In the late ‘60s, I was filling out my major in English Secondary Education, and during Presentation Day, where professors showcase their courses, Professor Williams asked if I was considering taking his course. His class was African-American Literature.
Those were rather tumultuous times with the Vietnam War, race riots in major cities, the women’s liberation movement, and the drinking age was still 18. Remember, I said tumultuous, not necessarily bad. I still recall, thanks to the liberation, the lovely no-bra look and thanks to 10 cents-a-glass draft beer, a young man’s drunken stupor every weekend. Ah, the ‘60s!
Professor Williams was a black man and thought to be a bit of a radical. Race relations were certainly strained at the time, and our campus had its share of protests and brawls, but he seemed like a professional fellow who wanted some diversity in his class, so I figured I’d give it a try.
Sure enough, he had diversity. Me! First time in my life I felt like a minority, but nothing ventured, nothing gained.
Toward the end of the first day in class, Professor Williams asked us to name a nationwide commercially known black person. We gave him answers like Jim Brown, Muhammad Ali, and Sammy Davis Jr. “No.” he exclaimed, “Commercially known black business icon like Betty Crocker, Henry Ford, John D. Rockefeller, and Walt Disney.”
As we sat their scratching our heads, he said, “There aren’t any, except Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben.” Now, I’m really confused, and I’m beginning to wonder what this has to do with African-American Literature, but Professor Williams goes on.
He says, “Do you notice the affectionate term that white America uses for us? Aunt and uncle? Who doesn’t love their aunt and uncle? Yes, affectionate and loving, but cooking and serving meals. We’ll talk more about this tomorrow.”