For Hattie on #BlackWomensEqualPay Day

You are welcome to read the original thread on Twitter here.

I'd really like to share a story.

It's a story my family has told and retold, I've probably heard it a dozen times. Now that I'm grown, I hear it differently though...

In honor of Hattie, Memphis TN, for #BlackWomensEqualPay.

My granddaddy grew up in Hernando, Mississippi. I don't know much about his family other than that his brother wasn't a kind man. My granddaddy moved to TN and became a pharmacist. He owned a corner drugstore in midtown, Memphis in the 1940s and 1950s.

My grandma was from rural Arkansas near Jonesboro, and came to Memphis for nursing school. After a long engagement, they married, bought a house and eventually started a family in the early 1940s. As a pharmacist, Grandaddy didn't go to WWII.

Their house on Barfield Rd was "in the country" at the time, but now that road is part of East Memphis. They had a small cottage in the back of the property, where Hattie and her husband lived. My mom remembers Hattie vividly.

Now at that time minimum wage was 30 cents/hour, but live-in domestic workers were purposefully exempted from the FLSA. My mom doesn't remember if Hattie was paid, or how much. She worked pretty much whenever she was needed.

My mom remembers being invited by a friend to go swim in McKellar Lake, which is an offshoot of the Mississippi River. Hattie looked straight at her and said: "Watch out for them whirligigs and sucky-pools, they'll suck you right under."

Now Hattie was almost NEVER sick, or at least didn't show it to her employer. Once, however, she got so sick she had to stay in bed. Somehow my grandma was told that the furniture store was coming to get Hattie's furniture because she missed one payment.

As the story is told, my grandma was a gentle, tactful, well-mannered Southern woman. But on this particular day, she put her two kids in the car and drove into town to that furniture store. She had something to say.

I grew up imagining Grandma's righteous anger as near Biblical. This woman, who never cursed or raised her voice in anger, flew into a rage. "How DARE you take away this fine women's furniture just 'cause she's sick. How DARE you!"

Now I look back, I have so many questions. Was Hattie paid a fair wage for her hard work? No, certainly not. Did she play a big role in my mom's upbringing? Definitely. Would that furniture have been paid off before that day if she was white? Probably. If she had been white and had missed one payment, would they have come to repossess the furniture? No, not very likely.

My mom went on to get a college degree, then a master's, then a Ph.D. She raised two girls, each of whom went to college. Hattie's impact on my life can't be measured; I never met her. My mom doesn't even remember her last name. How can I repay her?

I guess that's what checking your privilege is. Knowing that there's just no way you can ever pay the debt to people you've never met. I don't know if Hattie had kids. My grandma took my mom to visit her in the county hospital after she had a stroke.

My mom remembers being shocked at how there were probably 40 beds all in one room in the county hospital; when she had a small procedure done as a kid, she had a room all to herself in the nice hospital. Grandma held Hattie's hand. She couldn't talk.

I'll call my members of Congress today. I'll donate to groups that are trying to bring some level of equity to the pay disparities in our country. I'll retweet Black women often. But it's not enough. It'll never be enough.

Rest in power, Hattie.


Learn more about the gender pay gap and how it affects women of color more than white women.

Equal Pay Today coalition:

AAUW on #BlackWomensEqualPay:

National Women’s Law Center history of women’s care work:

The Simple Truth:

Contact Congress and your state representatives.