The Afrolumens Project presents "Affirmative Action, 1940's Style," a poem by Marian Cannon Dornell.  

Introduction by the author:

"For me, it helps to be able to forgive the meanness of the city that often refused to look beyond the fact that I was just a 'little colored girl.' I use writing and sometimes photography as the means to deal with my anger. One poem I've written has to do with an incident that happened to me as a third-grader at Boas Elementary. In the poem, "Affirmative Action, 1940s Style," there is no mention of the school or the teacher, but it shows how my parents raised and protected me as a child from the slights and hurts that were ever-present in the lives of Black people."
Affirmative Action, 1940s Style

Monday morning home sick from school .
I sat at the kitchen table going over lessons,
keeping Mama company.
It was her day off.

We listened to Young Doctor Malone,

                         Ma Perkins,
  and Stella Dallas

                         duck in and out of troubles.

Jingles jumped over and over again out of the radio.
They sang about our

Oxydol bleaching            Rinso White-ning              Super Suds

 agitating in the growling round wringer washer with
its black-knobbed lid lifted off.

Mama filled the tub with another load of clothes and more hot water she carried in a
heavy bucket from the wood stove.

On the back porch perched twin square zinc tubs filled to the brim~
one with bluing for tee-shirts and sheets
that would dazzle soon.
The other held hot starch for my pastel cotton dresses with embroidered flowers
 on pure white yokes.

Daddy always said the turquoise dress went the best with my vanilla lumpkin's skin.
He said  in our family he is chocolate kiss mama is  caramel treat.

On Monday that woman's hands were tough enough to dispatch a week's worth
of dirt down the drain;
strong enough to lift heavy workclothes from willow baskets;
and steady enough to hang them in the backyard on a sagging
 line held up with slotted splintered sticks
 that boosted her swaying offering towards heaven in celebration.

Sheets and dresses clapped hems in praise.

But come Tuesday
Mama's hands weren't powerful enough to keep
the teacher from picking me to be laundress in a class skit
so that white immigrants' children taught
by a coal miner's daughter could play at being
ladies and gents.

But one of them had to play laundress because
on Wednesday Mama and Daddy said
 I couldn't be in the play.

By Thursday
that play

Marian Cannon Dornell

Saturday, December 16, 2000

Boas School, Third Grade, Mrs. Williams' Class
An elementary school class picture in the 1940s

In the class photograph at left, the Boas Elementary Third Grade lines up outside of the school. Marian Cannon Dornell is in the front row. The Afrolumens Project editor's father, George Nagle (Sr.) is in the back row.

Click the photo for a full-sized image. Image supplied by the Nagle family.


Editor's note: This poem was published in Ms. Dornell's book Unicorn in Captivity under the title "Come Tuesday."

All rights reserved to Marian Cannon Dornell.
Read about this poem by clicking here.
Read reactions to this poem by clicking here.
Listen to Marian Cannon Dornell read her poetry (You Tube) by clicking here
Video interview of Marian Cannon Dornell discussing her book Unicorn in Captivity Watch Here
Afrolumens Main Page