This article was originally published on Unity Magazine
It was the nineteen fifties, a time of great change in the United States, especially for African Americans, it was a time of forging ahead and making new roads, without detours. This is the story of two people from two very different cultures who made a new road for themselves and the family they produced. It all started in the early 1950’s when my mother fell in love with my dad. My grandparents owned a popular restaurant in Hartford, Connecticut. My Mom (Harriet Seagull) had three other sisters; that also worked at this dining establishment. In those days it was not uncommon to have African Americans working as waiters, waitresses, dishwashers and other such duties. This is how this real life story evolved, Morris Green (my Dad) and Tom Eaton (my Uncle) both African Americans and good friends, were smitten by the Seagull women (Harriet my Mom and Beverly my Aunt) eventually a relationship developed between the two couples, a very discrete relationship. The relationship had to be discrete, if they were found out, the house of cards could fall, and the family would be thrown in a religious and racial cataclysm. Ironically either of the Seagull women knew what the other was doing at the time. (When I interviewed my Mother for this article, she was reluctant after all these years to name the specific restaurants her family owned or the names of her various family members. She (Harriet) didn’t give me a specific reason, but I could hear a lot of pain in her voice and I dropped the subject.)
Accidental rebels, in the age of conservatism, McCarthyism, communism, segregation, the Mason Dixon Line had no borders. Yet it was a time of innocence, love runs deep, to escape the unenviable crucifixion by ethnicity, they left Hartford, Connecticut for the safety of California. My Father used the power of the Mason ring so that they could marry. Marriage between the races was not encouraged or in some States it was illegal, in those days; it was 1952 Moe, as my Mom (Harriet) would call him, used the “ AAA Green Book” to navigate the northern route to California. The “ AAA Green Book” was the yellow pages for African Americans at the time; it contained hotels, motels, coffee shops, restaurants, etc… that accepted “colored people”. Without this book, a “colored person” could easily venture to the wrong establishment in a new town, a lynching was not an unreasonable punishment for such a mistake. What I found so profound in those days, European Americans like my Mom could easily assimilate in the African American community without distain, and unlike my Dad attempting to move in a “white community” could prove very unhealthy or worse, deadly. African Americans have historically been very accepting of different races in their neighborhoods, and in terms of mating outside of the race; most African Americans accepted this, then and now.
When they finally made it to California a relief ensued, they were safe from Jim Crow laws, in a sense; California was not immune to racism. Again this was still the early 1950’s. For the colored race, there was no celebrating in the streets, no parade, no proclamation of the end of Jim Crow laws, the Phoenix has yet to rise, Martin has not yet reached the mountain top, the dream was only a dream in the early fifties. This was before the Civil Rights Movement; America was still a very scary place for minorities.
My Parents settled in Los Angeles, in the Mid City district, just east of Crenshaw Blvd. It was a middle class neighborhood, mostly European Americans and a growing African American community, it was a safe place to settle and not be harassed. That is not to say that some feeble minded individuals might have had a distain for this type of marriage. Los Angeles was and still is a very liberal minded city compared to other regions of the country.
Ironically, one day my Mom learned that her Sister Beverly also married and moved to the Mid-City area of Los Angeles. She married a man named Tom Eaton, as I indicated he was a good friend with my Dad. A wonderful relationship ensued between the two families, a common bond cemented the tribes together, both Jewish and Black. Either families were truly raised Jewish, but since Jewish law dictated that children born of a Jewish woman are Jewish, we are proud Jewish and African Americans, though I might add, my sisters and I were brought up in the Catholic religion, but that is a whole other story.
At some point my Mom and Aunt Beverly would have to come to the inevitable dilemma of how to break the news to their father and mother that they married African American men. In the 1950’s if you were white and you married Black this could be a huge problem. The Jewish community it was a given you would marry another Jew to keep the blood lines alive, the worst black eye one could give was to marry outside of the race.
I do not think my Mother and my Aunt were being rebellious; they met the men in their lives that they both loved. They devised a plan; they would rent an apartment and write back home they (my Mom and Aunt Beverly) are living together in Los Angeles. Unfortunately that plan failed when my Grandmother made a surprise visit and my Dad opened the door. My Grandmother almost had a coronary, game over. They paid dearly for that love; ultimately they were both ostracized from the family, for marrying black men and marrying outside of the religion. The Seagull Sisters were allowed to return to Hartford, but any discussion of their married life and children was considered a forbidden subject, my Grandfather went to his grave never learning of his grandchildren in California. To this day, I do not think my Mother ever got over the fact that she could never talk about her family to her parents; she was truly on her own. My Dads Mom (Mary) was very accepting of “us”, but by the time I was old enough to appreciate her love, she died. My Grandfather Fred died in 1945, long before I was born. To this day I do not know the names of my Mothers parents, nor do I care, they missed out on a beautiful family. I am glad later in life I met some wonderful Jewish people, who accepted my unique ethnic background and taught me about the Jewish culture and religion.
My sister Debbie was the first born in 1953, followed by my sister Pam in 1954, in 1961 I was born. My Sister Pam looked the most European of the three of us, Debbie is fair skin, one could tell she was black by the texture of her hair and her flat nose, as for me, I think I look like a combination of both of my parents.
When my Parents moved to Los Angeles, they bought a small apartment on Bronson Ave, one block east of Crenshaw Blvd. Debbie, the first born, was an ambitious child at age two, she was already ready to move out of the house. She (Debbie) would run down the street with my Mother in tow. Debbie would always stop at one particular house; a young Creole family lived at this particular house, the Ventresses. Evon who would become my godmother, and her husband Joe my godfather. This was the first couple my parents met; ultimately their family became a part of our family. They (the Ventresses) introduced my parents to other multi-racial families. This created a nurturing environment for all concerned; we grow up knowing there were other families just like us. This was no “Brady Bunch”, this was real, we had friends that looked just like us, and they had parents that were both black and white. Unfortunately in the Pre-Civil Rights days anything dealing with race was a big deal, even in California. There was a mountain so high, a river so wide, a dream about a Utopia where all races lived as one in peace and harmony, a delusional gesture in the nineteen fifties, for my parents and families like them, they were multi-racial pioneers and all they had was a dream for a better day.
One of my earliest memories of my father was on a trip from Los Angeles to New Jersey; I was a lad of three or four, my Dad planned this big trip for us in his new Lincoln Continental. Being the youngest, I was allowed to sit in the front seat next to my Dad and my Mom; in those days there were no car seats for kids, seatbelts was at best a novelty and an unnecessary piece of equipment according to the reasoning at the time.
Sitting next to my dad, I would pretend to drive, observing the changing topography as we drove. Occasionally he (Dad) would point out a particular location and talk about the significance of such locale; it was a teachable moment. What I learned most about this trip was how much I liked being with my Dad and how much I love to travel on the open road. Early this year I had a job in Sun Valley, Idaho, I passed through Utah and I recognized some of the same sites that my Dad talked about years since, I imagined I was a little boy again and he was there next to me, talking and sharing his knowledge with me.
What made this trip to New Jersey so special to me was that for the first time I was going to meet my Grandmother, Mary. She had a deep fondness for “us”, she was the only grandmother we would ever have contact with, to this day I keep her picture on my iPhone to share with my friends. Mary did not have a problem with my Dad marrying a “white woman”, as I indicated before, in the African American community marrying outside of the race was not a problem. My grandmother loved us, she was proud of us and she would always send us Christmas and birthday gift, until she died in 1969. I still miss her a lot. Unfortunately this trip to New Jersey was the only extended trip we ever made as a family, my Dad, died three years latter in 1968 of pancreatic Cancer. The trip to New Jersey is still in my heart, when I go for long drives I can still feel my dad next to me, keeping me awake, sharing his stories, maybe this is why I like to travel.
Growing up in Los Angeles I did not sense any racism, some of the kids in my class were lighter than me and had parents that are African American. When I went to an all white elementary school, for two years, I did not think my classmates knew I was a mulatto (this was a popular term at the time), at best they thought I was perpetually tanned. As I indicated, I did not look “black”, I looked Indian, Mexican, Egyptian, Mid-Eastern, I had curly black hair, light brown eyes, a thin nose, and I sucked at sports, I couldn’t hear the beat in a song, which meant I could not dance or sing, I went against every African American stereotype. At one point in my early life, I thought the NAACP would find me out and kick me out of the African American race, fortunately my friends did not give me a hard time for being non-athletic, lack of dancing and singing abilities, instead “they” embraced me, they knew I had other talents, I just had to learn what those talents were, and then master such talents. Living in Southern California, being bi-racial was not a big thing, especially in the last half on the twentieth century. Did my friends treat me different because of my background? No. I think I was judged on who I am and how I treated other people. If I was brought up in another state, my experiences might have been different.
In the early eighties I went to Atlanta for the first time; on the flight to Atlanta I was surrounded by European Americans, they were extremely cordial to me; some even invited me to their homes for a dinner. I was surprised, I thought the South was racist, what I realized on this trip, I was treated warmly by white folks when I was by myself, when I was in the company of other African Americans I was not treated so nice. The African American population treated me like a star, especially when they learned I was from Los Angeles. The experience was good, if I did not live in Los Angeles, I would definitely move to Atlanta. Ironically, most of the women I dated or married were from the South, I love southern women, not that I do not like women from other regions of the country.
After I graduated from Loyola Marymount with a BA in communications; I met my first wife at a department store where I was working. We married a year latter. “Clara” had a daughter from a previous relationship, Taunjinikia or Taunji for short; Taunji at the time was barely a year old, I instantly feel in love with her. To this day we are very close to each other, I still consider her my biological daughter. Clara is from Livingston, Alabama, but moved to Los Angeles because of job opportunities; Livingston is a small college town and Clara had a dream about breaking into the movie industry as an actress.
She had a few small roles, but never that pivotal role that could have moved her to stardom. I got my first entertainment job working for Merv Griffin Entertainment as a production assistant and page on the Merv Griffin Show. I had a chance to meet Merv on several occasions and worked on Merv’s last show, he was a very special person. I got a little restless and I wanted to move forward with my career, so I left the company to pursue other endeavors. Unfortunately such independent efforts did not necessarily lead to a paycheck. For thirteen years I worked the graveyard shift at the Los Angeles Daily News; first delivering papers to Hollywood Park and other locations, then to racks and newsstands in the South Bay and latter as manager in charge of the single copy department. This job allowed me to pursue positions on low budget films; many of these films did not pay, but they were a great training ground for me, I was a soundman, still photographer, production assistant, and I directed and produced a music video.
The marriage did not survive my brutal schedule, when I was not working, I was exhausted and I slept, this was not conducive to a lasting marriage, especially when I had little money for my labor. However, even after the demise of my marriage Taunji was with me on weekends, she would fall asleep as I drove to my schedule newspaper stops, at the end of the run I would treat her to Randy’s donuts. Randy’s is one of those iconic places in LA, located at La Cienega and Manchester with its big brown donut located on the roof. This donut shop has the best donuts in the west coast in my opinion. Taunji kept me happy; because she is just a great person with a smile that can light up a room, even when she moved away, we always kept in touched. If there is anything I think I am really good at, is being a father, since my Dad died when I was seven, I always wanted to be a Dad, life sometimes does not move in the direction we may yearn for; but there are always ways to be a father figure to someone, like to Taunji, my nieces and my grand nephew Kevin.
Flash forward to March of 2000, I married my second wife Lecia Battle-Green-Wright, she was frustrated with me because I was still working on these low paying jobs in the entertainment industry and not making any headways. I was going to ignore an ad in one of the trade papers for a motor home driver, she encouraged me to apply; I am glad I did, that job was the turning point in my life. I was hired on the spot, I quit the Daily News and for the first time in my life I was making some decent money. The Producers at 5th and Sunset had a lot of faith in me and I took a lot of unnecessary work off their back regarding our small fleet of RV’s. I learned a lot about the mechanics of these vehicles, because there were always issues with the motor homes. No one person was handling the maintenance, so there were mechanical issues cropping up, which was bad for business, so I took some initiative to fix such problems, I surveyed each motor home with the mechanics at Bench Mark RV to make sure all problems would be fixed before an RV would go out for a job. To this day I do a pre-trip and a post-trip on all my vehicles looking for potential issues. I was promoted to transportation captain for my effort and a bigger paycheck.
Commander Stephen Sherman and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa (Photo by Michael Green)
The sad statement about the entertainment industry, especially the photo shoot world, is the industry is still extremely “white”, I have only worked with several African American photographers and never a female African American photographer. Usually I am the only “colored person” on these shoots. In the ten years I have been in this business I have never worked for an African American producer, though I have worked with producers from Argentina, Pakistan, Asia and Japan. Most of the time my clients are surprised about my ethnicity, usually a conversation ensues, I am not aware that I ever lost a job because of my ethnicity. A good portion of my clients are Jewish, so being Jewish is a real plus, but I am always clear with them that I am not a practicing Jew, and they usually tell me that they are not practicing Jews either.
Once I worked with a rap group from Tennessee, they initially gave me a hard time because they could not figure out my nationality. Finally they confronted me about where I was from, I explained that I came from planet earth, I heard the sounds of guns clicking, they did not possess a sense of humor, I had to answer quickly or else I was going to make the evening news; “RV driver shot by Rappers story at 11”. I explained that my mother is Jewish and my father is African American, so one of the guys called me Afro-Jew, we laughed, and I lived to tell another joke, to this day when I work with this rap group, they call me Afro-Jew or a “brother from another mother”.
When 5th and Sunset went out of business in 2004; I aligned myself with many of those same producers I worked with at the 5th, I called my company Mike Green RVs. It was a scary time, I was very happy working for a company with a paycheck every two weeks, benefits and a 401k plan. I had one motor home at the time, a Holiday Rambler-Neptune, it was a nice starter RV, with two slide outs, a make-up/hair station, wardrobe in the rear and two TV’s with a satellite.
I no longer work solely on photo shoots, I work on commercials, music videos, TV and feature films. My client base has broadened, even in a bad economy I have learned to adjust my bottom line and provide good service. I like to think of myself as a sort of pioneer, there a few African American run RV businesses in Hollywood and I am the only company that provides motor homes from San Diego to Seattle. I do not let the color of my skin handicap me, I use it to my advantage. On music videos with R & B and Rap acts, I always remind them that I am an African American business and I appreciate their business. Which brings me to another point, the only time I see African Americans below and above the line in any abundance is on an Afro centric projects, like a music video or a movie with a star who is African American. When “they” learn I own my own motor homes they are surprised and impressed, usually only European American companies own equipment in Hollywood.” My big wish, is that I would like to see more young people of color get in the business at some capacity other than just in front of the camera or the microphone. African American and other artist of “color” who have a big voice in the industry need to take a stand and insist on using minority run companies, like mine on their projects.
Today, I have two luxury motor homes, a fifteen-passenger van, two portable restrooms and a business partner who helps me with the business. I serve the entire west coast and neighboring states. I expanded beyond Southern California to obtain more work and because I love to travel, my camera is always next to me, I probably have over three thousand pictures on my Mac from the various locations I have traveled to. The zest to travel comes from that trip I made with my family back in 1964. I still see my Dad sitting next to me in my co-pilot seat, educating me about the geological formations, historical sites or just telling me he loves me.
If you have any questions regarding this article or what I do in the entertainment industry you can e-mail me at: email@example.com.
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