Judith Wilson tells her husband, Donald Kaufman, about a conversation that changed her life.
JW: My senior year was ’69, ’70 and in my class there were 200 students. I would say twenty of us were black. And I’ll never forget, one of my brothers, Bob, he was, you know, grown up and living on his own. And he’d come home to visit wearing an Afro. You know which was still something quite new and controversial and my mother went crazy. She just you know had an all out fit screamed for half-an-hour, ”What have you done to your good hair, what have you done to your good hair.” And he very patiently sat and repeated, ”This is my good hair.” (laughs)
Until she finally chilled out. When he got through with her he came into my room and sat down, and said, ”Judy I know it’s not your fault I went to the same schools you’re going to but I don’t think you really understand that your black.” I’m like what do you mean, what are you talking about? So he, you know, sits down and and, you know, really changes my life with this one conversation. Because it was true, I didn’t know anything about African American history and then he also said, ”Your birthday is coming up and I’m going to bring you something for your birthday that will be, you know, helpful. He brought me the autobiography of Malcolm X, and the first volume of poetry by Amiri Baraka, who was then LeRoi Jones. And I was taking an honors English class with this nun, who like all of the nuns at our school were very conservative in many ways, and we were allowed to do an independent study project on an author of our choice, so I do this thesis on Baraka’s poetry which at that point you know was full of four letter words and you know sexual references. But, she didn’t flunk me. You know cause we did have nuns who would do that sort of thing. You know it was an interesting time that really changed everything for me.