The Wisdom of Age Project—Hampton Roads, Va. 2013 Documenting Life Stories & How We Get By
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"She Marched with Dr. King"

by Ebony King

JULIA FLOYD HAS SUCH A BIG SMILE ON HER FACE that one would think that everything is just fine in her world. She doesn’t say much, but when she does, it’s important to listen because you might miss something—a funny joke, or a memory about a famous march. She may not have understood all of my questions, but what I did learn from her was vital, especially one story of when she walked with a man who “had a dream.”


 The first time I arrived at the P.A.C.E Center in Hampton, Virginia, I was told to ask for Liz, the activities director. P.A.C.E. is an acronym for Program of All-inclusive Care for the Elderly. Liz was so nice and helpful every time I was there, and she was the one who introduced me to Miss Floyd.


 When I first approached Miss Floyd, the “participants” around her were listening to a woman entertainer who was singing and dancing—and they were singing along with her. However, Miss Floyd had fallen asleep and Liz had to wake her up to introduce me. Because Miss Floyd is hard of hearing, Liz thought it would be in my best interest to go into a quieter room where Miss Floyd may be able to hear me better. The room had two beds in it, and Liz was kind enough to bring Miss Floyd and me two chairs to sit in for the interview. Before Liz left, she showed me how to talk to Miss Floyd during the interview—lean in close and speak loudly.


 Julia Floyd was born in Pitt County, North Carolina, on May 12, 1914. She had many siblings, all of whom are brothers, and since she was the oldest, she had to take care of them. Her parents were very hard working; her mother worked in the tobacco fields, while her father worked on a farm. As she grew up, she started to experience discrimination in North Carolina. She recalled an incident where the whites would hit her, spit on her—and more—as she was walking five miles to and from school. As a result, Miss Floyd didn’t graduate from high school. Shortly after leaving high school, her jobs included “selling white folks houses” and “cleaning up their yards,” which she adamantly states that she does not do anymore.


Not long after, she met a man whom she thought was her soul mate, and they eventually got married. They had seven kids together, six boys and a girl. Miss Floyd was not certain if any of her children are still living. As far as her marriage was concerned, she and her husband didn’t stay married because he cheated on her. As she says, she fell in love with the “wrong man” and he never did “right by her,” so she decided to move on. She doesn’t regret her children because she was able to see her kids have her grandchildren, and she loves being a mother and a grandmother.


After her relatively short-lived marriage, she and her mother moved to Virginia where they worked in a factory together. She says that she loves North Carolina because that’s where she’s from, but she likes Virginia because she’s been here for a long time. In her spare time, she likes to listen to blues music because that’s what she listened to in North Carolina. She loves watching TV even though she doesn’t care what’s on.


When she is not at P.A.C.E. adult daycare, Miss Floyd lives in a motel by herself, where her grandchildren come and take care of her, washing her clothes and helping her take baths. She’s close to anybody who she meets because she likes to be welcoming and warming to others. That’s why she has many friends, but she considers her grandchildren to be her best friends because they help take care of her. Even though her daily routine doesn’t consist of much other than “sitting down, lying down, going to her motel, and eating everyday,” she describes herself as “alright” because she knows her limitations. What I had learned so far about Miss Floyd was interesting, but I knew that she had a bigger story to tell, a story that is part of history. I wanted to know the story about her marching with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


Dr. King was in North Carolina promoting the Civil Rights Movement and trying to stop discrimination. She wanted to march with him because she was a strong believer in his message. She contributed a lot to his time there by cooking food for the marchers and serving it to them, helping Dr. King carry things for him, and more. Once they started marching, police came and started to arrest the marchers (her grandchildren included) and took them to jail. She eventually bailed them out, but even after all of that, she was glad that she was a part of Dr. King’s history and that she’s still here to tell this story.


That was then. Today when I visit, Miss Floyd is surrounded by a group of friends who are having their own side conversation in which Miss Floyd chimes in here and there. One friend describes Miss Floyd this way: “If she talks, she talks, if she don’t, she don’t.” Today, Miss Floyd may be thinking about Dr. King and the marchers, or her grandchildren. She may be deciding what food on the menu today is to her liking and what is not. But, whatever else she is doing, Miss Floyd is not talking. But that doesn’t bother friends seated around her, or stop them from telling stories.—their stories, of today and of yesterday.