Echolier

I Am a Woman

Christina Ortiz, Guest Writer

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April 28, 1929

Dear diary, I read the newspaper today and the world has gone completely mad. Four women were arrested for “indecent exposure.”I don’t understand why women are put into prison for wearing “revealing” clothes. Let them be! Who cares? I talked to my dad about the news, and he told me that he hopes that I won’t do anything “foolish” such as that. My dad needs me, I think he’s solely scared for my safety. I’m all he’s got.

Until next time.

Love, Dorthy.

 

***

“Miss Williamson!”  Mrs. Clark hissed.

Startled, I snapped back into reality. Mrs. Williamson’s sixth period math class never ceased to bore me, all I could think about was being whisked away in the sunset by some hunk of a man. Looking over my shoulder, I found my best friend Ella’s face. She stared at me for a second and then made a silly face following up with her mouthing, “What time do we get out?”

Shrugging my shoulders, I turned back around, to face the head spinning equations on the board. Homework, 1-20… why does she hate us? Okay number 1, what is the square root of …. What? Yeah, no. Shutting my notepad, the blessed bell rang. With a sigh of relief, I jumped to my feet to get out as quickly as possible, but stopped by Mrs. Clark. Dragging my feet to her desk, “Ma’am?” I said

“Miss Williamson, this is my math room not yours. You are here to learn, not day dream!” She said while somewhat aggressively placing her red glasses on the desk.

“But.” I pleaded.

“No buts, Miss! Now go on.”

Opening the door, I was surprised to see Ella leaning on the wall waiting. Sarcastically, I said,“Aww you waited. How sweet.” “Don’t read too much into it.” she replied mockingly Putting my arm around her neck she asked

“So are you going to Big Mama’s Cafe tonight? I hear the band Starry Night playing.” Laughing I said “Is that even a question? I’ll meet you there around 6:00pm.” Making my way to my house, I noticed a group of girls laughing and talking. There was something different about their appearance though. When it hit me, I was in awe. Their skirts were SHORTER! They look so pretty and happy! I should really try that, I thought as I turned the corner on my block.

My house is on the upper part of my family’s bakery. The bakery sells of just about anything you can think of that involves wheat. My dad, Carl Williamson, is most definitely the best baker in Harlem. Business was going very well, up until my Mom’s death in the fall of 1919. Leukemia not only murdered my mom, but killed apart of us as well. Ever since then, my dad has been struggling. I catch him staring at the cash register, reminiscing on the sweet times when his beloved wife would stand there. He tells me that the only reason we got customers was because “everyone wanted to see her beautiful, welcoming smile.” I miss seeing her smile.

My mom was the absolute strongest person I knew. Leukemia didn’t stop her from doing anything. When she wanted to do something, she would do it. She had a saying. “Whatever it takes, do it; and do it with passion.” These words ring through my head often.

 

6’clock finally came, I put on my favorite sweater and skirt, rushed down the stairs, kissed my dad on the forehead and darted out. As the door shut behind me I heard my dad call after me

“Be careful!”

“I will!” I called back

Out of breath I stumbled onto the curb where Ella was.

“What took you so long?” She demanded

“I don’t run”

“For not running you sure run your mouth a lot.” She replied

Laughing, I bent down to the end of my plaid skirt to roll it up and pin it.

“What do you think you are doing!” She said trying to undo my pins

“Girl don’t touch my masterpiece!”

“You really wanna go to jail huh?”

With a smirk on my face I said “can we go in now?”

Big Mamas Cafe, was a dark spacious room that had bulb lights stringing from corner to corner, a bar in the back that had a mirror as a backsplash, and a small stage that had bright red curtains draping down from side to side. Everyone in the room was absolutely stunning, the ambiance was breathtaking and I never wanted to leave. When we sat down the chairs were cold and hard, but I didn’t mind, because all I was focused on was my favorite band that was about to perform in front of me. The curtains drew back, And I reached over to grab Ella’s hand tightly in excitement. The room was filled with music and smiles, pretty soon everyone began to stand up and dance to the soulful jazz music. With glee Ella and I stood to our feet and began to shimmy, twisting and tapping our feet we became lost in the moment. With not much care of the outside world, a loud noise interrupted the night. Whipping my head around to see what the commotion was, I saw a group of policemen rushing in. They stated that the neighbors had filed in a noise complaint along with the suspension of underage drinking, and indecent exposure. Annoyed I grabbed Ella’s hand to leave. Squeezing through the crowd, I heard a voice coming from behind me, “What are you people doing? Why are you following their orders? We have done nothing wrong!” And in that very moment it was if everyone clicked and decided to riot. Caught in the middle of a violent wave of people, I felt suffocated. Infuriated by the uncooperative crowd. The  policemen yanked the band off the stage, and aggressively handcuffed them, while another officer bumped into the cello causing splinters to fly everywhere. People were running in every direction trying to escape but were tangled up with the firm grip of an officer. Women were kicking as they were being dragged out of the cafe and into the back of a police van. Confused I  grabbed ahold of Ella and dashed towards the safety of the back door, not looking back, I reached out my hand to open the door, but was struck by the policeman’s baton. Falling to the hard floor, I clutched my back and in agony. I yelled out to Ella to get out and to not look back. As soon as those words left my lips, I passed out, and everything became a blur.

 

***

I woke up in a tiny damp room. A jail cell. Blinking repeatedly, trying to get rid of the foggy ness in my eyes, I grabbed a hold of the cold metal bars. I tried standing up but was pushed down by the impact of pain shooting through my spine. Whimpering in pain I melted to the floor. I was cold, scared, and alone. Softly crying I tucked my head in my own embrace.

***

“Wake up!” A deep voice shouted

Jerking my head back I saw a tall plump figure, he had his hair slicked back, with streams of white flowing throughout his head. He was playing with the end of a cigarette, dangling it on the edge of his thin lips.

“Where am I?” I said, while trying with all my strength to stand.

Annoyed he replied “where does it look like you are woman.”  Why does he say “woman” like that?

He opened the squeaky cell door, and motioned for me to sit down. As I sat down, he introduced himself as Lieutenant Roger Smith. Pulling out a big folder and pen he started writing, “What’s your name?” He said

Shakily I replied, “Dorthy-Mae Williamson, sir.”

“How old are you?”

“Nineteen sir”

“Dorthy” he said  “what business did you have at that cafe last night?”

“Stary Night is my favorite jazz band, and me and my best..”

“Ma’am, why did you go out last night dressed in inappropriate clothes?” He said, while interrupting me

“Sir?”

“Don’t play dumb with me woman! Why was your skirt pinned up above your knees? Are you one of those flappers?”

“Sir, me wearing my skirt shorter is no crime. And so what if I am?”

“How dare you talk back to me! You’re in big trouble young lady!”

“But sir I don’t even understand why?” I said, but this time with my voice raised.

Lieutenant Roger was infuriated, he put one leg up on his chair, took out the cigarette from his mouth and leaned over to look down on me.

“Little girl, you are a woman, I am in charge here so you will do whatever I say. Now stand up!”

My eyes became flooded with hot tears, as I replayed the words “you are a woman, a woman.” Why did he say it with such hate? Because I have breasts I am lesser than him? In the midst of my questions, another officer came in wanting to talk to Lieutenant Rogers. After five minutes, The other officer came back in the room. He told me that he was the Sheriff and that someone came to pick me up, and that I’m free of my “charges.” Anxiously I limped down the narrow hallway, to find the worried faces of my father and Ella. I threw myself in their arms and cried. Hand in hand we began to walk out of the station when I heard a whisper from behind.

“This is typical of her kind, they are always going to linger around here.”

With rage I turned around and yelled

“I AM A WOMAN, AND A WOMAN OF COLOR! “My kind” have risen up before, watch me rise up above you!”

 

 

Bibliography

Howes, Kelly Howes. The Roaring Twenties Almanac and Primary Sources. Thomas Gale. 2006

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