Shortly after author Bobbie Ann Mason wrote an article in the New Yorker about the tornadoes that destroyed her home town of Mayfield in Western Kentucky, she received an email from Ruby Horton Thompson, who also grew up there.
I challenge you to print this response to your article!
In 1964, when I graduated from Mayfield High School, my name at that time was Ruby Horton (maiden name). I’m glad that you have fond memories of Mayfield. However, I have a different perspective on growing up in Mayfield. As a Black American, my experiences were quite different. I also live far away now, in California, but have gone back to Mayfield several times, once for my father’s funeral, who was a pastor at the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, one time to show my son where I graduated from high school and also to visit old friends. We lived at corner of 14th and Water, just a block from the Fairview Baptist Church, which received major damage during tornado.
My memories are not “picturesque, with classic Victorian architecture.” My memories go a bit deeper! I remember Mayfield as town of racism and bigotry. I remember buying a soda/ice cream at that corner drug store and could not sit at the counter, but had to go outside and sit on the sidewalk to enjoy it. I remember my mother working at the Rexall drug store and being replaced by a white person with less skills. I remember going to Mayfield High in the 10th grade because Black people were not allowed to go any sooner than 10th grade. I remember the principal, Barkley Jones, referring to us “a certain creed of people” whenever he wanted to talk about us. I remember that we could not go to the store across the street from Mayfield High, because we were not allowed to go there. I remember Dunbar — the former Black School. Dunbar was a separate school for Blacks ... separate but NEVER equal.
I remember the two theaters, Legion and Princess that we had to enter from the side door and sit in the balcony. No we never called it movies, it was always “going to the show.” I wonder why we referred to it as “the show??” When invited to a “class reunion” I’ve never had a desire to go. Only three Black people in our graduating class, we decided to go the prom, and were still treated differently. When we won a football game, Blacks could not attend the after party celebration even though there were Blacks on the football team. I must admit, there were times I wished I was white! How sad is that ... to wish you were something other than what God made you. However I must say at 75 years of age, I am proud to have lived my life as Black American. My people are talented, skilled and very intelligent in every area. I have raised three, strong, God fearing, law abiding children ... a lawyer, a doctor, and a programmer analyst. I will continue to pray for the people of Mayfield during this difficult time.
Ruby Horton Thompson is retired from the California Department of Corrections and lives in Northern California.