Stories, sweet potatoes and spirituals

Published 8:21 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

February has been designated Black History Month and it’s a time to recognize and celebrate the many accomplishments by and contributions of African-Americans, past and present.

It’s also a time to remember the sacrifices and struggles that have brought African-Americans to the place they are today.

Why it took our country more than 100 years to recognize people of the black community as more than second-class citizens is a mystery. Perhaps, the focus of the young country was directed toward a long, difficult period of Reconstruction after the War Between the States, then two World Wars, a “conflict” and an undeclared war in Southeast Asia.

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Perhaps, it was because of labor disputes, organized crime, the Great Depression and resistance to American soldiers dying in distant rice paddies and jungles. Perhaps, Americans were too busy burning bras and flags and smoking pot to notice. Perhaps the growing pains of a young country were the reasons – the blame.

But, for whatever reason, America has moved ahead and is working to correct the injustices that were done. However, the issue of slavery seems to surface and resurface to hold this country in bondage.

Who was to blame for slavery?

Was it the warring chiefs in Africa who sold their own people into slavery? Was it those who herded black men and women onto ships and brought them into slavery? Was it those who sold them on the auction block or those who bought them?

The blame probably belongs all up and down the line.

Sadly, some form of slavery has existed since the beginning of mankind and, even sadder, it continues today in some places, in some forms.

Thankfully, America is a different country than it was a hundred years ago, even 20 or 10 years ago.

Recently, my thoughts have been on the influence members of the black community had on my life – on who I am.

My granddaddy had a farm with a long row of tenant houses just behind ours. Some of my best childhood friends – Oralene, Tince and Louise – lived in those houses.

Eunice, Amos, Lizzy, Pink, Aunt Beaty, Uncle Fox and Booley lived there, too, and they were the ones who fostered my love of storytelling, spirituals and sweet potatoes.

Some of my fondest memories are of afternoons and early evenings spent sitting on the front porch of Amos and Eunice’s house listening to the stories and tales they told and eating a cold, baked sweet potato from the oven of Eunice’s wood stove.

There was something magical about being there, serenaded by crickets and katydids and watching lightning bugs flicker.

Sometimes we would just sit and listen to Aunt Beaty sing or Booley play the jaw harp. I learned to love the plaintive songs that I first heard on the front porch at twilight and the simple stories about simple people and simple life.

Mama often told me about the time she heard Amos’ car leave. She knew Eunice was with him and their house was empty.

When I didn’t come right home, Mama started calling me but I didn’t answer. She called louder and Mama could call loud. Finally, I answered.

“Where are you?” she hollered.

“Just sittin’ over here with Booley.”

Because I had not answered the first time Mama called me, she had a peach tree switch waiting for me when I got home.

But I didn’t want to stop listening to Booley’s story. I never wanted to stop the stories, the songs, I heard on the front porch of that ol’ tenant house. Those days, those nights, those gentle, caring people are a part of me. My life is richer because of them.

Alabama author Fannie Flagg wrote: “Alabama is a state where, being so poor and living so close together, there were thousands of kindnesses between the races – both white to black and black to white. Kindnesses and sweetnesses that will never be known or believed because of the unending dark cloud of our past.”

As we celebrate Black History Month, perhaps the greatest sadness of all would be if the kindnesses and sweetnesses such as those I have known are not remembered, or even worse, not believed.


Jaine Treadwell is features editor of The Messenger. Contact her at