A BEAUTIFUL LOVE STORY
Rueben Quincy Littlejohn and Arrie Lee McClinton married on Christmas day in 1927. He was a strapping 21 and she was a tender 18. Their first child, Lorenzo, was born two years later in 1929. That was the same year the stock market crashed – igniting what would be called “The Great Depression.” These were truly uncertain times for the young Quincy and Arrie Littlejohn.
In the 1930s, they were blessed with five wonderful children: Archie, their first daughter, was born in 1930; Jefferson Davis in 1933 who passed at the young age of 5 in 1938; Juanita in 1934; Quincy Etta in 1935; and Joe Orvard in 1937 – the same year Joe “The Brown Bomber” Louis empowered Black people by becoming the Heavy Weight Champion of the World! Quincy was a sharecropper and these were very difficult times to raise a large family. Like many of their contemporaries, they had dreams of a better life for their children. President Roosevelt's 1930s New Deal programs resulting from the Public Works and Works Progress Administrations generated economic opportunities that spurred Arrie into action. Although Quincy had only known farming, she realized sharecropping was hopeless. Like many Blacks of her time, she looked North to improve the condition of the family.
In 1940, Quincy and Arrie were blessed with another child. They named her Betty Jean. The 1940s were turbulent times as well. Benjamin O. Davis, Sr. became the first Black General in the US Army in 1940. A year later, Japan bombed the United States at Pearl Harbor - the unthinkable had happened. This was the Sep 11th of their generation. Not only was the world at war for the second time (WWII), but the battle between black and white continued in the US. In 1943 Arrie and Quincy moved to Detroit - the same year of the Detroit Race Riots. Though things were more uncertain than ever, Quincy landed a job with one of the "Big Three" - Ford Motor Company. The family's economic condition rapidly improved as they no longer suffered the debt that plagued them as a sharecropping family. The auto industry was key in the development of a Black middle class. Things were truly improving and it was certainly a sight for sore eyes, when Jackie Robinson desegregated Major League baseball in 1947.
Quincy & Arrie witnessed the start of the Korean War in 1950; the Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, KS - desegregating public schools in 1954; Rosa Parks' courageous stand against Jim Crow in Montgomery, AL in 1955; and Althea Gibson becoming the first Black person to win at Wimbledon in 1957. They were undoubtedly pleased at these turn of events and believed education was essential to improve the economic and social condition of their children and the coming generations. Their children were encouraged to get an education to take advantage of the achievements being made. Arrie had a keen awareness that times were changing and wanted her children and grand-children to have a piece of the pie.
The volatility of the 1950s poured out into the 1960s. In 1961 John F. Kennedy became the 35th US President and the nation went to war yet again - this time in Vietnam. The times pulsed with change and hope as Martin Luther King, Jr. led the March on Washington in 1963; the Civil Rights Act passed in 1964; the Voting Rights Act passed in 1965; and Thurgood Marshall became the first Black Justice on the US Supreme Court. The struggle inspired Detroit’s Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin’s 1967 hit song “Respect” – R.E.S.P.E.C.T.! The progress didn't come without a price, however. The couple again saw their beloved city turned upside down in the Detroit Race Riots of 1967 and grieved at the loss of leaders like MLK, Jr. and Robert Kennedy in 1968. By this time, Quincy had worked at Ford Motor Company nearly 20 years and retirement was in sight. Arrie was busy grand-mothering: helping her children with childcare as they worked jobs of their own. She and Quincy made a strong impact on the lives of their grandchildren, and became lovingly known as Mama Mia (Mamia, for short) and Granddaddy.
During the 1970s, they expected to see and feel some of the benefits that came out of the Civil Rights Movement. Progress had been made in desegregating schools and neighborhoods. The 70’s brought with it the pride of Black Power and the strides made by Hank Aaron and Reggie Jackson as they broke records in Major League Baseball. Yet the work to improve the condition of Blacks continued: Jesse Jackson founded Operation PUSH in 1971; and the Equal Opportunity Act passed in 1972. After many long years in the plant, Quincy retired and took Arrie to sunny San Diego, Ca in 1973.
In retirement, the couple traveled and enjoyed visits from family. Quincy and Arrie loved gardening and kept fresh vegetables on hand. Through the 1980s and 1990s they watched their children, grand-children, and great-grands grow and maneuver through the ups and downs of life. One of the highlights of the 1980s was Jesse Jackson’s campaign for president. "Run, Jesse, Run!" was chanted during the 1984 presidential campaign. They would laugh in amazement as they never thought they’d see the day that a Black man could run for president, let alone actually get elected. Quincy & Arrie shared their wisdom and always had an open door for us. They were models of a God-fearing and devoted couple – married over 70 years. They instilled Christian values and a strong work ethic in their children, which they in turn instilled in their children. It continues to be passed down through the generations.
On Good Friday in 1998, “His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matt 25:21) and Rueben Quincy Littlejohn went forth to be with the Lord. Arrie was left to the love and care of her children, grand, and great-grand children. She traveled and enoyed 11 more years of life, love, and happiness and went to be with the Lord in the month of May 2009. She was undoubtedly overjoyed to carry with her a message to Quincy that in fact the unimaginable had finally happened. On Nov 4, 2008 the first African American, Barack Hussein Obama, was elected President!
Their’s is a true love story to be told and shared with each generation. “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children” (Psalms 103:17).