Sam Huff's Interview on Marlene Patronite
In the time of the civil rights movements, protests, and violence, there were other people who had a tremendous view and perspective on everything that was happening. Much like today’s votes for president, there were people who were undecided on which side they fall onto. There were people across the country who would see what was happening on TV and get angry that the African Americans were in the streets protesting. They would be angry with the desegregation of school systems and Martin Luther King’s leadership. These people were called extreme racists, and unfortunately they were spread throughout the country. And of course, there were the people who saw the violence brought upon the African American people during peaceful protests and felt great sympathy. They would hear about issues like the march from Selma to Montgomery, violence at the lunch counters police spraying people with firehoses, attack dogs being released on people, and issues like Emmett Till. These people were also spread out throughout the country but mostly in the north. My grandmother was one of these people.
I am interviewing my grandmother Marlene Patronite. For most of her life, she lived in a small town called Rocky River, just about 20 minutes away from downtown Cleveland. She was married a Air Force Pilot and was a mother to three children. I wouldn't say my grandmother was right in the action of the civil rights movement, but she definitely had an opinion on what was happening and the information she was presented with. She was employed at Magnificat High School which is an all girls school in Rocky River and served as the librarian.
What was the first major event that had happened that drew your attention to the Civil Rights movement?
“My first major event that caught my attention was the Black Panthers. Living in Cleveland Ohio in a mixed neighborhood, I did not realize there was a problem between black and whites. There wasn't a big problem in my neighborhood in the north. It surprised me because I didn't know that the color of someone's skin was such a big issue in different parts of the country.”
Did you realize it was such a big problem and cause prior to the protests?
“No, I honestly didn’t. I was raised in Rocky River, and when I went to play with other kids at the playground and park, some of the kids were African American. It didn’t bother me at all the the
kids were black, and most of my closest friends were African American. So, being raised this way, I didn’t not understand why people could cause so much pain over something like this.”
What was your initial thought about what was happening to the African Americans in the south?
“I was very sad and confused. I was very sad because all the African Americans I knew were nice people and I thought that they had all the privileges that I had.”
What did you feel when you saw the violence happening at the lunch counter sit ins?
“I thought how unfair, because where I lived, there was no problem like that. When we went downtown and out to eat, there was never any problem with African American people sitting at the same counter as you.”
What did you feel when you heard/saw the “bloody sunday” march from Selma to Montgomery to protest voting rights?
“I thought how brave all these people were to march for their right, and how deeply moved they were to seek their rights, which they deserved. I thought how brave all of them were because they were getting beat up and hit on the heads with mallets and thrown in jail. It was very sad.”
Did you feel that African Americans should be able to vote?
“Yes of course. Everyone needs the right to vote for their country they live in and participate in.”
What did you want to do/ do, to help the African American’s cause.
“I had my children participate in a youth chorus group called the singing angels. The chorus was formed of mixed races that performed in the cleveland suburbs. They rehearsed every saturday, and eventually got invited to the White House. Karen (my aunt) actually a T-shirt signed by President Nixon, and he also gave her a pen.”
Did you support the Black Panther Party?
“No, I did not support violence and disruption in anyone’s life. I feel it in my heart when someone hurts I just have such empathy for them. I like calm and peace.”
What did you think of Malcolm X as compared to MLK?
“I thought Malcolm X was a rebel and a hateful troublemaker. I thought Martin Luther King was a peaceful minister of God, and African American rights. He stuck up for them. He was peaceful about it. I did not like Malcolm X’s theory.”
If you could change one thing about living during the Civil Right time, what would it be?
“I would have loved to have been able to research like you can with your Iphone and computers, I would have loved to have had more information so that I could have more thoughtful thoughts and discussions about it.”
Do you think times have changed since the Civil Rights Movements or are in some ways, still the same?
“Well, they changed more dramatically in the south but we all need more understanding and respect for all citizens. But, it has come a long way. We still need more so that we don’t have to have these discussions about hatefulness about their religion and everything. We all want the same thing. Everybody should just live.”
We all know that Martin Luther King strived towards and preached non violence. Really the point of having a non violent movement and protest like he did, was to reach people like my grandmother in the exact way it did. This was in fact exactly what MLK had in mind when he would plan these marches and protests. He knew people like my grandmother would be watching, and hopefully, the violence and unfairness towards the African American community, would reach people’s hearts and gain support for their cause. As we can see it did have a tremendous effect on people who weren’t directly in the action. This interview shows the perspective of a white women living in the North while hearing all about the what was happening in the deep south.