The Legs Are the Last to Go

The Legs Are the Last to Go by Diahann Carroll Read Free Book Online

Book: The Legs Are the Last to Go by Diahann Carroll Read Free Book Online
Authors: Diahann Carroll
by racists in his hometown, learning that he cannot find relief in justice by telling anyone the truth about something so awful, keeps his anger locked inside, and adapts to a world in which to get along, you make yourself as agreeable as possible. At any rate, he was always a charmer, and the ladies always responded.
    Well, how do you resist a man in houndstooth pants, a crisp white shirt, and spit-shined wingtip shoes? Even at ninety-six, he was a dignified flirt.
    He wasn’t looking to settle down when he met my mother but “she was nice, real nice,” he liked to say about her with the same sly smile that often appeared when he remembered her. He was just getting used to being on his own, breathing easy, for once in his life, out from under the punitive hand of his father. He and my mother married in 1933, in a small ceremony at Harlem’s Abyssinian Baptist Church. The highly influential Reverend Adam Clayton Powell Sr., whose son became the powerful congressman years later, officiated. The newlywed Mr. and Mrs. Johnson were drawn to Harlem, in the heyday of its renaissance. It lured so many young blacks eager to join its rich and vibrant culture. “Back then, it was the only place to be,” my father told me.
    John found a small apartment for himself and his new bride on West 151st Street, not too far from the storied 409 Edgecombe Avenue, where W. E. B. DuBois and Thurgood Marshall were among the famous tenants. Because my father’s salary, as a printer and caddie, was not enough for two, mymother had to find work doing housework. My father couldn’t stand the idea of his wife having to work. It was a symbol of his inability to support his family. To him, a man wasn’t a man unless he could do that. By his careful calculations, he needed to look for another job.
    A year and a half into the marriage, in 1935, I came along. Ta-da. Carol Diann Johnson, a surprise baby. With my arrival, John’s search for a better job became urgent. In their brief time together, John had seen Mabel’s independence and fiery spirit. When her labor started after an argument, Mabel, in a fit of anger and spite, drove herself to a Bronx hospital to have me. Eventually, John got the call at work, and he had to race uptown to find his wife and greet me properly. My parents really were children in so many ways. Not that I’m one to talk, given my naive ways around men my whole life. But my parents’ immaturity eventually did make marriage difficult, especially in later years. Yet they were such a wonderful team, too, from early on.
    They were strivers, up-and-comers. My father had set his sights on a better job than working at a printing shop, and wanted to work for the city’s subway system, one of the few places a black man could find decent pay, security, and benefits. My mother helped him study for the transit test he had to take. I remember when I was about five, watching them at our kitchen table, the boisterous life of the Harlem streets right outside our window, as they pored over papers with the quiet diligence of scholars. Dad passed the test, and landed a job with benefits, his first, making change in token booths. It was 1940. At the time, a ride cost five cents.
    So now my parents, the Johnsons, were moving up in the world. They had a strong desire to live and socialize among the African-American upper crust, who for the most part had parlayed their lighter skin and straighter hair into better opportunities. But unfortunately, in the rarefied world of exclusive black social clubs like The Jack and Jill and The Links, where looks could influence social standing, John and Mabel Johnson were missing the key attribute that would have unlocked all the doors for them. Yes, my mother was light-skinned, and my father could have made it through the “paper-bag test,” meaning you could be no darker in skin color than a paper bag, but they did not have that all-essential college

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