Sam and Larry 1954
Sam and Larry, circa 1954

When Larry and Dad’s paths first crossed at the Boys Club after-school program, my brother really needed a friend. He had bright red hair, super pale skin, freckles, and ears that stuck out to boot: think Opie from Mayberry RFD.  Betty had a teaching job in The Iron Triangle, which was the poorest Black neighborhood in Richmond, California. She was also continuing her education in the evenings, hence Larry was dropped off into the care of others.

Dad was back from the war in Korea and his stint as an M.P. He was taking a few college classes here and there, hanging out with a card-playing crowd, and generally just floating through life. However he was fairly tall and athletic, so picking up some hours at the Boys Club was easy money.

Betty and Sam, circa 1953: in Mexico on their honeymoon
Betty and Sam, circa 1953: in Mexico on their honeymoon

Larry was awed by the tall playful man, who took time to shoot baskets with him, and provide a male role-model. He quickly decided that that man was going to be his new father, and so instigated a reversed genderedCourtship of Eddie’s Father plan of action.  Betty jumped right in because dating a Black man enhanced her growing self- image as a civil rights trail-blazer, and the gregarious young Sam Lacy Jr. seemed perfect for molding. In fact, Dad probably didn’t know what hit him when Betty Jean Van Gordor entered his life, but since she seemed to over-look some of the signs in him that made other women avoid him as a mate, he accepted her patronage.

Larry’s biological father was a married man (telling Betty he was divorced at the time), who enjoyed a war-time a fling with her, eventually making his way back to his own wife and leaving her to fend for herself. And fend she did. Betty unlike her new husband-to-be, was extremely goal-driven. She got her master’s degree in social welfare and education, and had her eye set on a doctorate. Though it was somewhat scandalous when she and Dad lived together for a time, her employers, her family back in her small town in Upstate New York, and even some of her friends all dropped their collective jaws when the couple returned from a vacation to Mexico, married.

This was just after the Bus Boycott in Montgomery Alabama and the Civil Rights conflicts were really heating up. The U.S. Supreme Court wouldn’t make it legal for Blacks and Whites to marry across the nation until five years after I was born (I noticed recently that unlike my children’s birth certificates, mine has boxes for the race of the parents, mother: White, Father: Negro). Mom’s school district even balked on giving her tenure because she was setting a bad moral example for children.

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Break the cycle