Knocking Out Racial Stereotypes One Song at a Time

Posted on Aug 08 by Laurel Moore
about Louise Spry Brooks a.k.a Grandma

Now that she has passed, I like to refer to my grandmother by her given name of “Louise,” out of the great respect I have for all of her accomplishments. Louise was a homesteader in the wild west of Wyoming when she was 20 years old. She settled in Hillsdale, Wyoming, a small railroad town. She had an activist’s nature and was drawn to Wyoming partially because it was the first territory to give women the right to vote. She built her homestead house with the help of some of the townsmen, and the attached picture of her in a doorway wearing chaps is in front of that home. Among her past-times was campaigning for various politicians, as shown in a tattered photo not attached. She rode her horse daily to the one-roomed schoolhouse where she taught. She kept her gun close at hand to deal with any threatening critters, human or otherwise. Louise met Jack Brooks in Hillsdale and they married, bringing forth four sons and one daughter. Jack worked on the railroad and was gone for long periods of time. The bulk of child rearing fell to Louise. With a large family, Louise stopped teaching and found many ways to bring money into the family, including making the lunches for the school children and washing and ironing clothes for neighbors.

Seeking to get away from the bitter cold, the family sold the homestead and moved to Denver. Louise worked as a milliner and later made dresses for women out of her home. She was a great patriot. During World War II each of her children was in a different branch of the armed forces. She was featured in the Rocky Mountain News for this reason. She spent hours making elaborate scrapbooks of war information and was a great teacher on these happenings. One son’s plane was shot down and he suffered great emotional trauma as a result of the event. My grandmother cared for him in her Denver home until she died. Louise was the hub of our large family. She kept a huge vegetable garden and had many family picnics under a large tree in her yard. Her offerings included recipes from the prairie, as well as from her Iowa roots.

My most precious memories are of spending the night at her house when she would teach me to sew and would make the most tailored doll clothes ever found!. Helping her prepare meals provided me with a feel for what the prairie was like. My cousins and I made dolls out of Hollyhocks and games of Anagrams with old wooden tiles. Of most significance to me was her frequent song, “Stay In Your Own Backyard.” This tune grew out of the 1900 race riots in New York. Louise never had to say anything about the evil of racial prejudice; the song said it all. I later found out that I was the only grandchild to benefit from her sweet singing, and it has made all the difference.

I am ever thankful that Louise is my pattern of maintaining a family’s culture and closeness, and a nation’s allegiance and healing. Thank you, Louise.