As a counterpoint to this past, very divisive, year, I believe Anathoth serves as a witness of an alternative way of relating to one another. Over the next five days, I will be raising funds to support Anathoth’s mission to cultivate peace. Each day, I’ll be sharing one of the interviews we conducted over the past year with people whose lives are being changed by our work.
Please visit my fundraising page today to make a contribution. I hope to raise up to $500 in these 5 days, and hope you might include Anathoth in your year-end giving.
Thank you so much,
Here’s today’s first interview.
Cumilla White was born and raised in Cedar Grove. Many of you have read about her great-grandson, Raekwon Webb, who was an Open Hands intern. He was killed in an accident last November. Members of the Anathoth community honored and remembered his life at a garden memorial service in May.
Cumilla has been a pillar of strength, not only to Raekwon, but also to her family and whole community. This interview is just a glimpse into her full and rich life, from her birth in 1937.
What do you remember about growing up in Cedar Grove?
I remember we were raised on a farm. Tobacco farm. We grew the tobacco. We grew everything. We had everything that we had to live by. We didn’t have to go to the grocery store. We had cows, hogs, a garden — Lord, my God, what a garden.
We didn’t have any running water. We had to walk from here to the next house down the hill to a spring for our water, and that was for the washing, cooking, everything.
Those were the good years. Because we had everything we needed. We didn’t have to go hunting for anything…we had chickens, eggs. We had everything.
I went to school (at Sartin School, which was off highway 86), and later on moved on down towards Hillsborough. Going down 86, after Coleman Loop, three or four houses down, if you look out in the woods, you can still see (the school).
What was a typical day like for you, growing up?
A normal day was for us to get up at 4 or 5 in the morning, to start our chores. Some had chickens, some had hogs, everyone had something different to do. There were altogether 11 of us. Seven of us girls. Once we reached 9-10 years old, we had to take over the kitchen and help cook. You had to decide what you were going to cook. You had to get the garden up and (the produce) in at night, so you knew what you were going to cook.
I had to quit (school) before I finished the 10th grade, because my mother had to go to the hospital for surgery. At that time, they didn’t sew her up, and they didn’t have sutures — so she had a big wound. She said my hands were the best at soothing her…rubbing the side of her wounds up and down, so it would close up. I quit school to see after my mother, after the surgery. But I later got my GED.
Cumilla went on to give birth to seven children (and now has 10 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren). She’s worked a number of jobs: from domestic work as an 18-year-old for just $18/40-week, to working with children with special needs. Cumilla served with Emergency Medical Services for 17 years: three years as a volunteer, followed by 14 years on staff as an Emergency Medical Technician, until she retired.
What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in Cedar Grove over the years?
By sending all the kids to Hillsborough to (integrated) schools. It took a while for them to get there, and it took a while for them to get home on the bus. That was nerve-wracking (not knowing what would happen to them on the bus).
And all the young people going away. I think that farming going away is the main thing that took most of the young people out.
At one point, your neighbors’ kids were just like your own…but now, no.
What changes do you dream of seeing happen in Cedar Grove?
I’ve seen it. The big brick building (that was the blacks-only Cedar Grove School, by the current Cedar Grove Park) — they’ve remodeled it (to be a community center). There’s going to be exercise equipment, people using the computers. It’s going to be so much. June 18 is going to be the grand opening. That has been the greatest thing that’s happened in Cedar Grove…
Because when they were trying to make a change (with integration), the whites said they would never send their kids to that school. And now the whites are pouring in. It’s good that we get together.
How could a place like Anathoth be part of the changes you’d like to see?
I wish that more people would get involved with Anathoth and learn about the vegetables. I’m about to have a salad (from Anathoth) for lunch. If more people could come together, you don’t have any idea what could happen there…And the food — people could learn more about the food that’s grown there, learning more about nutrition, because so many of us have diabetes.
I think there could be more togetherness (in the community).