“I grew up in Orange Mound in the 1950s, and I lived right across the street from a park, which had a great swimming pool, a great recreation program and that’s where we went to have fun because every day all I had to do was walk across the street. I could either swim, I could play softball, I could play volleyball, I could do any of these things every day of the week except Saturday and Sunday.”
No, this was not my experience. I found this story narrative online as part of the Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibition Service’s Museum on Main Street program designed to provide “access to the Smithsonian for small-town America.“
Orange Mound, six miles from Memphis city center, is purported to be one of the first subdivisions built specifically for Black people. Created in 1890, it is said to be second only to Harlem in having the largest concentration of Black people in the United States.
My own experience must have been in the very early 1950s, and I’m sure that there was only one park in Orange Mound. That park was across the street from the cabstand where my Daddy had a taxi. On the days that I was with him, when I wasn’t in the little shack that housed the telephone and operator to receive calls requesting a taxi, I would be at the park across the street. Having never seen another park, I didn’t know that our park with its two sets of swings side by side, one glistening sliding board, a big pool, and a little pool was pitiful compared to the parks just a few miles away.
I recall the creaking noise the swings made that created a rhythm that matched the velocity of my swinging. I remember that when I reached my legs back under the swing and pushed myself off, I couldn’t go very high. But if someone was giving me a push, I could eventually swing so high that the chains that I held onto on both sides of the swing would buckle.
This was both a thrill and a fright for me. I would scream “higher, higher, higher!” When my sight line was just about to skim the top of the cross bar, I would get scared and want to slow down. I would stretch my legs straight out in front and lean back pulling the chains to slow down. Always careful not to let my shoes drag in the dusty grooves at the foot of the swing,
I would disembark smiling, laughing, happy. Skipping to the side of Carnes Avenue, I would look both ways before crossing the street and return to the little shack where I would wait for my Daddy to return from a trip.