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July 9, 2014, 9:18 pm

Reviewing the past, looking to the future

I trust that all of you had a good 2012 and are looking forward to a great 2013. I hope those who follow my column have enjoyed reading them as much as I have gained pleasure from writing them.

Regular readers know I love to reflect on traditions of Black Americans. I had several topics on my agenda for today’s column but decided to peruse those I had written during 2012. My column appears each Sunday and occasionally for special editions of The Tribune. It would be almost impossible to comment on each column due to space limitations. Some were very special ones that brought feelings of happiness; others were rather sad. Some involved subjects some of you may have recently experienced. Then, there were columns that involved things that many young people know nothing about; subjects some of us found hard to believe were ever experienced by our ancestors. While I had no plans on where to begin, I decided to randomly look at several subjects and elaborate on a few. Hopefully, this column will generate some fond memories of my writings from last year and of life, particularly back in the day.

My column on variety stores may have taken you back to your old neighborhood store where you purchased jacks, marbles and yo-yos. Perhaps it brought back memories of your favorite penny candies; Mike and Ike, Smarties, Root Beer Barrels, black licorice sticks; Bazooka Bubble Gum, a Turkish Taffy or a Sugar Daddy. While money was scarce back in the day, you could be a big spender in those small variety stores.

The name Farina, which appeared in one of last year’s columns, likely meant little to you at the time. But, when I added the names Alfalfa, Spanky, Darla, Buckwheat and Stymie, you must have realized I was referring to the show “Our Gang.” Hopefully, what I shared caused you to re-evaluate this series. Perhaps you understood why I thought “Our Gang” was ahead of its time. This was supported by my description of Black and white youngsters treating each other as equals as they played together, ate together, and even attended the same schools. Hopefully you learned, as I did, that what its creator, Hal Roach, did was so out of the mainstream of society, back then, until the integrated school scenes were cut whenever the films were played in the South.

Were younger readers surprised to learn about the decorum of gang behavior that called for a “fair one” in certain circumstances? Well, if you missed that column, you may not know that you could ask for something back then that has disappeared from the lingo of the streets today. When there was an inevitable attack by a group and that dreadful phrase would ring out, “Let’s grease him,” the person being attacked could ask, “Can I get a fair one?” In most cases, street-corner etiquette would cause the group to confer for a minute and one person would volunteer or someone from the group would be volunteered by the leader to engage in a fistfight. This was the famous “fair one.” While that column was entertaining, as indicated by several readers, most pointed out that this behavior is clearly not something that would take place in today’s world.

My column regarding the outhouse without a doubt resulted in a greater appreciation of today’s indoor toilet facilities. I suspect a number of you experienced using this building, slightly larger than a telephone booth, where you sat on a bench “to do your business.” The knowledge that these outhouses existed right in the backyards of homes here in Philadelphia was foreign to many of you. A reader reminded me that I failed to mention flies in my outhouse column; outhouses were notorious for flies and occasionally a snake, back in the day.

Did some of the practices identified in my columns change your behavior in any way? Have any of you reverted to the practice of sending handwritten notes after receiving a gift or being the recipient of a kind deed? Did I convince you that sending thank-you notes is important? Do you agree that the recipient of a thank-you note views this as a thoughtful gesture; the kind that reflects good manners? Even a note of thanks through email is not the same as that handwritten note the mailman delivers. Have you forgotten some other memorable back-in-the-day practices? I am thinking of practices such as using a typewriter; those so -called vacations of the past which were simply trips “down home” or to the South; frequenting the bars and clubs like Mr. Silk’s Third Base and Up Jumped the Devil; and enjoying venues with live entertainment such as Pep’s Lounge, Showboat and The Latin Casino.

Let us not forget those pranks we played on one another. I know that someone reading this column recalls printing a message on a piece of paper, walking up behind someone in the hall at school, placing an arm around this person and taping the sign to the person’s back. These signs ran the gamut; they contained such statements as, “I am stupid, kick me,” “I look awful, slap me,” ”Stay away, I smell” or “I am the dumbest boy in the school.”

Some of you may be aware of the Clark Doll Experiment of 1939 where Black children overwhelmingly chose white dolls over Black ones when they were the same except for their skin color. Did my doll column cause you to reflect back to your childhood and think about the dolls you received for Christmas? Were they truly Black dolls, or white dolls that were simply dipped in Black paint with no true Negroid features? Were you surprised to learn there was a Jackie Robinson doll back in the day? While I recommended several sources to gain additional insight into Black dolls, one reader shared an excellent source for information about Black dolls right here in Philadelphia. Anyone interested in this subject should visit the Doll Museum on North Broad Street, which has an extensive display of Black dolls. A visit to this museum allows the opportunity to actually see the dolls rather than rely on images that appear in magazines or books.

What did you learn from my column on hats? Did you realize there are more than 100 different hat styles? Many had unique names. What about a Barretina, porkpie, Jaapi or Sami hat? Did you know about the beret, derby, Panama, Sherlock Holmes, turban, Gatsby, sombrero and the fedora? I even touched on the hat that none of you will acknowledge you wore in elementary school. Do you recall my asking if there was anyone who would “man up” or “woman up” and acknowledge wearing a dunce cap, back in the day?

According to many readers, my column on Black cemeteries was insightful. If you recall, I listed all of the Black cemeteries I could identify in the Philadelphia area; some that no longer exist. Did this column encourage you to become involved in helping to maintain our Black cemeteries so that we avoid the disrepair in which we find many of them today?

Were you surprised to learn that there was a Black Santa Claus in 1952 in an “Amos ’n’ Andy” episode; a television show that many condemned but one I viewed as being ahead of its time? This appeared in my Christmas column.

The column of the 50-year celebration of my college graduating class was special to me. Hopefully, it resurrected fond memories of your college or high school milestones. As I mentioned the nicknames of many of my classmates, I suspect your mind wandered back to your classmates and the names they acquired as a result of their hometowns, behavior or other characteristics.

Without question, my column on April Fool’s was written with “big fun.” It generated many emails and letters. You must recall how I wrote about the joy I had over the years writing my column and how it would be my last, as I had become tired and had run out of ideas. I have no doubt, from the responses that it was convincing for some and disappointing for others. At the end, I reminded readers to look at the calendar, as they were victims of an April Fool’s joke.

Without question, I enjoy writing this column, which has appeared in this newspaper for more than ten years. Space will not permit me to comment on all of my columns from 2012, but I hope that in the near future, most, if not all, will appear in one document; yes, a book. As I move into a new year, I take this opportunity to thank you for following my weekly column and each special edition column. I also thank you for the warm comments received from many and the ideas some have provided. I look forward to continuing to provide you with warm memories of bygone years as I continue to take trips to that period that I fondly refer to as back in the day.


Alonzo Kittrels can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or The Philadelphia Tribune, Back In The Day, 520 S. 16th St., Philadelphia, PA 19146.