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No matter where you ride to, that’s where you are At the end of his ninth-grade year at Aberdeen Colored High School, Darden decided to seek wider pastures “because,” he says, “I found my girl.” “Manassa was in 12th grade. She was going back to her daddy and mama in Macon, Mississippi. I couldn’t let her get away, so I married her, secretly,” he says. “We got married for five dollars. I had three and borrowed two. Woo-hee!” Eventually, their parents found out. In 1948, with $50 that Darden’s mother-inlaw loaned him, he boarded a train bound for his cousin’s home in Kalamazoo. “Well, now, I didn’t have all $50,” he says, admitting he spent some of it on candy to impress his young bride before he left. Darden got a job at the Hotel Harris as a houseman and then sent for his wife. (She worked at Borgess Medical Center for 33 22 | ENCORE FEBRUARY 2019

years. She died in 1988.) Darden then sent for his twin brother, who also got work at Hotel Harris and sent for his wife. Eventually, his twin brother got a job as a sweeper at Kalamazoo Vegetable Parchment Co. (later James River Corp. then Crown Vantage). Irvin helped Darden get a sweeper job there, too. Darden would later move into the position of industrial painter before retiring from the mill in 1990. The couples worked hard, saved money and pooled their resources to buy a house. But that would prove to be quite a feat. Back then, in the 1950s and '60s, it was easier for a black cowboy to infiltrate a herd of wild mustangs than break into the housing market. Darden shakes his head, recalling a rodeo of real estate agents unwilling to show them homes they were interested in and the brothers and their wives being told at open houses that the homes were no longer available. The couples finally bought a house together on North Rose Street. (In the 1930s and for several decades thereafter, the federal government and banks would provide home mortgages only for certain neighborhoods based on racial or ethnic makeup — a practice called redlining — and homes in Brian Powers

my own Westerns. I want to be the star and ride and shoot and sing. And I want all black actors cast in my movies.’ Well, they let him. He made Westerns like The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides the Range.”

those neighborhoods would have deeds that prevented blacks from buying those homes. Redlining was outlawed in 1968.) “We were the first blacks on the street,” notes Darden. “Whites started moving out as we moved in, and pretty soon the whole street was black.” After 10 years, the brothers decided to each buy their own home to accommodate their growing families. They encountered the same old rodeo. Eventually, Darden and his wife purchased a ranch-style house a few blocks north, the same home he lives in today. Darden’s brother and his wife bought a house on the west side of town. “Moving from the South, I didn’t think it would be the same,” says Darden of the racism they encountered in the home-buying process. “But it wasn’t any different back then. Only difference was that you didn’t have to say ‘Yes, sir’ or ‘No, sir.’”

Ride the horse in the direction it's goin’ It was years later, while working at the Parchment paper mill, that Darden’s true cowboy spirit reared up. “I was in the washroom cleaning up, and the radio was on. It was Black History Month,

Profile for Encore Magazine

Encore February 2019  

Southwest Michigan's Magazine: Murphy Darden is wrangling local black history, eyelashes are a booming business, Cheryl Dickson talks about...

Encore February 2019  

Southwest Michigan's Magazine: Murphy Darden is wrangling local black history, eyelashes are a booming business, Cheryl Dickson talks about...