From the time I was about ten years old, my mother and I put in our time by visiting with Irma for an hour or two every day. We’d bring her the Enquirer and Star and try to cheer her up by pointing out the most salacious stories and the home remedies for arthritis. Sometimes she’d enlist me to rub her back, and I’d perch monkeylike on the back of the couch, kneading her knots as she growled, “I could hug yer neck fer that.”
Once, in mixed company, another friend and I mentioned how pervasive lynching imagery was. A white friend admitted that she had never seen a single photo. I was shocked, but not surprised. A lynching was a warning. She didn’t need to be warned.
The erasure of pre-integration black community also means the loss of artifacts of black joy. Those artifacts, mementos of those places, seem harder to find today, scrubbed from memory, or crowded out by the drama of police dogs and fire hoses. Whenever I catch the stories of early classes from Little Rock’s black high schools—Dunbar, or Horace Mann—the joy such stories bring to the faces of their alums feels out of time with the Little Rock I imagine preceding 1957.