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Over Troubled Water

Strengthening the relationships between all African ancestored descendants

Friday, July 1, 2011

By Robin

Robert Foster (1938-1988)

My memory of what I consider to be our first house is very special to me.  My dad was a mathematical statistician who worked for US Civil Services until 1971.  He was due to be promoted, and I even have the recommendations stating he was well qualified.  This position was given to a less qualified white person.  My father was a GS 12 at the time.  Parents did not talk much back then to young children as they do now.

My dad's life was a miracle.  Well before he was born, I remember my uncle telling me that his grandparents were run off their land.  They had a farm, horses, and a distillery. One day they noticed a sign fastened to a tree that read, "N- - - - -, read and run."  They knew that meant that if they stayed, some of them would hang from that tree!  They left never to return.  They migrated from Mississippi to Arkansas to Tennessee. My father eventually moved to Illinois.

The first house we lived in was the first one that my parents purchased. One day as I looked out the living room window of this house, I saw my father building another house. I had heard no mention of this, but it fascinated me as I watched from next door as he progressed from the foundation to the roofing. I cannot remember how long it took, but it did not seem long. It was a ranch style brick home. He, with great pride, took our family on a tour when it was finished.

I was most fascinated by the dining room which was separated by a varnished, knotty pine wall with a window providing a view to the kitchen. My father helped a lot of family members move to the North. I was oblivious to the struggles of African Americans during the 60's and 70's. The house we lived in was much bigger with two stories and a full basement, but I looked proudly at my dad on our tour and asked, "Can we move here?" He responded without hesitation, "Yes."

I was so happy to live in a place my father had built on the corner of Cutter and Woodruff in Joliet, Illinois. I was very young, but I helped to keep that house clean to show my appreciation. I climbed upon a chair to reach the kitchen sink. I started washing dishes and cooking meals without being asked.

One day as my dad was in the living room watching me while I was literally on my hands and knees hand washing the hardwood floor without being asked. He looked down at me and said, "Do not ever do that for someone else, okay?" I did not know why he made that request then, but I promised I would not.

It is funny how the things we see our parents and grandparents do stick with us. My dad built four more houses and each time I asked, "Can we move here?" My dad always said, yes. I think he appreciated how proud I was each time. We only lived in two of the other houses he built. He turned to rennovating older homes.

My dad would give odd jobs to the young boys and older men in the neighborhood who struggled. Some did not have food to eat. He even became a surrogate father to some boys, visiting their schools and buying graduation attire. He always insisted they take all the math courses they could in high school. I was always jealous because I felt I shared my dad with so many strangers, but some of them today have their own businesses performing services using the skills which he taught them.

Photograph taken on the day of the funeral of James Foster (1897-1962) on March 2, 1962 in Sacramento, California.
Front Row: Robert Foster (Buddy), Hattie Foster Wright, Willie Ann Phillips Green, Living, and Wilie Foster.
Back row: Roy Foster (RB), Bobby Foster, Larry Foster, O. D. Foster, and James Foster (Ted)

I miss my dad, but I discovered where he acquired his skills and talents when I came across his father's, James Foster, carpenter's union dues register. His father was born in Mississippi to John Henry Foster and Mayliza Patterson Foster. He was a traveling carpenter. It is a struggle, but I want to be able to tell the stories of my Mississippi ancestors. How grateful I am to have been blessed by skills that were passed down by my grandfather and who knows all else for whom I am indebted to for the legacy of resilience.

Dad drew his own blueprints, built the houses from the ground up, and did all electrical and plumbing himself.  He applied for his own permits, and wrote the contracts on the homes he sold.  I saw checks come to him for $6000.00 a month for all the rent he collected. He did much better than getting that promotion he was denied.  He picked us up from school everyday, and often already had dinner started.  We never wanted for anything, and we attended private schools.  I am sure carpentry somehow connected my dad to his father who traveled in search of work all his life. He kept this dues book throughout his life:

Local Union 586, Sacramento, California, Carpenter's Union dues book, 1943

Do you have a story to share about a strong ancestor that overcame adversity?  Please let us know.


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With the blessings of technology, all African ancestored descendants can develop an online haven where healing can take place. Let's recite and relish in our history. Let's come together to identify the principles that help us to enjoy freedom and happiness. Hopefully, "Over Troubled Water" will be the beginning of that for you. We welcome contributors who will share their history and perspectives that we may all learn and benefit.
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"I believe that all men, black and brown and white, are brothers, varying in time and opportunity, in form and gift and feature, but differing in no essential particular, and alike in soul and the possibility of infinite development." --W.E.B. Dubois
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Over Troubled Water by Robin R. Foster is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
Based on a work at overtroubledwater.blogspot.com.
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The village is coming together! We are from many diverse groups from around the world. We invite you to use Over Trouble Water as an avenue that will spark much needed dialog. This dialog can lead to great enlightenment and healing. Every effort will be made to supplement using historical resources for further study, however, opinions or views expressed in articles reflect the contributor's life experiences and are the responsibility of the respective contributor. Comments should be addressed to the respective contributor.

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