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.”
1965 or 2015? Every Day, Dozens of Elderly Black Birmingham Women Are Bused to Work for Rich WhitesClick to tweet
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.