Trailblazer Gertrude Porter shares her story about life on the Arsenal in 1959

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WAFF) - It’s been a year of political unrest, violence and racism. The headlines in 2020 reveal a nation struggling to get along.

But there is hope in many eyes, including Gertrude Porter’s.

For a period of time 60 years ago, she and her husband Lieutenant Vinston Porter Sr. were the only black family living on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville, AL.

The Porter’s had been living in a historic Virginia neighborhood called Huntersville. They were nervous to move, but also excited for an adventure as newlyweds.

It was 1959 when Gertrude and her husband took the leap of faith, left their Virginia home and arrived at Redstone.

“Being an officer in those days, and especially a black officer was a proud thing and very much respected,” Gertrude said.

Despite feeling isolated on the base, Gertrude says she was treated okay. Her husband, a quiet stern soul, didn’t show many emotions, but Gertrude could sense some stress.

As the first black officer to live on the Arsenal, he knew he was making history and wanted to set the example for those who’d follow in his footsteps.

“My husband always took things within and I never knew how much it affected him,” Gertrude said. “But I was a nervous wreck and very fidgety. I could not drive so I could not assist him. But I did everything I could to stay awake and alert.”

When the Porter’s first arrived in Huntsville, they were sent to the famous Gladys Jane Motel due to a lack of housing on base.

“It was a terribly rundown area and in each corner were spiders…I was not necessarily afraid of small things, but I didn’t know what would happen since there were not many locks on the doors,” Gertrude said.

The Porter’s were soon given a place to live.

“My husband was able to talk the receptionist at the center into letting us have a 3-bedroom because a 2-bedroom was not available,” Gertrude said. “He was advised to accept it because we wouldn’t know when a 2-bedroom would be available.”

Gertrude says she was often lonely on the base but is thankful for Anne, her neighbor who became a very close friend.

“I don’t know if she really saw when I checked in but if she did she noticed I didn’t have a washer and dryer,” Gertrude said. “And you have to supply your own.”

The strangers made a deal. Gertrude would babysit Anne’s kids if Anne let Gertrude use her washing machines. That was the start of what Gertrude called an incredible friendship.

“She took me to places I wanted to go… a library. And I was interested in having a family so she told me a lot of things I did not know,” Gertrude said. “She was my first friend right here at Redstone.”

Gertrude says she learned a lot about life during her time on the Arsenal. She become a better listener and learned about the value of patience.

“Everything was a stepping stone. It was a learning experience. I didn’t realize it then, but I do now,” Gertrude said.

About nine months later, Lieutenant Porter received his next assignment. But this time, much farther from home.

The couple, stronger than ever before, packed their bags and went on their way to Germany, ready for another challenge.

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