Walnut Room this way

Walnut Room this way

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Gifts for the Women of Words: Between the Gateposts

A few nights ago, I was reflecting on the women I have come to know through their blogs in the past year, the gifts they give to me, the camaraderie we share across time and space.  They are in different states, different countries, just "down the road in Mississippi" and everywhere in between. 
Photo used with permission of Michael Popek, http://www.forgottenbookmarks.com

 Between the Gateposts is a blend of family history, stories of African American history, and community, all tied together with the identity of community researcher.  That resonates with me--the importance of community, family both by blood and by relationships of choice, and how they are woven together through our experiences across time.  I like to think there are those of us who are joined in a process of re-weaving those threads that have become so unraveled, or perhaps, were never even in the same cloth to begin with and yet, could be.

When I first saw the photograph of Jake's hands, I thought of LR, and her work to preserve the history of not only her own family, but that of other African American people in the communities where she lives.  I am imbuing the photograph with my own interpretation, but that is what I do: give meaning and explanation to what I observe.  So, here it is again, with my story of who Jake is, and what this photograph represents:
Jake was from Rockland County, New York.  The faded photograph displayed a cake with a flag with 48 stars.  It was found in a book published in 1941, The Long Christmas.  In my story, Jake is a young man, most likely 18, who had just enlisted in the Army; it is 1942.  It is his going-away party, and his family and friends have joined together to send him off.  He is only 18, and likely filled with both dread and fear of what is to come, and at the same time, a sense of adventure as he leaves the New York county which has been home to him for the possibility of Europe, or later, India, China, or the Pacific islands.

Rockland County in 1942 was home to at least 5,000 African American residents.  One of the "Stars for Victory" shows was staged in Rockland County, December 10, 1942, by local African Americans to support aid for wounded Russian soldiers, allies of the United States.  Helen Hayes served as chairwoman, and the star line-up included Lena Horne, Billy Banks, W. C. Handy, Joshua White, Edna Thomas, and Abby Mitchell.  One of the songs presented was Langston Hughes' "Freedom Road" with guitarist Joshua White.  The show was
...expression of gratitude by the American Negro people for the heroic resistance that the Russians have placed in the way of the Hitler advance. (Rockland County, 1942)
Langston Hughes' song "attempts to link the war abroad to the struggle for racial justice at home" (That's why I'm Marching: Mobilizing African Americans for War).

Jake would know segregation and discrimination in his time in the service, an irony not lost on the African Americans who served during World War II whilst they were allegedly "striking their blows for democracy" (That's Why I'm Marching).
The challenge for African-American leaders was to remind white Americans that a struggle for racial justice abroad must inevitably lead to a closer look at injustice at home.  African-American leaders constantly reminded their fellow citizens, and themselves, that this was their country, too; they had shaped its history in profound ways. (That's Why I'm Marching)
For your efforts to preserve that shaping of history, and the profound ways in which you and your family have contributed to that history, my Christmas gift to you, LR--Jake's hands.

Sources: Rockland County Negro Citizens Put on "Stars for Victory" Show to Aid Russians.(December 12, 1942). The New York Age, p. 9.

"That's Why I'm Marching": Mobilizing African Americans for War. (n.d.). Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media.  Department of History and Art History. George Mason University. Fairfax Virginia.  


Gigi said...

Love this!

LindaRe said...

Thank you, Suzassippi. Your words said it all. Lets continue marching by sharing our unique and similar family stories. Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Suzassippi said...

Thanks, Jane, and LindaRe! There are two things I think of this time of right now with your comments, "Sisters, working together for justice" and "Sisters, by another mother." I am fortunate to have both in my life.