“What can be more important to us than our culture, our traditions, our heritage, and our lives?”
That’s what York County author Curtis J. Johnson wrote in the preface of his book, “Glimpses of Black Life Along Bayou Lafourche – Brief Stories of How Black People Lived, Worked, and Succeeded during Challenging Times” (Xlibris, 2012). Following are more than 350 pages that relate how Johnson’s family lived, loved and survived the tough times in rural Louisiana during the last century.
The book is grouped into three sections, appropriately named for the tales they tell. In “The Mississippi River – Bayou Lafourche Region,” Johnson offers an overview of the area, including its geography, economy and business community, neighborhoods and regional cuisine, and simple stories of everyday life. In a chapter entitled “Making Grindin’,” Johnson writes, “Harvesting sugarcane was labor-intensive and hard work, with men and women often working ten-hour days, six days a week. Cane cutting was a job relegated almost exclusively to Black laborers that included older children and young and old adults as well.” In “What We Savored and Enjoyed,” Johnson tells how his mother stretched a budget to feed their family of eight for 50 cents a day.
Continuing with the family theme, “Family Life – Simple Pleasures” covers celebrations and traditions, the family’s focus on music and education, and the conditions under which they lived, and played. “Our yard, which to small children appeared to be large, was our playground and outside gym. Many dirty hands and dusty bottoms were the result of a miscalculated somersault.” Later in the section, Johnson relates the special challenges of outdoor plumbing: “One of the less-favored chores at my house on Saturdays was ‘deodorizing’ the facility (the outhouse).
The final section, “Hometown Heroes,” is a tribute to the roles that black Americans have played in the U.S. military beginning with the Revolution. A chapter is devoted to each of the armed conflicts, as well as to black women in the military, and to those whose lives have been lost. In the final chapter, entitled “Roll Call . . . and Taps,” Johnson lists the names of the area’s veterans, their branches and dates of service, and in some cases, ranks and theaters of engagement.
Johnson acknowledges the help of his family members in bringing their history to life, including Edith A. Johnson, Claudia Johnson Celestine, Odile Johnson Huey, and Walter E. Johnson. Their stories, along with the more than 60 illustrations by recent VCU graduate Michael Hall, paint the picture of a time and a people whose culture and lives are in stark contrast to life for most of us in Hampton Roads, in the 21st century.
“Glimpses of Black Life Along Bayou Lafourche” is available in hardcover, softcover and eBook from the publisher and online retailers. Prices range from $34.99 for hardcover, around $19 to $24 for softcover, and $3.99 for eBook.
HU professor sheds light on voting rights history
Several months ago we wrote about "City Son," a biography of civil rights activist Andrew W. Cooper (Cooper v. Power), written by Wayne Dawkins, assistant professor of journalism at Hampton University. You can read more about the book here.
If you're interested in hearing Professor Dawkins speak, mark your calendar for 12 noon on Saturday, March 23rd. Professor Dawkins will be joined by Anne S. Pruitt-Logan (“Faithful to the Task at Hand: The Life of Lucy Diggs Slowe”), and Valerie C. Cooper (“Maria Stewart, the Bible & The Right of African Americans”) at the Virginia Festival of the Book, Charlottesville, for a panel discussion of “African American Biographies: Americans Who Changed History.” The event is free and open to the public. Click here for more details.
Norfolk schools take center stage in fight for equality
“Elusive Equality; Desegregation and Resegregation in Norfolk’s Public Schools”
By Jeffrey L Littlejohn and Charles H. Ford
University of Virginia Press, 2012
From the jacket: “In ‘Elusive Equality,’” (the authors) place Norfolk, Virginia, at the center of the South’s school desegregation debates, tracing the crucial role that Norfolk’s African Americans played in efforts to equalize and integrate the city’s schools.”
Packed with detail and narrative, broken by the occasional photo, and supported by more than 45 pages of notes, the 320-page book is organized in chapters that tell the story of the struggle in chronological order, from “Discrimination and Dissent – Norfolk under the Old Dominion, 1938-1954,” to “Cowardice and Complacency, The Road to Riddick and Resegregation, 1975-1987.”
“Elusive Equality” is available for $45 in hardcover/cloth and eBook from the publisher, and from various online retailers for $45 in hardcover and $27 in eBook.