The Valentine 1955

racial politics get played out between children: A memoir

The Story

I grew up in an old city on Huckleberry Finn’s river. When I was seven, my city was in trouble. Poor colored folks – tired of sharecropping – came looking for prosperity and flooded into our working class neighborhood. The city fathers had no plan, no wisdom to offer – only the politics of fear.

First GradersThere were 62 children in my first-grade class and 15 were what we politely referred to as Negroes.
Valentine’s Day. I can still hear the hiss and clank of radiators, see steam collecting on the tall windows in the crowded old classroom. We all brought valentines to exchange at 2:00. I was given 47 cards.

“No need to give valentines to colored children,” I was told. “No one will notice if you skip over them.”

2 o’clock. Time for the big card exchange. First-grade frenzy: everyone tossing cards into one another’s collection envelopes. But before I made a move, the very brown Lucille Washington was standing in front of me with her hand out.

Our eyes met.

A hundred years earlier, Huckleberry Finn had to choose between the Christian admonition of his kinfolk and kindness toward a black man. He held his breath, he decided: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” he said.

But Huck had an old soul and I was only seven. I didn’t know what to say. Lucille and I just kept staring at each other till her smile vanished.

And then I turned away.

How the Story Became A Movie

Cosmopolitan ProductionsVenora Rodgers wondered what we could do for a cultural diversity training video... something short, a conversation starter. I couldn't imagine what I'd have to say on the subject that hadn't already been pontificated about. I figured I'd come up with some bland generalities or a finger-wagging lecture.

Then  this childhood encounter came to mind. I'd been mean to a little black girl. How could that have happened? It was a sensitive subject. How could my mother have told me to do the wrong thing? I thought about it. We are all products of our times. Regular folks rarely have the heroic spirit to defy their times.

I decided to make a video -- for myself only. Maybe I would show it to Venora. Maybe she would like it for training. But no matter what, it would be my own story.


Study Guide

Venora did like the movie and decided to try it out in training. It was definitely a conversation starter. To help with its use, Venora wrote this study guide


The movie was chosen for United Nations Association Film Festival, October 2003 and for various locations in the UNAFF Traveling Festival. It was also licensed for broadcast on Free Speech TV and screened at the Little Theater in Rochester NY. QUICKTIME Version: Connection WATCH the Quicktime movie.

The radio version has been licensed for broadcast on public radio stations across the U.S., in the Philippines, and in Ireland. Listen:

Technical Notes

Visuals. Animated drawings, photos, and old valentines, created/edited in Adobe Photoshop, animated in Adobe After Effects, with final composition in Adobe Premiere.

Narration. Narration track edited in Sony SoundForge.

Music. Composed with Sony Acid Pro, using royalty-free loops

Drawing, animation, writing, narration, and music composition by Susan B. Price