Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The Help - African American Families, Too

The Strader's from Kansas
In the early 60's when the nation was in racial turmoil, the Strader family moved to Kansas City. This family was from central Kansas, Amish territory in Buhler, Kansas (Reno County), originally from Comanche County when the family moved in 1894; and Lyons, Kansas (Rice County) also late 1890's.

There was one African Family in both towns (Buhler and Lyons).  These African American families settled in Reno and Rice and Comanche County Kansas in the late 1800's.  Their children attended the all white schools, worked in the communities and participated in the town activities. So by 1960, there were 3 generations of African Americans who had lived in these white communities. But the young families chose to move to Wichita, Kansas City or any larger city for work and marriage.

Back to the Strader's
The Strader's did fairly well in Kansas City. As teachers, they were able to have a nanny, cleaning woman, and a laundry woman and milkman.

Mama Nina assisted with the 4 children. Mama Nina, a Mexican descendent, had a strong accent, spoke broken English, but also contributed to the children being bilingual. She worked in the home 5 days a week and was primarily hired to take care of the 6 week old son, Rhett. She was employed by the family for over 12 years, even though some times there were calls of her being fired like when she scorched the good work shirts, or when the children asked for pork chops to be prepared for lunch instead of the planned tuna fish salad. Mama Nina complied, and dinner was slim that night.

Before Mama Nina, there was Pat, the woman who was fired for bringing her little brother to work, there was cousin Janice who worked for the family while in Emporia for the summers, and there were others.

There was the laundry woman who charged $5.00 a basket to press laundry.  The basket was dropped off in the morning and ready for pick up after work.

Ms Geneva was the house keeper. She was an African American woman from Texas, that all the children were afraid of. She would wrap a scarf on her head, squint her eyes, and mumble in a southern dialect that was incomprehensible to scared children. She worked without conversation and dared the children (with her eyes) to walk on her freshly vacuumed carpet or touch the toothbrush-cleaned light switches.

There was Milkman Ken who knew the children changed the orders as soon as their parents left the house, but delivered the chocolate milk and other treats anyway. When discovered, this was one more close call for Mama Nina's employment. She knew the  milkman orders were being changed.

Summer for the Strader's
Mother and Father were teachers, and summers were dedicated to furthering education. So in the summers the Strader's closed up the Kansas City house, and moved to Emporia for the summer months. Emporia Kansas was the home of Emporia State Teacher's College (later Emporia State University). The children would leave the summer house every morning to attend camps, piano lessons, and summer schools while the parents worked toward post graduate degrees.

But the rewards were great. Right before school started in the fall, there was always the family-loved seven to fourteen day vacations. Each year there was a new destination with, of course, an educational and historical undertone.

This is My African American Family
Perhaps I should mention the Strader's were an African American family, (maiden name: Kathleen Strader). Plenty of African Americans had domestic help for children and chores.

Recently I read The Help, by Kathryn Stockett. But I wonder how the story would read if it written about the help hired in black American families. Was the struggle different? Were the expectations different? If not the racial struggle in the 60's were there others that polarized the community? I can only reflect on my own childhood. My parents had their share of "help."

Perhaps this is a topic to be analyzed and discovered by future generations, those a bit further removed.

Kathleen Strader Brandt


  1. Kathleen, you reminded me that while my mother was The Help in her younger days, she also hired Help before I started to school.

    Thanks for sharing the other side, too.

  2. That certainly is another aspect of history we do not hear about. i just discovered on my radio show that my mother's family had hired help too. I never knew. What a way to find out, but i am thankful I did. Thanks for the reminder.