Richie’s Picks: CROW
Richie’s Picks: CROW by Barbara Wright, Random House, January 2012, 304p., ISBN: 978-0-375-86928-0
“She grew up on a plantation by the ocean and knew an awful lot for someone who couldn’t read or write. She taught me things that Daddy, with all his degrees, didn’t know: that the full moon pulls the tides higher; that star formations appear in different parts of the sky depending on the season; that conch shells hold the sound of the ocean inside them; that the tiny beads of silver that twinkle at the water’s edge are actually alive.
“’How do you know these things?’ I asked, carefully unhooking the devil’s pouch from the seaweed. I would dry it out and add it to the treasures on my windowsill.
“’I use my own two eyes. All you gots to do is look. Now, your daddy could talk a possum out of a tree, but sometimes he can’t see what’s dead straight in front of his nose if it ain’t in a book. Knowing’s first and foremost ‘bout seeing what’s in front of you,’ she said.
“The walk to the shore was always easier than the walk back. Each year the journey got a little harder for Boo Nanny, and this year was the hardest of all. We had to stop many times to rest. Even with all her potions and tonics, she was getting weaker and more bent over. I wasn’t sure how many more years she would be able to make the trip.”
In the summer of 1898, soon-to-be sixth-grader Moses Thomas is living a relatively idyllic life for being a boy of color in the South. While his family is not sufficiently well-off for his being able to own a bicycle, as his good friend does, the fact that his father is an educated man, a city alderman, and a reporter for the Wilmington Daily Record – “the only Negro daily in the South” – means that his family is known and respected – at least in some quarters.
Living with his mother, who is a domestic employee for a white family; his compassionate and book-wise father; and his experience-wise maternal grandmother, a former slave, Moses gets to soak in the respective wisdom and love of each of them. Racial division is very clear to all in this time and place, but Moses has gained the smarts to form summertime alliances and even modest friendships with a few of the white boys – even as he sees the racism around him.
“”’When men attribute qualities to others that take away from a person’s dignity – words like brute or beast – it’s easier to treat that person as less than human. A mob can develop a mind of its own and act in ways that fly in the face of justice,’ Daddy said.
“’Like what?’ I asked.
“’That child don’t need to know about such hateful things.’ Mama said.
“’I’m trying to explain lynching in a way that makes sense,’ Daddy said.
“’You find that way, you be sure to let me in on de education,’ Boo Nanny said.”
Things are to fall apart for the family and the community this summer when White Supremacists take over the town by armed force. In a story based upon ugly and deadly racist incidents from the history books, Moses’s world is going to thoroughly disintegrate.
Now, to me, this is tale very much about something that we don’t actually read about in the book. It’s very much an extension of what happened two years earlier when the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its despicable and infamous decision in Plessy v. Ferguson. The highest law of the land, as interpreted by old white guys appointed for various reasons by various presidents, said that white people and black people are not the same.
And so, this story takes place at the same time as when, thanks to the Plessy decision, profession baseball was becoming white professional baseball. (See Kadir Nelson’s WE ARE THE SHIP.)
In undertaking a quick bit of research in order to see which presidents were responsible for appointing the seven racists on the Supreme Court who joined in on the majority decision in that case, I was particularly horrified to read about one of those seven. Associate Justice David Dudley Field was actually appointed by Abraham Lincoln for the sake of providing regional and political balance for the Court. Field then aspired to become the longest-serving Justice in history, and refused to resign from the Court when his colleagues pressured him to do so, given that he was intermittently senile!
“’But we’re up against something I don’t understand and don’t know how to adapt to. I’ve sheltered you from it, and in the process have made you more vulnerable.’
“’The intractability of hate,’ he said.”
Like a number of other distinguished historical stories that reveal how ugly people in this country can become, CROW is a book that upset the heck out of me.
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