Ora Snowden’s Homegoing: A Mother’s Legacy of Love and Learning

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Tick. Tock. Tick. Tock. Saturday School is now in session, the school bell is ringing, don’t be late. Please get on the school bus.

Carl Snowden and his eldest brother William.

Today’s lesson is the influence mothers can have on their children. I grew up in Davidsonville, Maryland, just outside of Annapolis, Maryland.

My childhood is filled with many fond memories of my mother and how she impacted the lives of me and my siblings, nephews, cousins, and others.

My mom was a great cook. Every Sunday we would have chicken for dinner. When we moved to Annapolis when I was about eight years old she would make us breakfast.

Long before the alarm clock went off you would be awakened by the aroma of the food that she was cooking.

Every day she would nurture us and I would find lessons in not only what she said but what she did.

It would be years later before I fully appreciated what she did for me and my family.

Looking back I have a better understanding of why she would consistently push us to go to school.

Now, I understand why she would show up at every school conference involving her children.

I have a better appreciation of the “role” that she played in each of her children’s lives.

My oldest brother William or “Junior”, who is seen here with me, would follow in his father’s footsteps and go in the military.

He would become a Marine and I would become an antiwar protestor and she would love us both and encourage us to do what we believe was right.

My mom– whose husband, William A. Snowden, Sr., a butcher– not only took care of her own children, but also raised many of her children’s children.

We all called her “Momma”. Each of us has our own momma stories. Momma worked as a domestic worker or maid for years.

She once told me a story that I never forgot. It pains me even now to repeat it. One day long before I became what people have mistakenly labeled a “civil rights activist”.

One day she came home from work. She was visibly upset. I waited until the “right” time to find out why.

I approached the conversation with all of the diplomacies an eight-year-old is capable of, I said, “Momma, what is wrong”?

She looked at me and called me by my given name and not my nickname as everyone in the family did as I was growing up.

She sternly said, “get a good education and study hard”. What I wondered did an education had to do with her being upset?

She then told me in a matter fact way, how her white employer, had asked her to do the dusting and cleaning of the house which normally she did.

However, on this particular day, her employer had one cocktail too many. My mom, who had finished her day work was waiting to get paid.

In those days, you got paid at the end of the workday. My mom said she waited for her employer to pay her.

The inebriated woman who was a the bottom of the stairs had a white cloth in her hand.

As she ascended the stairs she took the cloth and ran it up and down the banister, something, according to my mom, she had never done.

When she was satisfied it was dust-free, she said to my mom, “Ora, wait here and I will be back”.

My mom said that she was so angry. She had her waiting for more than 15 minutes before she paid her for her day’s work.

I didn’t understand why she didn’t protest or resigned from her job. It would be years later before I understood why.

In order to support her family, she had to put up with these and other slights and indignities.

She believed that to escape a similar fate that “education was the way out”. I became the first in my family to get a college education.

Here is another reflection. When we lived in Davidsonville, we lived with her father, who was my grandfather. The house we lived in was heated by a potbelly stove.

The hotter the stove got on the outside it would become crimson in color and I wanted to touch it. My mother and grandfather told me not to touch the stove.

I was 5 years old and my curiosity got the best of me. When I touched the stove I burnt my fingers and begun crying.

My mother got some butter and put in on my fingers and started kissing them and assuring me, it would be alright.

My grandfather without missing a beat look at me and said, “I bet your ass won’t touch that stove again” and I didn’t.

Fast forward, when I became a teenager I became very active in politics, protest movements, and the like.

Through it, all my mother remained the “wind under my wings”. She always supported me.

When I was expelled from Annapolis High School for organizing a boycott of classes, she made sure that I completed my education at the Key School in Annapolis.

When I was arrested for protesting racism in 1970 as a teenager, she bailed me out.

She was my greatest supporter and stood with me through thick and thin.

Some nights when she thought that I was asleep she would be in her room praying to God that he protected me and my siblings and her grandchildren.

There are so many memories. Perhaps, the one that I will carry to my grave is of an FBI document that I read involving her.

Unbeknownst to me, the FBI had paid a visit to my mother when I was a student at Key School.

They were trying to determine whether the “Negro juvenile had a propensity for violence”.

They interviewed my mom. Throughout the interview, she never wavered in her support of me.

Efforts to “persuade” her to “persuade” me to take a different course in life was futile.

I wouldn’t become aware of that FBI interview until I was 24 years old.

Thanks to the late prominent Annapolis civil rights attorney Alan Legum. I got access to the file.

Alan Legum filed a successful federal lawsuit against the FBI on my behalf that resulted in a monetary settlement and copies of my FBI files.

I donated them to the Maryland ACLU, who put them on their website so that people could see what the FBI had done.

My mother never told me about the FBI interviewing her. When I asked her why? She responded, ” you didn’t need to know, I took care of it”.

My mom was special, she lived to be over 104 years old. Saturday School lessons are often based on the wisdom and love she gave me.

The more I have learned about her history and the history of African-Americans the more I have come to appreciate the sacrifices that she and others made to create a better world for us.

Today, we will formally say goodbye to my mom. Yet, I know, she will always be with us.

Her hands over the years told her story. Those hands provide us with food and clothing. Those hands dispense discipline and direction.

Those hands cleaned other people’s houses so that her children could get an education.

When she got older her arthritic hands were used for praying. One of her favorite(and my favorite) Mahalia Jackson’s gospel songs was “How I Got Over”.

When I play that today and tomorrow and the next day, I will remember my mom and the lessons she taught me.

I just finished the manuscript to my book, which is dedicated to her.

I am comforted in knowing that she taught me years ago God makes no mistakes. No more sleepless nights, no more pain.

She now belongs to the Angels and the ages. I thank God for her longevity and I think her for never giving up on us.

Being our anchor and our matriarch, she was and is the wind under my wings.

Today’s lesson is found in this simple and yet profound statement, “You don’t miss your water until your well runs dry”.

We will never stop missing you. However, we believe that there will come a day when we will be with you again.

The school bell has rung and school is dismissed. See you next week.

Black Lives Matter.

Carl Snowden leads the African American Caucus in Anne Arundel County. He is a life-long activist and columnist for the Capital Newspaper and The Arundel Patriot.

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