Elizabeth Alexander’s poem, Race, makes me think of my (great-great?) Aunt Marie Ragin, who passed away long before I was born. She was born and raised in or around Florence, SC. During a family gathering on Mothers’ Day, we looked up a page on Facebook that has become a digital family tree of sorts, curated by relatives far and wide. My grandfather, on seeing Marie’s photograph:
“That’s Marie! That’s mama’s sister. You know she moved to Florida and turned white for 20 years? She passed for white. I used to love when she’d come to visit, but hate for her to get close to me. She used to bite my cheeks. Lord, she used to tear my cheeks up! But whenever she came she would take me downtown with her, and you know, it was total segregation then. But they thought I was one of her maids’ children or something. So she could go inside Kress and all the stores. Go inside and sit right at the lunch counter and order food. And I would go with her. Sit right up at the counter!”
At some point later, after a bus accident that caused injury, she was institutionalized in Columbia, SC. My mother remembers visiting her there on occasion. She apparently kept her free spirit. I would have liked to know her.