Q&A with Eva Rutland
Why did you write "When We Were Colored, A Mother's Story?"
I was a young black mother in the 1950s. Schools were just beginning to integrate and I was worried about my children and what they would encounter in this integrated world. I thought that if I could just talk to white mothers they would understand that my black children were just like their children filled with all the beauty, joy and insecurities of childhood, just as precious and just as fragile"
You were born in the south in 1917. What was your childhood like?
Don't tell my age! I was trying to pass for 35. Seriously, I know people think the south, segregation and discrimination were terrible then, and I'm sure it was for many but I had a wonderful childhood. We were poor but still comfortable. My father was a pharmacist and my mother taught night school to adults. She taught them how to read. My friends were the sons and daughters of the black teachers, doctors and business leaders of Atlanta. I remember going from one gracious home to another. I know there was terrible discrimination, that we had to go to segregated schools, sit in the back of the bus and the "colored" section of the theater but I hardly noticed that. As the only daughter in my family, I was sheltered from much of the bad side of the south. I was very happy.
How did your children's childhood differ from yours?
They had to deal with integration, both the benefits and the burdens of integration. In the 1950s and 60s being the only black kid in the Girl Scout troop or in the classroom or at the dance is no easy thing. As a mother, you're not worried so much about securing legal rights, equal educational opportunities and that sort of thing for your children you just want them to be happy. When they come home crying because so-and-so won't play with them because they're "colored" or they've been called a name your heart breaks.
You write about fathers and husbands in this book too?
I think black fathers and husbands have gotten a bad rap. All the black men in my family, beginning with my grandfather who was born a slave, have stood by their families and supported them despite the very real discrimination they faced. In this book, I talk a lot about my husband Bill Rutland. I got very sick soon after my first daughter was born. He worked two jobs to pay the medical bills. I was confined to bed. He would come home from work, wash diapers, hang them out on the line and then pick up his golf clubs and go whistling off to play golf. He never complained. Before civil rights, well before affirmative action, when discrimination was legal and rampant, he succeeded. To this day, his children and his grandchildren revere him.
"When We Were Colored" is your first book. What others have you written?
After my children were grown, I began writing romance novels. I love the-boy meets-girl, problems-arise, they-solve-them kind of stories that give people a laugh and a lift. I've written about 20, most of them published by Harlequin. One, "No Crystal Stair", which came out in 2000, published by MIRA is a fictional account of my own life. Many of the stories I tell in that book are echoed in When We Were Colored.
As a blind person, how do you write?
I wasn't blind when I wrote this book. I went blind in my fifties from retinitis pigmentosa. After I first went blind, I used a tape recorder to write and I would type up what I dictated to myself. Fortunately I knew how to type and keyboards don't change. Then my daughter introduced me to talking computers. And that's what I use now, a computer equipped with a voice synthesizer.
You wrote this book in the 1950s and 60s. How has your world changed since then?
My world and my children's world when they were young were mostly black and white. My grandchildren's world is all mixed up with every kind of people you can think of. I know that's supposed to be progress but to tell you the truth I kind of miss that comfortable cloak of segregation. Back then everybody seemed to know everybody and look out for each other. We had fun. Nowadays it seems like people watch TV and stare at computers. Kids play with machines that do everything for them. Sometimes I miss the good old bad days.
You're 90 now. Are you still writing?
I'm trying. I'm working on two now, a sequel to When We Were Colored - this one will be A Grandmother's Story, and two other romances, one is an historical romance, the other a light modern one. As always, I hope to give folks a laugh, a lift and a love for each other.