Judge & Author Marylin Atkins Writes About Her Family’s Legacy Of Colorblind Love In An Unwelcoming World

When we heard the story of Judge Marylin Atkins, who is set to release her memoir ‘The Triumph of Rosemary’ out now (through Two Sisters Publishing), we immediately jumped at the opportunity to share an excerpt from this book. Her story reads like a real-life Hollywood story, one that captures your heart while pulling on every emotion you possess along the way. The book takes readers on a behind-the-scenes tour of her life, defying convention, racism and smashing glass ceilings. Judge Atkins is a woman who conquered adversity throughout her life and embraced her family’s legacy of colorblind love in an often unwelcoming world. And now she is sharing her story.

When Marylin was a baby, she was adopted by a black couple in Saginaw, Michigan and given the name “Rosemary”. Her adoptive mother was abusive, but this fueled her ambition to achieve great things on her own. At age 19, she sparked a racial and religious scandal by marrying former Roman Catholic priest, who was white and 25 years older. Poor in finances but rich in love, she gave birth to two biracial daughters. All the while, family rifts in the wake of their interracial union fostered harmony and healing.

The book also follows Marylin on her journey to serve as an illustrious and highly respected judge, which included 12 years as chief judge of Detroit’s 36th District Court. ‘The Triumph of Rosemary’ is brimming with vivid dialogue and raw revelations. Many of the issues Marylin faced coming of age in the turbulent ’60s are still very much relevant and alive today – abuse, racial discrimination, women’s rights, and more. Take a look at the excerpt below:

I was much closer to my father than I was to my mother. It was from him that my brother and I heard the words, “Daddy loves you.” I learned from an early age that my father’s love for my brother and me was unconditional, while my mother’s love seemed to depend upon my making the honor roll (I received a brutal whipping every time I didn’t); playing the piano well; and being praised for my accomplishments by her friends and the church people.|

My brother and I were, quite frankly, afraid of her. We always did what she said, or so we thought, for fear of getting a whipping. She had a cruel practice of making a list of things that we did that annoyed her. She would not always scold us at the time that these annoyances occurred, but she would keep a list of them and when she felt like it, she would call us into the bedroom, tell us to take off our bottom clothes, lay the list on the dresser, begin to point to each item, and administer licks to us as she recited each infraction. Half the time we did not even remember what we had done.

When it was time for a whipping, she made us go to the back yard and pull a few switches off our weeping willow tree. If we pulled very thin ones, she would make us go back and get larger ones until she was satisfied that it would do the job. Her whippings were brutal and many times left open welts on our legs. I remember thinking at the age of nine that it must be alright if I died during a whipping because I belonged to her and she had every right to do whatever she wanted to do to me, including whip me to death.

Because of my fear of her, I developed a very bad fingernail biting habit.  She did this because my fingers did not look perfect while playing the piano. To make me stop biting my nails, as with everything else, she believed administering pain would do the trick. She had very hard fingernails and would push her thumb nail into my already sore, exposed fingernail beds; she pressed until blood appeared.

This punishment only made me bite more, which lead to her continued frustration that my hands did not look perfect. I had to be a flawless child in every way. I was a pretty little girl whom she liked to show off in frilly dresses. She was talented on the sewing machine and made many of the dresses I wore to church, including those I had to wear over that awful stiff net full skirt which made my skirt or dress stick out. I hated it, but it was the 1950’s and it was popular. My hair was pressed and I always had those God-awful bangs.  She called me “Missy,” a nickname that I hated all my life.

At heart, I was a tomboy who enjoyed working in pants with my father on his carpentry projects at home and at the homes of friends, rather than wearing a dress and ribbons in my hair. My mother was a woman consumed with outward appearances and a what-will-people-say concern that drove her to push her children to be perfect in every way.

She never got very far with this perfection thing with my brother. She complained about his friends and the way he dressed. He rebelled at every turn, until she gave up trying to make him play the piano and be a perfect young man. He was a good kid, but paid no attention to her social demands like I felt I had to. He did not like her at all. She resigned herself to being satisfied with his not failing in school and staying out of trouble. They had many arguments which resulted in her picking up anything she could get her hands on and hitting him with it, at times causing a gash which required stitches and left a scar.

She had many arguments with my father about his not “cracking down on Sonny,” to which my father turned a deaf ear. Sonny was not interested in learning carpentry like I was, although he spent wonderful times with our father doing other things. I don’t know what they did, but I know they had a very close relationship. I came to realize as I got older that my mother controlled my father so much that he was helpless in defending us against her wrath. No one outside of the family knew how our mother treated us. It was forbidden to discuss such things with strangers.

When I was 12, I was awakened at two in the morning to the sound of 16-year-old Sonny shouting, “I can’t take her anymore! I have to get out of here before I kill this bitch!”

After he stopped yelling, I heard him go into his room where he began packing his clothes. Sonny had called Aunt Ann and Uncle Percy after the argument and asked if he could live with them beginning that very night. Ann and Percy flat-out did not like my mother, but tolerated her for our sake. They said yes to Sonny. My father helped Sonny load the car and then drove him to his new home, where Aunt Ann and Uncle Percy waited for them in their nightclothes.

Ann and Percy Gore lived across town. Percy had moved from Fort Madison, Iowa, to Saginaw in 1955 to work at the Central Foundry. Married to Ann since 1951, they were childless and loved my brother and me as if we were their children.

I stayed in the safety of my bed during this flurry of activity. After the back door to the kitchen slammed when my father and brother left our house, I heard my mother coming toward my room. She flung open my bedroom door so hard it hit the wall, and shouted, “Anybody else want to go? You can go, too!”

What???? I thought. I’m 12 years old! I’m not going anywhere.

I knew she never would have said that in my father’s presence. My mother never forgave my father for “letting” Sonny leave and for driving him to his “sympathetic” aunt and uncles’ home. My brother and I always had wonderful, loving relationships with all our relatives, especially this aunt and uncle.

When my father returned, he went into Sonny’s bedroom, which was next to mine. I could hear him crying. My mother stormed into the room, fussing at him for “allowing” Sonny to leave. I vividly recall my father shouting at her, “Billie, get out of his room!” I did not hear my mother’s voice after that and I went back to sleep.

That night was the first I’d heard Daddy raise his voice! The house was sad for a long time after that night, and I was now alone with Billie. Although I loved my brother unconditionally and never questioned his decision, I resented him for years after that for leaving me alone to fend off our mother by myself. He moved to Detroit a few months later and then to Toronto, Ontario in 1960.

At the tender age of 12, I knew that this life with her –– where she was in full and complete control of my life –– could not possibly go on forever. Someday I would be on my own like my brother. I resolved to go along to get along with her until that day came.


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