When Jackie Sue and her husband Frank (aka Keung) first visited a Marin real estate office in 1967 hoping to find an affordable home outside San Francisco, Jackie worried they would be turned away.
Jackie, an African-American, and Frank, a Chinese-American, had experienced this before.
She writes in her 2004 memoir Cornbread and Dim Sum-A Memoir of a Heart Glow Romance:
On two previous occasions when we were looking at houses in areas, where the presence of minorities, especially African-Americans, was not visibly evident, we had been ignored by agents who simply said, “The house was sold or they had no other listings available that ‘you people’ would like.” My feelings had been hurt because in both instances, the realtors implied that Keung – by himself – would have been shown the homes. I didn’t realize how much Keung was offended. He had not experienced ethnic prejudice in searching the house where his parents lived. Keung, sensitive to my state of mind, got out of the car and, with his regal bearing manner, walked into the Brockmann real estate office.
Keung came to the door of the office and signaled for me to get out of the car. I walked into the office and before the woman at the desk raised her head to meet me, I watched for a noticeable facial reaction from her to see whether I was welcome or not. She did not flinch, blink her eyes, grimace or even allow her face to redden or drain itself of blood. She put out her exquisitely manicured hand, its fingers laden with diamond rings, and said, “Hello, I’m Betty, have a seat. I understand you would like to buy a house in this area.”
“Yes,” I said, taking a deep breath. I thought this woman had class. “We saw several For Sale signs on houses in town as we were driving past today.”
Carefully flipping through her book, the agent looked at several pages before she replied, “Okay, we do have four houses for sale in that development. Would you like me to set up appointments for you to see them?”
Glancing at me to get agreement, Keung said, “Sure, why not?”
“Oh,” Betty said softly, as she looked up from her book. I thought, “Here it comes. They are unavailable to the likes of us.”
The real estate woman watched my face with a challenge in her light gray eyes. “I see that two of the homes are holding Open House until four today. It’s only 2:30. Would you like to try and see them now?”
Elated, I stood up and answered her with an enthusiastic “Yes.”
Later that day the Sues found the Corte Madera home in which Jackie still lives today after 40 years. But that was only the beginning of Jackie’s Marin adventure. In 1981 she went on to become the first African-American U.S. Postmaster in Marin’s history and the third woman in Marin to hold such a position. She retired from her 30 year postal career after holding the position of National Program Manager of Community Relations in Washington, D.C. Jackie also obtained her Masters from the San Francisco Theological Seminary in San Anselmo and raised two daughters, putting them through the Marin public school system.
In Cornbread she recalls taking her eldest daughter to Granada school for the first time during the early 1970s:
Getting out of my car in the school parking lot, I looked around at the impressive building with its well-groomed playground and thought to myself, “The renowned architect, Frank Lloyd Wright, could have designed this.”
Granada school was a unique ultra modern looking structure. Each classroom for grades one through five was an individual six-sided pod connected by vine-covered trellis pathways to the center courtyard like the spokes in a wheel. Classes were assigned names from the Greek alphabet, Alpha for kindergarten, Beta for first grade and so forth. I held the little hand of my very frightened and shy daughter as we entered the school office.
The school secretary announced our presence to the principal, a tall willowy middle-aged brunette. I could see the immediate shock on her face as she came out of her office and took in the appearance of two chocolate-colored faces staring at her. As she abruptly halted in her approach, I got the feeling she was expecting us to be Chinese, by the way she knitted her eyebrows and said in a questioning tone “Mrs. Sue?” as though there were more than one mother and daughter pair waiting outside her office.
Careful not to let my uneasiness about her mannerisms show, I gently assured her that yes, I was the Mrs. Sue she was expecting and introduced her to a trembling little Khedda. A now overly friendly and nervous principal began to chat with me as she made little overtures to try and draw Khedda out from behind my skirt where she hid.
“Khedda, I think you will enjoy your teacher, Miss Mason,” Mrs. Jensen said as she made a feeble attempt to take Khedda’s little brown hand. Khedda tucked her hand into mine and dropped her wide eyes, ignoring the tall woman as only a child can do.
Realizing that she was off to a bad start with us, the principal turned to her secretary and said, “I’ll be in Miss Mason’s class for awhile.”
As the trio make their way into Miss Mason’s class Jackie writes:
Khedda buried her face deeper into my clothing. I could feel her little body trembling and I knew she was trying not to cry. As I looked in the direction of the second grade teacher walking toward us, I really became worried for my little girl. There were no children in the room who reflected her own color. There could be no self-image identification for Khedda at this school. Instead looking back at her daily would be classmates with blue eyes and fair hair. I scanned the room quickly in search of a child that could even remotely connect with Khedda. A little girl or boy with dark brown hair would have been all right, but there were none. Khedda’s thin frame hanging on to my skirt for dear life swung around with my body as I turned to the principal to say “Maybe this isn’t the right school…”
Before I could complete my sentence, I felt an urgent tug from Khedda’s sweet little hand. Looking down at my side, I saw that perky Miss Mason had dropped to a squatting position beside Khedda.
“What’s your name? I am your new teacher. My name is Miss Mason. Would you like to check out what the other children are doing?” Miss Mason Held out her hands to Khedda, who warily peeped out from her hiding place.
“Her name is Khedda and this is her mother, Mrs. Sue,” the principal introduced us with a sigh of relief in her voice.
“Hello, Khedda, I am so glad to meet you.” Miss Mason directed all of her attention to the hesitant child. I loved the young teacher for her attempt to make Khedda feel comfortable in a foreign environment. But in my heart, I knew it would take more than a friendly teacher to make her feel secure for Khedda stood out amid the rest of the children like a fly in a glass of buttermilk.”
All proceeds from the sale of Cornbread and Dim Sum go towards defeating Leiomyosarcoma (LMS), a rare form of cancer, which affects about 4 people in every million (including her daughter Candace Sue). Jackie’s newest book Morning Glories in a Dead Tree has just been published and she also hosts an Internet radio show called “The Jackie Sue Show: From The Banks of the Mainstream”. Click HERE to listen to her episode featuring MarinNostalgia.org.