My father believed (like most men in the 1950s) that my mother's role was in the home raising his children, and my mother raised all of us to understand that, "Your father is very important."
My Father would appear on television with politicians such as John F. Kennedy, Donald Frasier, Hubert H. Humphrey, numerous figures from the civil rights movement such as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Andrew Young, A. Phillip Randolph and Jessie Jackson. Our mother would beckon us to halt our activities, then line us up in front of our black and white Motorola television ... telling us with a tone of endearment and reverence compared to nothing else I heard falling from her lips to, "hush, your father is about to come on."
But as a little girl all I knew was that I wanted my daddy at home, and combined with the responsibilities of the leadership role he played in the Civil Rights Movement, and the 17 hours of backbreaking work he performed daily in order to take care of his family, he barely had this luxury. However, privately, my adoration for him – even as a little colored girl – always suffered a severe disconnect with his civil and political work because I silently watched his own Robins Island experiences and I wondered what I could do to help him, but it seemed as though the more I tried, the more yet another unseen fire would erupt ... often within me as well.
Its flames lapped at the values projected on my favorite show "Leave it to Beaver." Discontent was everywhere and June Cleaver was now despised and deemed an idiot for staying in the house taking care of Ward, Wally, and 'The Beave." The light of the fires were cast upon contorted faces of everyone and everything that moved and radicalism became the order of the day. Teenagers "dropped out" becoming hippies, college professors openly took LSD, draftees proclaimed, "Hell no ... we won't go," referring to the Vietnam War, and openly burned draft cards and American flags. Seniors formed the Gray Panthers, Blacks – the Black Panthers, the Native-Americans formed the American Indian Movement, women, the Women's Liberation Movement, nature lovers – the (radical) Environmentalists Movement ... cat and dog lovers, the Animal Rights Movement.
Prisoners, students – even nuns demanded their rights, but not the way of my father. Everyone wanted their rights "right now" and by any means necessary. For me, the fires only complicated the tribulations and insecurities associated with puberty especially in the area of body image. Locked deep within my psyche were imprisoned incessant images from a dominant white society, which told me along with all the other little Negro girls of that time that in a nutshell, "white women are beautiful ... And you are ... well ... just niggers."
My father offered the redemptive power that only a father can offer his little girl.
Despite working a 17-hour day, he would enter the house, drop his lunch box and thermos, retrieve that twinkle in his eye when he saw me, and call me his "angel."
To be called angel in a world that was on fire, and being trapped in a body at war with itself, and that the world saw as a nigger was beyond medicinal – it was sacred.
It was not the fact that my father (as my mother would say) was important, it was the fact that despite the fact that in the public arena there was tearing away of the psyche of America, he – in very simple ways – made me feel important ... important and beautiful in a time when Black people were not allowed to think of themselves as beautiful. We were steeped in the venom of loathing at our full lips, large buttocks, course hair and broad noses. There were no Black models then, the only Blacks on television were Amos and Andy (which my parents forbid us to watch). There were no Black politicians and for the most part the only Black businesses were chittlin' shacks, liquor stores, barber shops and mortuaries.
As the fires continued to crackle, Daddy's consistent declaration to me was that I was his angel and that I was beautiful. This in my estimation is the inherent need of every little girl – no matter what color. As a result, I dreamt of marrying a man just like my father, and no matter what my father was enduring in his personal life, he would affirm my dreams, sometimes with sweat bursting from his forehead after pushing lawn mowers under the hot sun. Even then, he would declare, "You are going to make some lucky man a wonderful wife one day, and I would roll back on my heels and smile after having received the "prize" from him yet once again.
Azaniah Little lives in Seattle. She works as a freelance writer, minister and consultant, and is currently seeking publication for her first book, "Purpose for Your Pain..."
She is the proud mother of Namibia Little who lives in Minneapolis.