Altamese Greer

As Interviewed by Monica Jones, March 4, 2016

Altamese Greer: In Her Own Words

[I am] Altamese Greer. I grew up in the military in the sixties and seventies.

My father was a helicopter pilot. My father could not get a job because what airlines would hire a black man in the south? Or he might be able to get a luggage-type job or a porter-type job or something; but he had been training, first as a mechanic that worked on helicopters and then as an actual pilot.

My mom, my mom was a nurse and she couldn�t get a nursing job. I mean this woman had been an LVN and worked her way up through study and what have you. There were no black nurses in the hospital. There were black hospitals for nurses, hospitals that had... But there were not black nurses in the hospital, but there were black nurses aids in the hospital. [I felt] very sad for her because, you know, you work all your life and you have a family to support, and you want to be able to do that; and you're not able to accomplish that simply because race was a factor.

My mom and dad actually had to study the Alabama constitution to try to get the right to vote. I remember them sitting at the table trying to learn the Alabama state constitution.

When my parents came back to the states and you saw those white only or when we... I remember specifically riding a bus and my father and my mother telling us we couldn�t sit in the front and having to sit back. You know holding my hand, I guess I was first or second grade, to go back to the back of the bus. You know, we would run all over the place in Europe and never have any problems and then come back to your country and have major problems.

I think later in elementary. I think it was the bus ride back to my grandparents house and just seeing all of those, institutions. Going to the backdoor of this restaurant; and my mother had a very, very adamant rule: you will not go to any backdoor of any restaurant, that is not what we do. And my sister, one of my sisters, was involved in student sit ins, the SNCC program and so were some of my brothers. Not to mention what recourse did you have because law enforcement was going to enforce the law and all of their bigotry. You were powerless, you were powerless. The things that cushion you was returning to that african American community where people understood more than�

Police officers used to beat up all black folks all the time. My neighbor was engaged in an altercation, one of our neighbors in this black community. The police officers were literally beating her husband and her son to death. And she came out and killed them. It was kind of like a clear demarcation that you were really not safe, and all they were doing was walking up and down the street. And because they were not the most well dressed highly respected people in the community, but they were decent people and it didn�t matter.

And I can remember my brothers being caught late at night, not late �bout like ten o'clock, from a game; and just being roughed up. And asked whose children are..., whose boy are you. And once they heard my grandfather's name, Ellis, it was like �oh your preacher Ellis�s grandson or son� and let them go on.

I think my father and my mother and my grandfather and my grandparents made it very clear that things change, but they change over time and they don�t change quickly. You have to acclimate to those changes and work within those boundaries in order to affect change, and part of that was going to those integrated schools. I can remember them telling us how smart we were, you study, you apply yourself. And once people saw that they would be more willing to help you than just being totally rebellious. A specific incident where that happened, I think when we went to our first southern school to have just a taunting. All the black people on this side all the white people on this side. Cafeteria nobody mixed or mingled. Constantly being taunted. Oh it was very, very clear. Barbs and slurs being tossed at you, unwarranted. Oh I remember one teacher talking in history and deliberately mispronouncing �negro�.

I never got into honor society or beta club because I..., even though I had the grade point average to get into honor society or beta club. I can only tell you too, that my sister was the salutatorian and she never received any financial assistance to go to college. Those things are kind of given if you are the valedictorian or salutatorian that you get some kind of financial assistance.

I went to, first I started at the University of Alabama with my sister and then I transferred to Jacksonville, because my father said I was too radical, because I went to a lot of those [sit ins and union meetings]. My father was like, � this is dangerous you don�t understand. People get dropped off in the lake and in the rivers and they are never heard of after that point�. And he is dead serious and that is true, that is very true. And so he moved me, he asked me to go closer to one of the relatives. So I moved to where my aunt was, which was twelve miles away, which he thought would stop me. But it did and it didn�t.

When I got to, I made sure to go to all the Black Student Union activities when I went to college, so I could find out what was going on. There were certain professors that would not, oh, would not be accessible to you, or you would set up an appointment to try to work things out and get extra help and an emergency came up.

I was a police officer in the city (chicago). There were ten thousand men, five hundred women. They all felt they had; well since then the police department has had many, many reformations, they have been reformed in so many ways, and then in some aspects they haven�t. You were always expected to be in a african american neighborhood, never a white neighborhood as a patrolman. You were not expected to climb the hierarchy in the police department because, you know, you just couldn�t do that. Secondly, then we came with all these different tests that you have to pass, the lieutenant�s exam, the sergeant's exam. A lot of Vietnam vets did [treat me equally]. And a lot of police departments are made up of a lot of veterans. And that was good, in the sense of acclimating, but there were, there was blatant racism. I can remember being in the chicago police department and one of the uniforms, one of the white shirts that the guy had on a �KKK all the way� . Its very clear that he was sending me message; or he had a huge belt buckle that said �white power�. But some reforms were made.