Breaking Brown

June 3, 2015

Everyday Dozens of Elderly Black Birmingham Women Catch the Bus to Work for Rich Whites

Everyday Dozens of Elderly Black Birmingham Women Catch the Bus to Work for Rich Whites

The Help. The Butler. These were all movies about servant-class blacks who earned a living working for whites. Although some would like to believe that those movies hearken to an earlier period, one visit to Birmingham, Alabama would shake loose that view.

According to an Al Jazeera report, everyday in the city, a public bus transports dozens of black women from mostly black neighborhoods to the homes of whites living in wealthy neighborhoods.

Irine McCord, 74, has been taking the No. 50 Cherokee Bend bus since she was a girl growing up in the segregated South.

“There might not be a seat back there, but you go back past that board. Just do it. You know, you don’t cause no problem. If you had to stand, you wouldn’t necessarily like it, but you just do it. Cause you wanna go on, you didn’t want to be delayed.”

After dropping out of school because she did not think she could pass, McCord began working as a maid and has been employed in that profession ever since.

McCord, who says the buses ran on time before the whites left Birmingham, is not the only woman who rides the bus route on her way to work as a maid:

Every morning, a dozen women watch carefully for the 50 Cherokee Bend, a city bus that will take them from downtown Birmingham, which is 70 percent black, to their jobs cleaning houses in the suburb of Mountain Brook, which is almost entirely white.


The bus makes only one trip a day. Once in the morning and once in the afternoon, Elnora Shearer, 70, explains. “It shows you what they’re doing for Mountain Brook. The bus go in the morning, and they come back and pick you up in the evening. ‘Go to work over here and then get out of here.’


Many of the women who ride the 50 Cherokee Bend arrive at the central bus station hours before the bus’s 8:05 a.m. scheduled departure, because if they miss the morning bus, there won’t be another.

The 10 minute ride to mostly white Mountain Brooke takes an hour on the bus. And that’s if the bus even comes at all. Sometimes it just doesn’t show up, leaving the women at bus stops.

Although many believe that there’s been much in the way of progress since the 1960’s, some of the housekeepers who catch the bus, like Elnora Shearer, disagree:

“Nobody that is making a certain amount of money is going to ride the bus,” explains Shearer. ….: OK, you wanted to ride at the front of the bus. We gave it to you.’ So, maybe this is their way of saying, ‘You’re riding at the front of the bus, but it might show up and it might not.’

 The women survive on very little money and so they “look out for each other”, says 82 year old Rose Fox. They have no other choice since nobody else is looking out for them.


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30 thoughts on “Everyday Dozens of Elderly Black Birmingham Women Catch the Bus to Work for Rich Whites

  1. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Forgive me if i dont shed a tear for the by and large useless failure of a generation that is the BLACK CIVIL RIGHTS generation!

  2. Johnw11 says:

    HANNIBAL the VICTOR  What’s your point? Are you insane?

  3. Watchful says:


    I didn’t wanna reply to him, John, but I’m glad u did. Those women deserve a tremendous amount of respect for what they endured in order to earn a meager living and provide for their families.  We should never denigrate them no matter how we might feel about how our ppl dealt with the conditions they faced during that era.

  4. Watchful says:

    My maternal grandmother worked as a maid for a wealthy physician here in DC where I was born and who, according to my mom, supposedly treated her with respect which is probably a lot more than many other black maids and servants that worked for wealthy or well-off whites, particularly in the south, could say. I wonder now if he really did treat her as well as my mom led me to believe. I wish I could sit down with her now and see if she might either confirm what my mom told me or have a different account of how she was treated by her employer.  Unfortunately, she passed away years ago.

  5. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Johnw11 I have respect for the VERY FEW  blacks in that generation who stood up and fought white supremacy. Most blacks back then were the “go along to get along ” types and thats what these women sound like. No one forced these women to work as maids for white folks their ENTIRE LIVES!  Irene McCord dropped out of High School because she “didnt think she could pass”. Give me a break. That generation has not left anything of any TANGIBLE value to the next generation. They left the Generation X blacks to fend for themselves. Dr Claude Anderson speaks on this in a documentary called  7.A.M. I know responsibility is a four letter word in the black community but tolerance for excuses will be the DEATH of us.

  6. Watchful says:


    U r so wrong in ur comments on this topic, but I’m gonna chalk it up to youth and a lack of clear understanding. U really don’t know exactly what those women’s circumstances were nor the conditions they were forced to live under at that time. It’s easy to criticize them when u’re living in a time that is much different than it was back then. Maybe u need to sit down with a few of those women and let them explain to u how it really was B4 makin’ ill-informed assumptions and blanket condemnations. Alot of us wouldn’t even be around to continue the struggle for the liberation of our ppl had it not been for the tremendous sacrifices that those women had to make. I agree with John when he stated how much disrespect u’ve shown for these queen mothers. I’ll bet ur own grandmother or great-grandmother might have a much different opinion than urs on this topic. U obviously have a few things yet to learn about respecting ur elders. 

    BTW, it doesn’t seem like ur generation is exactly leading us to the promised land right now either. When u can show me where UR generation has achieved such TANGIBLE results in ending our ppl’s oppression more so than the generation that u so strongly belittle then I might feel that ur comments r justified. Until then it’s just another worthless rant IMO.

  7. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Watchful, This generation is failing as well. Thats no surprise since they learned from the best. These women in the article are well past retirement age and i am sure they can collect or are collecting social security checks. They must sure love working for those “good white folk ” down there in Birmingham seeing as they can now explore different options with guaranteed money coming in from Uncle Sam.

  8. Watchful says:


    So what !   Could u please explain to me how them choosing to continue to work in the jobs they’ve held all these years is directly impacting UR life? I’m at a loss as to y these elders seem to bother u soooooo much. The overwhelming majority of blk ppl have and r currently working for white ppl in some capacity, should they also be shamefully condemned? Or is it the type of jobs these women have that upsets u so much? If so, do u also feel the same way towards the blk man who picks up ur garbage every week or r u grateful that he’s keepin’ u from living in an environment of filth and squalor? Remember he’s most likely employed by whites, too. U shouldn’t look down ur nose at ppl just because of the type of work they do … u never know … u might someday have to take on a similar job just to survive.  Oh … I get it now … u’d rather die first, right?  Well, that’s alot easier said than done until ur actually faced with such a proposition.

  9. Watchful says:


    BTW, that’s a cheap cop-out to blame the failings of ur generation on the failings of previous generations. Shouldn’t ur generation have learned from their mistakes by now or could it be that ur generation is just as clueless as u seem to believe those previous ones were.

  10. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Watchful , Everyone is not cut out to be an entrepreneur but as Dr Boyce Watkins says , there is nothing stopping black folks from saving and investing money to the point where you have a certain level of independence from the dominant society. Real Estate , stocks , bonds,  401k, IRA, Roth IRA, pooling money together with others to start a business and have someone else run the business. He calls it F**k You money because it allows you to say F U to any job. Black people will walk around wearing thousands of dollars in shoes , handbags, hair weaves, belts ,designer shirts and such and then turn around and say they dont have any money to start a business. You dont have to be an entreprenuer to own a business. You can be an investor.

  11. Watchful says:


    I don’t disagree with any of that, but what does that have to do with the comments u directed at those queen mother elders? R u mad with them bcuz they r still working at the same jobs as domestics and maids for white ppl instead of starting and/or investing in their own business? Even if that’s how u feel it doesn’t warrant the type of attack u directed at them and their ‘generation’. Those were much different times back then when they first got those jobs and those women may be stuck in the mindset of those times as many ppl r apt to do. That’s still no reason to belittle and denigrate ur elders as I feel u did with ur initial comments. All I’m sayin’ is, I understand ur frustration with the lack of progress that some of urs and my elders exhibit, but u should still show them respect. As I stated B4, and as u agreed with me, some of ur generation r failing just as much, and in some ways even more, than those ladies’ generation by the negative behavior they practice on an almost daily basis like selling drugs and killing each other instead of starting their own legitimate businesses to help uplift their on neighborhoods. So if u’re gonna be so quick to condemn those ladies and their generation then be just as quick to condemn today’s generation as well. As u said earlier, tolerance for excuses will be the death of us all.

  12. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Watchful One thing this generation has over the Civil Rights generation is they are not scared as hell of white folks. This generation has potential. When wisdom catches up to their courage they might be the best generation we have had in this country.

  13. Watchful says:


    Well, I agree that they don’t ‘appear’ to be scared of white folks and they very well might end up being the best generation we’ve had … the operative word there being ‘might’. When I see them turning their guns on white ppl at the same rate that they seem to be turning them on each other, then, and only then, will I believe that ur premise has come to fruition.

  14. Johnw11 says:

    Watchful I don’t think the problem with this poster lies in youthfulness. Since there are plenty youths with their heads right, the problem with this guy (I’m assuming it’s a guy based on the post name “Hannibal”) seems to lie elsewhere — in the head. In other words, the problem doesn’t appear chronologic age (CA) but mental age (MA) related.
    Even a young child, if normal, would know better than disrespect one’s elders and ancestors. That’s a fundamental taboo of African and African American culture.
    What I’ve noted from most (if not all) of his posts is an extreme dislike of Black people, while at the same time — in a saliently contradictory way– claiming to support what he claims is the best interest of Blacks.
    I’ve responded to him but once other than above. When he posted that everyone on this site wasn’t doing anything but talking. I asked how did he know that, and that while he was claiming “Hannibal’s victories” with his post name, where were his own “victories”?
    He posted back that he was “putting my money where my mouth is.” While clearly such a reply said nothing of substance, simply an old cliché, I thought at once about the very type of women he tried to malign in this discussion. The old southern bred Black women in my social environment taught us as children to never put money where our mouths are, that is in our mouths, because “money got germs on it.” (LOL)
    In fact, in addition to scrubbing floors to put many Blacks through school, a privilege they never had themselves, women like these were my first sociology teachers when it comes to dispelling the right-wing racists’ rants about the “immorality” of Blacks.
    I can still remember as a child overhearing them talk among themselves: “Honey, chile, them the most immoral folks the Good Lord done made. I didn’t know who wuz the daughter and who wuz the wife. who wuz the son and who wuz the husband. The way they wuz carrying on in that house. It’s like that in almost every house I done worked.”
    “Honey, hush ain’t seen nothing I ain’t seen. I was so glad when my son Robert finished law school and come got me from down there I don’t know what to do. I thought my Bible was gon’ catch afire fooling wit’ them folks.”
    This guy probably wants to be helpful, but, regardless of age (and I don’t know how old he is, he could be as old as these women for all I know) has not done the necessary studying and critical thinking to be ideologically helpful. He thinks that “business” will solve all of Blacks’ problems such as lynching and chides Blacks for not starting businesses.
    The facts are, when Blacks owned the greatest number of substantive  businesses — lynching of Blacks was at its highest. And right now, Blacks lead the U.S. in business start-ups and have done so for over a decade. The problem is not that Blacks don’t start businesses, the problem is that over 92% of them are single person operated (unable to hire a single helper) and about the same amount fail within two years or so. The problem is also that Blacks are over 80% UNDER-REPRESENTED in the U.S. economy when measured against Blacks’ % of the population. Even the Black 1% is at the extreme bottom of the overall 1%. “The Decadent Veil: Black America’s Wealth Illusion,” Antonio Moore.
    There’s an abundance of literature (some technical, some easily readable) explaining the economic plight of Blacks which cannot be solved independently of robust socio-economic policies. Indeed, every great leader of Blacks historically, ideological grounding not withstanding, understood and advocated for economic justice at the public policy level.
    In closing, the denigration of the “Civil Rights” generation by some Blacks of all ages is misinformed. While clearly all historical periods should serve as models of analysis for mistakes made, to simple-mindedly believe Blacks of that generation were “cowards,” etc., while every right we now have was won by that generation,  is to exhibit ignorance almost beyond description.
    I ask him again, as I did regarding “Hannibal” of 247–183 B.C.; the 1960s “Civil Rights Movement” was that generation’s victory — where’s his?

  15. Watchful says:


    I agree, John … I guessing brutha Hannibal may be frustrated with what he perceives as a lack of progress that those ladies’ generation should have achieved and that somehow, for them to still be working in those jobs warrants the type of disrespectful condemnation he directed at them. In my responses to him, I told him that his generation hadn’t exactly led us to liberation either. And it’s funny u mentioned the word ‘cowards’ bcuz I recently came across the following video that deals with that very issue. The only difference is it’s directed at what I assume is Hannibal’s generation. I hope he checks it out since it’s a young brutha that’s delivering the message and I’m in complete agreement with him.

  16. queenofmeanest says:

    My mother, maternal grandmother and great-grandmothers were maids as well.  My mother created her own bookkeeping business and worked out of her home.  The white family she worked for sent her many clients and then asked my mother to come to the home and do the books there.  My mother the maid had her own maid at work.  The family hired a maid to take care of the house in the event that my mother may have had a customer.

    The family owned  a department store.  If they needed a model, they would call her, since she could pass for white.
    Another white family that my mother worked for wasn’t so nice to her.  After the kids left for school and the parents left for work, my mother would use their toothbrushes to clean their toilets and use the toothbrushes to clean the dishes and the refrigerator and put them back when she was through.

    My grandmother worked as a maid and saved her money to go to nursing school.  She told her employer to go to hell and walked away and never looked back.

  17. queenofmeanest says:

    HANNIBAL the VICTOR Watchful 
    Your post is way off.  I have known many black maids that saved and invested their money wisely. Some purchased real estate, some created their own investment clubs.  I knew one woman who kept trash bags of money in her house and used a bill counter to count and bind her money.  

    I suggest that you talk with the elders of the day before you lose another form of history.

  18. Watchful says:


    Much luv and respect go out to ur great-grandma, ur grandma, and ur mom. 

    LMAO @ ur Mom’s ‘toothbrush’ story. 😀

  19. queenofmeanest says:

    Watchful queenofmeanest 

  20. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    queenofmeanest If thats the case then what was the point of this story. Its written as if Yvette wants us to feel sorry for them. All i said is , i dont feel sorry for them. I dont wish them any Ill will , i just dont have any sympathy for them.

  21. Watchful says:


    And I’m willing to bet those ladies aren’t seeking any ‘sympathy’ from u or anyone else either … but a lil respect for ur elders goes a long way.

  22. queenofmeanest says:

    HANNIBAL the VICTOR queenofmeanest 
    That is your opinion.  Let me tell you what I have learned from a southern white man.  
    He said.  “If you want to know what is going on in the boardroom of any corporation, you send a black maid or female janitor.”  She will be there to pick up the knowledge and information needed to get ahead or help her family to get ahead.”
    I have learned a lot from those black maids.

  23. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Watchful, Respect should be earned no matter who you are.

  24. Watchful says:


    Hate to say it, but u’re beginning to lose some of mine.

  25. HANNIBAL the VICTOR says:

    Watchful I aint here to make friends. Im here to discuss solutions to the problems of black folks in America.  Hopefully these discussions can bring about good ideas to solve our problems and each of us can bring those ideas to fruition in our respective cities.

  26. Watchful says:


    I’m not here for that reason either and I hope that we can collectively come up with solutions to our problems as well. The difference is, is that I don’t think we have to be disrespectful to our elders in order to find said solutions. In fact, I believe we need the insight and wisdom from the very elders u seem to despise if we r to find the solutions that we all seek. With that, I’m done discussing this topic with u.

  27. queenofmeanest says:

    When I was a kid, some white man would pull up to my neighbor’s house blowing the horn. I remember my father complaining about that b@st@rd blowing that horn at 5:00 a.m. and he was sick and tired of it.

    One morning my dad waited for that white man to show up, dad walked up to his window and asked him nicely about being respectful of the neighbors and please park his car and walk up to the door and ring the doorbell.  The white man said that he is above the law because he is white.  My dad pulled his gun and it had a long revolver and stuck it up that man’s nose and said.  Let me rephrase this for you.  You are waking up plenty of white folk with your cold, now either you change how you treat your cold or I will blow your nose for you.

    The next time that white man came for his maid, he parked his car, tipped his hat to my father and went to her door and rang that doorbell.

    Eventually that white man hired my dad to do his landscaping work.  They were the best of friends after that.

  28. Watchful says:


    LMAO … I swear, queen …. if u haven’t already, u should write a book about urs and ur family’s dealings with white folks cuz they’re priceless. I’ll bet it would be a best-seller.  I know I’d damn sure buy several copies  : )

  29. queenofmeanest says:

    Watchful queenofmeanest 
    People have suggested that.

  30. Watchful says:


    Might be a good project for u to take up when u have some free time. : )

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