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REVIEW: book--the ditchdiger's daughters

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  • Kalamu@aol.com
    ... ==================================== H-NET BOOK REVIEW Published by H-New-Jersey@h-net.msu.edu (April, 2007) Yvonne S. Thornton. _The Ditchdigger s
    Message 1 of 1 , Jun 3, 2007
      >>REVIEW: book--the ditchdiger's daughters

      Published by H-New-Jersey@... (April, 2007)

      Yvonne S. Thornton. _The Ditchdigger's Daughters: A Black Family's
      Astonishing Success Story_. New York: Plume, 1995. vii + 261 pp.
      Illustrations. $24.00 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-55972-282-7.

      Reviewed for H-New-Jersey@... by Valeri Drach-Weidmann,
      Highland Park Public Library.

      An American Dream Realized

      The early 1950s was not an era of opportunity for African Americans in
      New Jersey. Neighborhoods were segregated, and banks refused loans to
      black families seeking homes in white neighborhoods. Blacks lived in
      inferior housing and attended schools that did not prepare them for the
      possibility of higher education. They worked largely in menial and
      repetitive jobs with little hope of advancement. What kind of a future
      could a black child, especially a girl with dark skin, expect? Race
      almost certainly determined class.

      Nevertheless, in 1950s Long Branch, New Jersey, Donald Thornton, a black
      ditchdigger at Fort Monmouth, made an outrageous claim. After being
      teased by his fellow workers for having five daughters and no sons he
      declared that all of his children would become doctors and wear
      "scripperscraps" (stethoscopes), around their necks (p. 4). Thornton and
      his wife Tass worked at whatever jobs they could get to support their
      daughters' education and even built a house in a white neighborhood with
      their own hands when a bank refused them a mortgage. Though the
      Thorntons struggled to purchase music lessons and instruments for their
      daughters, the family formed a band, the Thornton Sisters, that
      performed at colleges throughout the Northeast to help support the
      family (p. 140). Donald kept his daughters studying and off the streets.
      The family had one goal--to educate their children to do valuable,
      respectable work.

      Ten years ago, in _Ditchdigger's Daughters_, Yvonne S. Thornton, M.D.,
      with writer Jo Coudert, chronicled her parents' efforts to launch the
      professional lives of their daughters in Long Branch. Living in a
      project apartment in Seaview Manor, Donald Thornton managed to enroll
      his daughters in Garfield, the local white school, instead of the
      segregated school in their own neighborhood. After they graduated,
      Donald kept his daughters close to home. They matriculated at Monmouth
      College, even though they were accepted to other schools, including
      Howard and Barnard. Yvonne, the third daughter, was the first to become
      a doctor, graduating from Columbia University's College of Physicians
      and Surgeons in 1973.

      Thornton's readable, fast-paced memoir was chosen to be New Jersey's One
      Book choice for its inspirational message and accessibility to many
      different age groups. Thornton and Coudert's writing is compelling and
      perfect for older children and teens who might not otherwise find
      themselves reading. Although her story is uplifting, Thornton does not
      hesitate to portray the sacrifices endured by her parents and sisters
      during the 1950s and '60s. While Donald and Tass worked several jobs,
      the children put off socializing, dating, and making friends to devote
      themselves to study and musical rehearsals. In the end, two of Donald
      and Tass Thornton's daughters became doctors, one a dentist, one a court
      stenographer, one head of a science department in a private school, and
      one (a foster daughter) a nurse. While Thornton might have portrayed her
      family's relationship to their white teachers and classmates in greater
      detail, overall this is an inspiring and well-written portrait of an
      American family.

      Copyright 〓 2007 by H-Net, all rights reserved. H-Net permits the
      redistribution and reprinting of this work for nonprofit, educational
      purposes, with full and accurate attribution to the author, web
      location, date of publication, originating list, and H-Net: Humanities &
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      editorial staff at hbooks@mail.h-net.msu.edu.

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