Trying to achieve black selfhood in Little Rock
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.
It was around this time that my father and his friends started a gang. They were all blanquitos from Condado: Yasser Benítez, Claudio LaRocca, Tommy Del Valle, and Juanma Thon. On the night their gang became official, they downed a bottle of Bacardi, then smashed it into pieces and used a shard to cut their arms. Then they rubbed their wounds together, so the blood passed from arm to arm.
Sketches of Tennessee.
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.”
A new-society vision in Jackson, Mississippi.
Chokwe Antar Lumumba saw Jackson as a last chance. This was a place where long-marginalized black communities could build a new economy for themselves, a democratic and fair society, a foundation for good lives to grow from. In his mind, this black-majority city that sat in the middle of the state with the highest concentration of black people in our country had to be the staging ground for this particular experiment in moving past economic and governance systems that weren’t working for so many.
A story by Jesmyn Ward, the third and final excerpt from her forthcoming novel Sing, Unburied, Sing.
The officer is young, young as me, young as Michael. He’s skinny and his hat seems too big for him, and when he leans into the car, I can see where his gel has dried and started flaking up along his hairline. He speaks, and his breath smells like cinnamon mints.
We both loved Gary Stewart, and we both loved Grace.
My wife Grace’s father was a big man. He wasn’t much more than six feet tall, but I think folks thought of him as taller because he carried himself large. He tried being a hippie once, he said, but couldn’t abide the non-violence (too many people needed to get their asses kicked). At the first job he ever had, on a ranch, he got a business card with his official title: COWBOY. He kept that card. He wore a cowboy hat and cowboy boots. He had the best hunting dogs in Levy County. For a while he ran a sawmill. For a while he was a watermelon farmer, then a beekeeper, then he raised buffalo on the family farm. That’s just a small sampling. His name was John. He went by Chuck.
I never thought I’d experience the likes of Rancho Grande in Monticello, a Deep South hamlet named for Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia manor (gleefully pronounced with a soft “c”) and about as cosmopolitan as a Baptist men’s prayer circle.
Hunting season swept through my hometown with the crisp northern winds that sent leaves and trash dancing down King Street, near the Old Spanish Trail. In late fall, the town’s annual hunters’ gathering—Buck Fever—packed the county fairgrounds with guns and taxidermy and families wearing matching camouflage outfits, scents of damp hay and manure and hot funnel cakes swirling together in the cool dry air. It seemed like everyone in Seguin went to Buck Fever, and even though we weren’t real hunters, my family went, too.
The lounge’s changes reflect those of Trenton, which has been hit by deindustrialization, white flight, falling property values, a cratering tax base, budget cuts, and a drop in educational resources. There is probably a recovery formula for the rest of the city somewhere in the tiny fragment of an integrated, prospering populace that materializes for the Candlelight Saturday Sabbath with its transubstantiation of mouthpiece, breath, drum skin, string, and inner ear stereocilia into camaraderie.
A kind of connective tissue linked my country’s most African city with an African moment that seemed stunningly American. The pallbearers danced, the band played, the mourners walked and swayed alongside while men and women pressed yet more naira bills on the sweat of our bodies—a symbol of respect and goodwill.