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Eva Rutland: A Mother's Gift of Memory

Eva Rutland would have you believe that she was not a good mother.

"I tell you the truth, I was not trained to be a mama!" she says. "I didn't know how to handle the children, and even now I look back and think about things I should've done."

Her daughter, Ginger, begs to differ. "I think my mother is amazing," she counters. That belief has inspired her to start a publishing venture based on her mother's work as a writer.

Eva Rutland is the granddaughter of a former slave who sent all of his children through college. Eva graduated from Atlanta's Spelman College in 1937. She married Bill Rutland, a civilian with the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Air Force moved Bill Rutland to Ohio, then Sacramento, Calif. He and Eva built a home, made new friends and focused on raising their four kids.

In the 1950s, Rutland realized that she was going blind.

"When you get incapacitated, and you can't see or can't move around as you should, then you're kind of at a loss," she says. "So you have to find something to do, and I think that's when I found my writing."

Rutland already sold writing to Redbook and other magazines. In 1964, she published a family memoir as a kind of antidote to the public fear about change and race — issues she was intimately familiar with as her own children attended newly integrated schools.

In the book, The Trouble With Being a Mama, she wrote, "Integration in theory is a fine, high-sounding utopia. In reality, I shivered as I watched my children unknowingly shed the warm cloak of segregation."

Rutland says she wanted to make white mothers understand what blacks were going through in the transitions of the civil rights era.

Rutland's daughter, Ginger, is taking a leave of absence from her job as an editorial writer at The Sacramento Bee in order to republish her mother's memoir under a new title: When We Were Colored.

"I recognized that it is an important little story in the big history of this country, particularly in the history of this country as it delves into race," Ginger says. She has formed a publishing company named for their ancestor and patriarch, Isaac Westmoreland.

At 90, Eva Rutland is now completely blind and lives with Ginger and her son-in-law. But she continues to work. After years of publishing romantic fiction — Harlequin has published 20 of her novels — she is writing a new memoir.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Alex Chadwick
For more than 30 years, Alex Chadwick has been bringing the world to NPR listeners as an NPR News producer, program host and currently senior correspondent. He's reported from every continent except Antarctica.