By Jackie Boor
THE LAND PARK NEWS – May 10, 2007
When Bill and Eva Rutland moved from Dayton, Ohio to Sacramento in 1953, he was a rising civilian logistics officer with the Air Force and she, a Spelman College graduate, was a devoted mother to their four young children. Eva, now 90, remembers thinking: “Sacramento California – how green, how clean, how wonderful!”
Their hopes and dreams were the same as Mr. Rutland’s white counterparts. They wanted to live in a safe neighborhood with good schools and in a spacious new home with room for their children to play. That dream was not easily realized.
In 1953, the dirt lot on 35th Avenue in South Land Park where they would eventually build their home was restricted with “racial covenants” forbidding people of color from living in the area. It was a troubled time, but the Rutland’s were not alone in their quiet determination to test the boundaries of racism. A white co-worker of Bill’s agreed to first purchase the lot and then resell to the Rutland’s to build the home Eva, now a dedicated grandmother, lives in to this day.
“He got a lot of grief for doing that,” stated Eva’s daughter Ginger Rutland, “But people of good will and of all colors were our neighbors and friends.”
Recently, Eva was joined by her four adult children, several grandchildren and around 100 friends and admirers at Time-Tested Books in Midtown Sacramento to celebrate the re-release of her 1964 memoir “The Trouble With Being a Mama.” The reprint is titled “When We Were Colored: A Mother’s Memoir” (IWP, $12.95, 152 pages).
Living in the mostly white neighborhood in pre-civil rights Sacramento, she found herself wanting to find a way to enlighten and generate mutual understanding – especially with other mothers. That desire, along with an intact funny-bone, became her driving motivation for writing the collection of both profound and poignant accounts of family life at the Rutland house.
Of course, Eva’s challenge as a mother was intensified by having to guide her children through the hazards and trials of prejudice and integration. Mostly, she taught her children to not return hate with hate, and to be patient and tolerant in allowing others to find their way to common ground.
In “When We Were Colored,” Eva writes, “My black children were just like their white children, filled with all the talent, hope, beauty, and insecurities of childhood, just a precious and just as fragile.” While the world has most certainly changed in the last 50 years, she maintains mothers and fathers still want to “raise healthy, happy, and productive children.”
Today, Eva could not be more proud of her four children, all of whom are accomplished professionals and prominent in their fields. Of course, they are extremely proud of their mother as well.
The granddaughter of a former slave, Eva was first published in 1951 in Redbook Magazine. In 1980, Eva wrote the first of more than twenty Harlequin romance novels. In 2000, she published “No Crystal Stair,” a full-length novel based on her own extraordinary history. Before his death in 2005, Bill, her husband of 63 years, was always close by for editorial comment – some of which Eva took gracefully and some of which she waved off in an instant.
For all the hardships, including enduring a botched surgery that paralyzed her vocal cords and losing her sight to retinitis pigmentosa 40 years ago, Eva remains an unfailing and courageous optimist. Known for her quick wit and generous heart, she is now hard at work writing, “The Trouble with Being a Grandma.” Apparently, there’s more Eva would like us to understand.