African American History · American History

very brady memories

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I was a bit skeptical, but I am thoroughly enjoying HGTV’s A Very Brady Renovation. The show brings memories of the year my parents purchased our first home. It was 1972. We were among the African Americans who benefited greatly from the Fair Housing Act of 1968. When I see the above facade of the Brady home, which is an actual home that is being renovated with the assistance of the children on the seventies-era show, I have good feelings.

I have good feelings even though I know a good many people in this country were still suffering because they had not experienced the promises of the fair housing act, which expanded on the rights extended to African Americans in the earlier Civil Rights Act of 1964.brady-house-hgtv-makeover-today-inline-190524-04_c034a0278fdd3c9b1d5afe06a75b3738.fit-760w.jpg

These are the realities of some missed opportunities experienced even after the passage of legal acts that I readily share with students in some of the classes I teach including “American Civilization Since 1865.”

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How far my own family had come though! I descend in part from sharecroppers in the Mississippi Delta. I took a photograph of the home pictured below in the early 1990s. I was visiting Mississippi with my maternal grandparents. My grandmother said she and my grandfather lived in this house before migrating to South Florida in the mid-1950s. They were among the African Americans chasing “warmer suns,” as Isabel Wilkerson once put it.

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As I share in my present book, which concerns across time racial and spatial politics in Florida, my grandparents first worked in the agricultural sector in Homestead before moving north to Miami where my grandmother was a domestic and later, an entrepreneur on the festival circuit. Although born in Mississippi, she became known as Bahama Mama after mastering the art of cooking Bahamian dishes. My mother, one of her two daughters, had married a man partly of Bahamian descent. My grandfather had an assortment of jobs, but he is best known for peddling fruit and vegetables in his old truck in the black communities of Miami’s Coconut Grove.

Below is a photograph of me in a Coconut Grove neighborhood called “the Projects.” Here, I spent the five years of my life. My grandparents lived in the duplex behind us.

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By the time I was five years old, we relocated about twenty miles north to then-Carol City, a neighborhood emptying of whites as African Americans settled in. This photograph was taken years after the house, which was recently sold, fell into disrepair following my parents’ divorce in the mid-eighties.

But such sad moments never discounted that the house had seen earlier days. For a time, a station wagon not unlike the one featured on The Brady Bunch sat out front. We, too, had mid-century furniture purchased at Modernage, Levitz and W.H. Grant, nearby stores that disappeared as more and more African Americans settled in the area. I was too young then to have the critical eyes that could find meaning in those disappearing stores. IMG_5016.JPG

As I aged, I sort through the historical developments that linked me and other African Americans to those disappearing stores, but also the fictitious Bradys. In the picture above, I stand in front of a home on Detroit’s west side. It was purchased in 1970 or thereabouts by my former father-in-law Grant Green. He was a jazz guitarist for Blue Note, America’s first independent jazz label. Stevie Wonder bought the house next door for his parents. Berry Gordy and other personalities associated with Motown lived nearby.

Families like my own and that of my former husband seem to stand outside of the Bradys cheery home in southern California. Indeed, the show rarely dealt with the sensitive issue of race. One of the rare moments African Americans appear on it finds Joe Namath as a guest star. See the clip below that features Namath playing ball with Bobby, the youngest Brady boy. In it, Bobby’s African American friends are among the neighborhood kids invited to see Namath play in the family’s backyard.

I have used this clip in my American Civilization Since 1865 course in the context of lectures addressing the postwar rise of conservative politics. Namath, the quarterback that University of Alabama Offensive Coordinator Howard Schnellenberger brought to Alabama for head coach Bear Bryant would someday wear fancy fur coats and happily chat it up with the prize fighter Muhammad Ali, a conscientious objector of the Vietnam War. Such complex interactions between athletes from very different backgrounds happened as The Brady Bunch was becoming a very popular show. As I often say, there’s so much through which to sort. We can do as much with A Very Brady Renovation in view.

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