I posted the photograph below on my Facebook page last week. It brought back fond memories for Brenda Thompson so she shared a nostalgic story with me. And now I am sharing it with you. Enjoy!
The Picture That Changed My Life
By Brenda Thompson
Ronnie Bennett, Phil Spector, Estelle Bennett George Harrison,
Nedra Talley and Decca Records UK head Tony King
I grew up in a little town in west central Illinois. While we were not as strictly segregated as we had been in Chicago. In the ‘60s there were lines that we did not cross. It was around that time that I recognized that was not attracted to black men. Not at all. It kind of shocked me really and I started thinking there was something wrong with me. I don’t think I had ever really seen an interracial couple except in pictures of movie stars and they were usually black men with white women. But there was Pearl Bailey and Eartha Kitt. They both had white husbands so I knew it could happen.
I knew instinctively that it would not happen for me there at home. Not a single white boy in school was even paying attention to black girls. They joked with us and talked to us but it was almost like they did not realize we were female. We were some alien species that was there with them. There were a few of them that I had crushes on but they ignored me completely.
I didn’t dare talk to anyone about it. That was not the kind of thing you discussed. Race was mostly a taboo subject back then. We were mere months away from the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the scenes of police beating and hosing black folks were fresh in our minds.
And then the Beatles came to America. And like almost every other girl, I fell in love. It didn’t occur to me that I should not have fallen for them, so I did. I don’t remember when I first saw that picture. I read a lot of magazines back then and I was a serious Beatlemaniac. I was getting magazines from England and reading everything I could get my hands on about them.
I didn’t know then that the Ronettes had come to America on the same plane as the Beatles. I didn’t know that they had waited until after the Beatles faced the crowds and adulation that the Ronettes finally got off the airplane. They were all staying at the Plaza. George was seeing Estelle and Ronnie was married to Phil Spector who came along to ensure his wife would not be tempted by any of those long-haired Adonises.
I saw that picture and my jaw just dropped. Those were beautiful black women all with white men — with one of the Beatles! In my 14 year-old logic, it meant that somebody like that could love somebody like me. I know that seems far fetched, but I was just a lonely little confused teenager. I realized that while the guys around me did not consider me good enough for them, but there were others who would. They were out there and they were musicians. That fact tied it all together for me.
I was not going to stay in that little town where I grew up. I was going to move. I was going to travel and see the world. I was going to meet other people and I was sure I would meet men who would find me desirable. Yes, I wore big thick glasses, and I was skinny and small but I knew that when I grew up men would find me attractive.
I was already different than most of the folks I knew and part of it was because I had confidence an was secure just being me. I didn’t let being different from others hurt me. I embraced it. I accepted being different and it became an integral part of who I am still today. My self-esteem was intact and I actually have my parents to thank for that. They always let me know I was beautiful, wanted and loved. I did not feel rejected because the boys did not like me. I figured I was just not meant for them. I figured one of those beautiful men playing guitars and singing would see me and he would want me.
I went on through school making good grades and hanging out with the friends I already had. I knew that this was just a step on my path to happiness. My eyes were steadily on the prize. Did I really think one of the Beatles wanted me? No. But I knew somebody else like them would. Years later, when I was 20 when I fell in love for the first time. And yes, he was in a band. He was tall and dark and handsome. We had met, talked and became friends. I was madly in love with him and I traveled to places all over the country just so I could be near him.
I wish I could say that blossomed into a lifelong love affair or a lasting relationship, but it did not. But knowing him helped to open the door wide for me and I stepped out — free, happy, confident and secure in myself. I have fallen in and out of love with musicians all my life and every one of them has been white. I don’t regret my preference one bit. I knew what I wanted and it is as simple as that.
I did not then nor do I now hate black men. No black man hurt me, making me look across the color line. I never decided that black men were not good enough for me. I just have never been attracted to black men. “I was just wired differently” I told myself. I was never curious about sex with a black man. I didn’t really even want to kiss a black guy. I had no romantic or sexual feelings for them at all. My preference was right for me.
I have had good relationships and bad relationships like most people and I am all right with that. I am all right with me. I am all right with the choices I have made. And it all started with that picture.