Everyone has a birth story. Telling your children the story of their birth is a great way to affirm their individuality and membership in a family. Birth stories amuse, tickle the imagination, and teach family history and lessons in the art of storytelling without children knowing that's what's going on.
Telling the story of each of their five children's arrival into the world, and our adventures during early childhood was a tradition my parents passed on to us. They enjoyed remembering, and we definitely enjoyed hearing our special stories. They retold our birth stories well into our adulthoods.
As we matured, this gave us a chance to ask questions about the times we were born into and learn more about the details and circumstances of their lives and our people. Birthdays were definitely a time for the gift of birth stories. This year, in celebration of my May 6 birthday, and (drumroll, please) the reboot of my Divineport memoir blog, here is the short version of my born day story. Hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed recording it.
It's a Girl!
This is what the telegram carrying the news to my father, a captain in the U.S. Army, in command of a battalion guarding a ridge in South Korea. The war between North and South Korea was supposed to have ended but apparently clashes were still occurring. Somehow the Red Cross Truck bearing the good news managed to climb the rocky terrain, which my father said was nearly impossible for a vehicle to scale. The soldiers ran to greet it. My father's executive officer - an Irishman from Kalamazoo, Michigan with whom he remained friends until his death at the age of 90 in 2011 - reached the truck first. He shouted the news. "It's a girl." All the men cheered. It would be almost a year before Capt. Arthur R. Davenport was reunited with his wife and son, and introduced to his first-born daughter.
Born in Cleveland
My mother and older brother were living with her middle sister, Willa, her husband, Harold, and their sons, Stanley and Gerome, in Cleveland. Her sister left their childhood home in Augusta, Georgia like many African Americans to escape Jim Crow and pursue better jobs and education opportunities for themselves and their children. Author and Pulitzer-prize winning journalist Isabel Wilkerson writes extensively about this period known as the Great Migration in her book "The Warmth of Other Suns."
My mother always liked the name Janet, which means "Gracious Gift of God." In Ghana, Africa, girls born on a Thursday are all named "Yaa." Of course, none of us knew much about that sort of thing in those days. My birth certificate identified me as "N" for negro. My mother and father, both born in the 1920s, were identified as "black" and "colored," female and male, respectively. We used to joke that their negro children were the the progeny of a mixed marriage. By the 1990s we were no longer negroes, and most certainly not colored. We were back to "black" with new pride on top.
Happy Mother's Day and Good Riddance
Seriously, I was delivered on the Thursday before Mother's Day by a Black doctor at Marymount Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio. African-American physicians were uncommon then. Mom was proud to have a Black doctor. According to her, I came out "hollering" at the top of my lungs and did not stop. Apparently, I disrupted the nursery and kept the other babies awake. Doctors kept mothers in the hospital for at least a week after delivering a baby in those days. The mothers on the maternity ward were served a special Mother's Day breakfast with a single red rose on their trays.
"It was beautiful," my mom recalled. When she was discharged that week, the nurses and other mothers looked relieved, she said. As she walked down the hall carrying me swaddled in her arms, she overheard another mother whisper, "Isn't that the lady with the hollering baby?" One of the nurses said, "Good gracious, yes."
Born to Make Noise
I was born 11 days before Brown vs the Brown of Education, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision ruling racial segregation in public schools as unconstitutional, even if the segregated schools were equal in quality. My penchant for disruption and the gift of a strong pair of lungs would serve me well over the next six decades, navigating the history, and peculiarities of the system of white supremacy into which I was born.
Capt. Arthur R. Davenport; Thelma (Blount) Davenport; Baby girl Janet, Cleveland, Ohio.