Playwright Ginger Rutland recently discussed her mother’s book, When We Were Colored, A Mothers Story, and her play based upon the book at the Clunie Community Center in East Sacramento.
Rutland Family Background
Ginger began by describing her family history and background. Her story was brought to life and greatly enhanced by a series of family photographs taken over the years.
Her mother’s grandfather, a former slave, owned a successful boot-making shop in Atlanta, Georgia. It was there after the Civil War that he built the family home where Ginger’s mother Eva was born. All of her grandfather’s surviving children graduated from college.
Eva’s mother (also Eva) was a teacher and her father was a pharmacist. Ginger described the family as members of the Atlanta “black elite”. The black community in Atlanta was close-knit and Eva had a happy childhood.
Eva graduated with a B.A. from Spelman College in 1937 and married William Rutland in 1943. The couple and their four children (Elsie, Billy, Patty-Jo and Ginger) moved to Sacramento in 1952. Bill was a civilian administrator at McClellan Air Force Base and Eva was a housewife and writer.
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Eva started writing seriously when her children were young as a means to find common ground and promote understanding between black and white mothers. She had articles published in the leading women’s magazines of the day – Redbook, Women’s Day, and Ladies Home Journal.
Eva started going blind in her mid-50’s, but continued writing. Over the years she wrote more than 20 novels and won various awards including the 2000 Golden Pen Award for Lifetime Achievement. Eva died in 2012.
The Trouble With Being a Mama
Eva’s first book, The Trouble With Being a Mama, was published in 1964.
The book tells the story of the Rutland family experience with integration in post-World War II Sacramento. The Western U.S. was not segregated – but that in itself at times caused difficulties. During that period it was not unusual for deeds to contain covenants preventing sale of the property to people of color. During her talk Ginger displayed an example of a deed containing such a covenant listing a number of different races – including Mongolian!
As a work around, Eva asked a family friend if he would purchase a lot she had found and liked in a new Sacramento suburb (South Land Park). The family friend did so, and immediately resold the property to the Rutland family. It was there that they built their home. The Rutland family was the first black family on the block, and the four children were the first black students at their school.
When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story
At her father’s funeral in 2005, Ginger read excerpts from The Trouble With Being a Mama during the service. Afterwards the family was bombarded with requests for the out-of-print book. They republished the book, with the revised title When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story, in 2007.
Eva, in the Introduction of When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story, wrote “…life in America has changed but my story is as relevant today as it was then. It transcends the black-white divide. It’s really about the challenges and fears that all mothers face as we struggle to raise healthy, happy, productive children.”
Towards the end of the book Eva makes mention of some of the important events relating to the Civil Rights movement occurring within the same time-frame, expressing her pride in all those who fought to make true We, the people of the United States.
When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story – The Play
The Sacramento Theatre Company World Premiere of When We Were Colored, A Mother’s Story, will run March 20, 2019 to April 28, 2019 on the Pollock Stage – an intimate 87-seat theatre.
I really enjoyed reading the book, and I am very much looking forward to seeing the play. I bought my tickets and you may want to do the same – sooner than later given the size of the theatre!
1/2021 Links added.
If you have read the book, what would you add?
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