This is a first person account. Mrs. Smith’s full name was withheld for privacy. The transcript was edited for clarity.
Growing up in Detroit during the 1960s
I attended Beaubian High School on the northwest side near Wyoming in the mid 1960s. I was 12 and my baby sister came home and asked, ‘what a vagina is.’ This is the era. That’s where we were in terms of sexual education, I didn’t know the proper name.
I was in the bathroom (at school) when I was about 14 years old. I had no idea what the two girls in the stall next to me were talking about. I heard them whispering, one girl told the other girl to use a hanger. I asked my mom what it meant. I was a naive kid. My mom asked if I knew who they were, she suggested I tell the principal but I never knew who they were. The next day the ambulance came to school. I never knew the girl. I am putting two and two together but something was done.
I am so torn on the issue. It is difficult when you think about things and how they used to be.
I do know this, the issue of abortion has been and will always be something Black women did because of economics.
A neighbor was telling me, when he was coming up in Detroit he didn’t graduate from high school. In those days, if you had a large family, people wouldn’t rent to you. They moved every 2-3 months and changed schools all the time. They stayed until the landlord learned how many people were in the flat, and once the landlord knew, the family had to move. That’s why he didn’t finish high school.
In those days it was all about getting married, that was the thing. As far as going to college, that wasn’t in my family’s purview. You had to eat, you had to find a job, it was minimum wage unless you worked at the factory. Any of the good paying jobs? Other people had that, it was just the beginning of things starting to open up for Black folks in the mid 60s or 70s.
A matter of survival
For Black women, we’ve never been put on a pedestal, so Black women have always worked. My mother had five children and a husband but the majority of everything was on the Black woman. And we were fortunate. My father worked for Chrysler for more than 50 years but raising five children and trying to maintain a home is hard. My mom was working, but all of it was on her. Everything is always on Black women.
My mother, my grandmother had (an abortion). This is what we did. This is what Black women did to survive. They counted how much money they had for the week, the month, and made decisions. There was no help.
How to sustain life
I am torn with the issue of abortion but my conscious is clear. I cannot walk in another woman’s shoes. Women are in abusive relationships or are just too young. Black women have their children and they call you a “welfare queen,” or won’t rent to you because you have too many kids.
In my family, abortion was an economic issue, but there are many reasons, there is incest, rape, there are many many factors. It is like the prohibition of liquor or the war on drugs. You are just going to send desperate women to back alleys and unsanitary conditions. You will have a black market abortion and that’s a fact.
When you have the baby, what do you do about clothing, shelter, work, health care? Abortion is a political bat used to beat people with. As far as I can see, they care less about Black babies.