A Story from our own, Sue Steptoe
With the current unrest and protest going on across this country. I can’t help but think how every black person’s life has been touched by systemic racism or even in-your-face racism.
In 1965, I was living in Little Rick, Arkansas and had a wonderful job as a loan officer at Universal CIT. Had never heard of this loan company. I was interviewed over the phone by a Harold Campbell. He literally hired me on the phone. Let me add that on the telephone many people don’t know my ethnicity. I often surprise people when I show up. I am used to it. I was so excited and the salary was a big increase from secretarial jobs in the past and came with a title: loan processor; me😊
I come in for my first day and there were four white men, including Mr. Campbell who came to the counter after one of the other white men offered to help me, and I identified myself. Mr. Campbell had a puzzled look on his Sheriff Andy face
but extended his hand and welcomed me and introduced me. I don’t remember the names of the men, but the other woman, white, was named Vava ( I think that registered in my head because I learn names by association. Immediately, to me she became Vavaboom).
It was a rocky start but the work was fulfilling. Mr. Campbell started each day with a joke or story about Josiah, the old ni--er and his mule. Usually away from my desk, which was in the back, but near enough for his voice and their laughs to find my ears. This went on for about a month. I finally asked him, privately, if he wouldn’t tell that joke around me because it made me uneasy. His eyes told me he didn’t like my request but he did stop that storytelling around me. Things did change in the office. There was no pretending that I was liked or one of them.
I got pretty good at my job. Even had clients who only wanted to deal with me. Got accounts from a good old boy who had been there much longer than me. He didn’t like me much. One of my best customers was a woman named Ethel Mae Harrington. I couldn’t tell if she was black or white because of her accent. But she lived mine. Mrs. Harrington and I became “friends” and she would call me to talk. She shared recipes and ideas. And family stories. It was nice. She lived in some small town and promised the next time she was in town, she would stop by the office and take me to lunch. I said fine.
About four months later she came into the office and asked for Mrs. Steptoe. Her eyes were fixated on Vava who was not getting out of her chair. I rose and headed for the counter and if you could have seen this woman’s face. Her eyes were stretched to the max and her mouth rested on her generous chin. I identified myself and asked if she was Mrs. Harrington. I even extended my hand to shake hers. She bristled at the idea of touching my hand, snapped her head back and started spewing hate: I do declare. I have been talking to a nigger all this time. She knows about my family and all my information. I will not do business with n---ers. I want to close my account right now. Where is the boss?“ By this time, my mouth is hanging open.
Mr. Campbell was trying to calm the hissy fit having woman to no avail. He literally ordered me to get her file. I did. He closed her file and Mr. Campbell was not pleased especially with me. He called me into his office and interrogated me until I told him my work spoke for itself and until she saw I was black, everything was fine. This was on a Friday, thank God. Saturday I got a special delivery letter from corporate office that said I was fired. Part of me was sad but part of me was happy too.
Rector's Corner posts written by Pastor Rebecca.