Speaking for Ourselves: We don’t need any “Help”

As I get information on bloggers or articles from those who were either The Help or children of those who were The Help, I’ll post them here.

The blog is Phillis Remastered and the post is titled Chocolate Breast Milk- A Review of The Help


“. . . For me, it was summer, circa 1976, and my family and I were visiting my mother’s mother, Grandma Florence. My sister Sidonie, several cousins and neighbors, and I decide we would integrate the White pool in Eatonton, Georgia. Bolstered by my mother’s donation of 50 cents for each child, we begin to walk across the railroad tracks.

We arrived at the pool, which we discovered was nearly three times the size of the pool we’d been swimming in. As soon as we placed our small Black bodies in the pool, the White children got out, but after a few minutes, one decided to get back in. The little girl spoke to me; she was about 3 or 4 years older.

“You’re related to Florence, aren’t you?” she asks. “You look just like her.”

I had never heard my grandmother’s name without a handle on it. “I am Mrs. Florence James’ granddaughter,” I said.

“Oh, I just love Florence so much! She used to clean house for us. When you go home, tell her ‘Miss Sally’ says ‘hey’.”

I talked to the little girl for a while, not really because I wanted to, but because I wanted her to notice that I kept stressing that my grandma should have a “Mrs.” in front of her first name. I used my most proper tones, but the little girl never took the hint.

This was my first experience with the figure of the Black Mammy, someone who belonged to her employers, whose love is assumed, even required. She doesn’t work for a paycheck. The money is incidental; the real compensation is her pure joy in laboring for her White employers. But she can never be an equal, even to a child. And she was my blood.

I’ve thought on that sunny afternoon many times. I was a child who’d been raised with a sense of my own middle-class entitlement, but in a few seconds, that girl stripped me of that, and reminded me of what my place was supposed to be–beneath her.  She didn’t mean the slightest bit of harm, but she harmed me anyway. ”

Link: http://phillisremastered.wordpress.com/2011/08/11/chocolate-breast-milk-a-review-of-the-help/



This next blog is called The Ladner Report and the post is titled No thanks Kathryn Stockett, I don’t want to be “The Help”


“There is nothing glorious about cleaning up after dirty people and nothing like being exploited by people who don’t give a damn about you. I have written about this in my memoir that I am almost finished writing. Maids are invisible and their lives are invisible to their white employers. When I was fourteen, I quit a job when the white girl who was my age DEMANDED that I wash her blood stained underwear from her menstrual period. When her mother came home from work she told her that I refused to do so and her Mother lit into me saying I thought I was too good to wash these clothes. Before I left that day I made sure that the pancakes Jo Lee demanded that I make for her included dirty dishwater instead of water or milk, and I fried them with the ring of grease around their nasty kitchen sink instead of lard. Jo Lee praised me for making what she described as the best pancakes she’d ever eaten.”





Maids and Nannies



The blog is called Before Barack and the post is titled Sniffing Dirty Laundry: A True Story from “the Help’s” Daughter

“Have you ever thought about the fact that the woman you call ‘Odessa’ was the same woman my friends called ‘Mrs. Singley’? That she supported a family on the six dollars and bus fare (fifty cents round trip) your Grandmommy was paying her? That the woman you call your ‘best friend’ was forty years your senior and had another whole life of dignity, hopes, and dreams that had nothing to do with being in service to you and Grandmommy? That maybe “Odessa” didn’t like you as much as felt sorry for you because you were the baby of the family, the one your brother and sister slapped around, the one they were always leaving behind? You ever thought of that?”

Wedding Princess is silent, so I continue.

Link: http://www.beforebarack.com/2011/07/28/sniffing-dirty-laundry-a-true-story



If you know of another true life story, please let me know so that I can include it here. It’s important that these voices be heard



‘The Help’ Stirs Memories and Debate About Life in Segregated South


Dorothy Sloan, whose Charlotte book club, the Black Pearls, discussed the novel, says it made her remember the summer she worked for a Shelby woman who wanted Sloan to climb onto her roof and wash her second-floor windows.
“You know what she wanted to give me as pay?” Sloan asks. “Her old clothes!”
She had better luck with a family in Blowing Rock. They encouraged her college studies and gave her a generous tip when she left.
Evelyn Turner, another Black Pearls member, also worked as a live-in maid one summer during college.
“You knew right away you were a second-class citizen,” says Turner. Like several maids in “The Help,” Turner was directed to use a separate bathroom. “That’s what fascinates me – that people allowed you to fix their food and take care of their children, but they didn’t want you to use their facilities.”

Link – http://www.urbanchristiannews.com/ucn/2010/03/the-help-stirs-memories-and-debate-about-life-in-segregated-south.html



Voices from the past:


“It is not only the long hours, the small pay, and the lack of privacy – we often have to share a room with the children – that we maids find hardest to bear. It is being treated most of the time as though we are completely lacking in human dignity and self- respect. During my first year at this work I was continually hopeful. But now I know that when I enter that service elevator I should park my self-respect along with the garbage that clutters it. Self- respect is a luxury I cannot retain and still hold my job.”

You can read more about Naomi Ward’s first person account here

Unidentified Maid feeding a child

Another real life testimonial from a maid, circa early 1900:



“I frequently work from fourteen to sixteen hours a day. I am compelled to by my contract, which is oral only, to sleep in the house. I am allowed to go home to my own children, the oldest of whom is a girl of 18 years, only once in two weeks, every other Sunday afternoon–even then I’m not permitted to stay all night. I not only have to nurse a little white child, now eleven months old, but I have to act as playmate, or “handy-andy,” not to say governess, to three other children in the house, the oldest of whom is only nine years of age. I wash and dress the baby two or three times each day; I give it its meals, mainly from a bottle; I have to put it to bed each night; and, in addition, I have to get up and attend to its every call between midnight and morning. If the baby falls to sleep during the day, as it has been trained to do every day about eleven o’clock, I am not permitted to rest.
It’s “Mammy, do this,” or “Mammy, do that,” or “Mammy, do the other,” from my mistress, all the time. So it is not strange to see “Mammy” watering the lawn with the garden hose, sweeping the sidewalk, mopping the porch and halls, mopping the porch and halls, helping the cook, or darning stockings. Not only so, but I have to put the other three children to bed each night as well as the baby, and I have to wash them and dress them each morning. I don’t know what it is to go to church; I don’t know what it is to go to a lecture or entertainment of anything of the kind; I live a treadmill life; and I see my own children only when they happen to see me on the streets when I am out with the children, or when my children come to the “yard” to see me, which isn’t often, because my white folks don’t like to see their servants’ children hanging around their premises.
You might as well say that I’m on duty all the time–from sunrise to sunrise, every day in the week. I am the slave, body and soul, of this family. And what do I get for this work–this lifetime bondage? The pitiful sum of ten dollars a month!”
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.

Excerpt from A Negro Nurse More Slavery at the South.
Read more of this first person account here
From YouTube, an independent filmmaker recorded his grandmother’s recollections of that time period:My grandmother, HELEN DENNIS, spent over 25 years as a domestic worker. At age 93, I asked her about some of her experiences. THE HELP is out now in theaters everywhere. Photographed and edited by Mike D. on August 11, 2011.

To be continued . . .

One Response “Speaking for Ourselves: We don’t need any “Help”” →
  1. “Nana Talks About THE HELP”:

    Thank you Helen Dennis for talking about your experiences working for Jewish people in the north. I’m not trying to rag on Jews, or people from the north. I’m simply pointing out that we have yet to see anyone from the north write a story about their own racism, make a film about it, or God Forbid, admit that it was their mother who this woman is describing working for.

    But let anyone from the south actually have the courage to write their experiences with racism, or how their parents (and their) generation treated “The Help” and watch all the yankees jump on it like a pack of dogs on a three legged cat.

    People from the south really get sick of constantly blamed for ALL the racism in the country, and ALL of the racial injustices that ever occurred in this country.

    Martin Luther King said it best in 1963 in Detroit, No part of the country has clean hands when it comes to the treatment of African American.

    I wish people from out of the south would start looking at their own racism instead of constantly scapegoating us. I live in LA, lived in Portland Oregon (VERY racist town).

    At least white southerners talk, write and make movies about this stuff. None of the rest of you do. Can someone please make a movie about the 10,000 angry white people in Chicago who tried to beat Martin Luther King to death? Watch the documentary footage of him being whisked away to a car and fleeing for his life while the whites in Chicago were smashing out the windows of the car?

    Thanks Nana, for reminding us that servitude sucks, wherever you are.


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