, with this one. I thank you for that, as I was able to work through events, even as early as this last week. As to your situation with the young girl of the past, and the woman of today, I have an answer for you, but you will have all that in hand. This on truly left an impression on me, Love and Blessings to you.


    • Thanks so much, John.
      Yes, we never know how a quick response may end up impacting in ways we hadn’t thought about. I certainly wasn’t thinking that day when I was a girl.
      I appreciate you reading and commenting. Glad it was something that left an impression.
      Best to you!

      Liked by 1 person

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