There are no slaves in my family tree, but Elizabeth Ann (Liz) Young Thompson has a far different story. Yet, she laughs and enjoys life, as if that depth of evil had never touched her or her family.
Liz’s mom was the 6th of 20 kids! Liz’s grandpa was a runaway slave from Virginia. Her great-grandpa was also a runaway slave. He escaped with his wife, three kids (all slaves) and his blacksmithing equipment from Alabama to Illinois, avoiding capture and a return to slavery. Liz’s grandma was his fourth child of nine, and the first freeborn in their family.
Lizzie Young grew up in Springfield, Illinois, the daughter of a fireman and a homemaker. Life was fun, filled with friends, family and good memories. Liz used to take dinner to her dad at the firehouse.
Ray Thompson, a neighbor, who she’d known her whole life, always seemed to be nearby on his bike and would stop her to talk.
One day Ray told her, “I’m going to marry you.” And one day he did!
While Ray was away in the military, Liz went to Fisk College in Nashville. After coming home, she went to work as “one of the first girls of color hired at Bell Telephone.”
Ray returned in 1948, married Liz and they moved to Pasadena where they remained for 41 years. Ray applied to get a job with the Pasadena Police Department, but, in spite of his time as a U.S. Army MP, wasn’t the right color for the Pasadena PD.
He took a job with the city as a janitor. Liz tried to get work at the local phone company, but “their quota for people of color was already filled.”
So, she went to work in the local factories. Leaving the workplace while her kids were young, she returned in 1965, running a lathe in an aerospace factory.
She finally worked for the Bank of America, eventually moving up to Assistant Department Manager, before retiring after more than 20 years.
When asked how she handled such oppressive prejudice, Liz smiles and says, “When you’re raised in that environment you know what’s going on, and you just live with it.”
Her faith certainly makes a difference in her view of life. Liz not only doesn’t seem to harbor resentment, but even shrugs off those years of discrimination, as if they didn’t happen. Instead of exhibiting bitterness, she smiles, laughs and loves.
Ray, Liz’s husband of 61 years passed away in 2009. Some may remember Ray Thompson, who worked at Ace Hardware for many years.
His famous photo of the overturned watermelon truck in front of Circle K hangs in the Blue Moon Café.
Liz’s son, Raymond, lives in California.
Her daughter, Ramona, now shares the VOC home Liz and Ray built and moved into in 1989. She has five grandchildren and seven great grandkids. “What a life!” she says.
Jim Cunningham, Jr., is a pastor, husband, father, lover-of-people, friend, neighbor, counselor, teacher, book collector and jack-of-all-trades