Wednesday, June 15, 2011

1012 Natchez

review by Eisa Ulen

Nioki McElroy has published a memoir that often reads like a personal testimony brought on during an ordinary conversation with an elder eager to share her true-life tales. A PhD. who has not attended Wintergreen but who also chose to share her personal narrative with readers, McElroy bears witness to her own life in 1012 Natchez: A Memoir of Grace, Hardship, and Love.

By telling what she saw, and how she saw it, as she came of age, married and started her family in the mid-20th century, McElroy resists the silencing of Black women who experience America differently than the mainstream - even when those Black women become university professors.

When she writes about the beginning of her husband's "own Black consciousness that defined the man he was to become," for example, she also testifies to the state of public affairs affecting countless Black people who were never given the opportunity to write their truths:

"Mac attended Chicago Public School System for grade school in the 1920s and '30s. The schools were segregated - his classmates were Black and the teachers were White. Black teachers were rare since very few Blacks were admitted to Chicago Teachers College, where teachers received their training at that time ... Mac never forgot the way he felt during the year when a disinterested White teacher never bothered to learn his name."McElroy also remembers and tells of the May 1930 lynching of George Hughes, one of too many Black men who were never given a fair trial for the alleged crime of assaulting a White woman, and whose stories of injustice are still insufficiently documented.

McElroy helps continue the work started by campaigner Ida B. Wells when she recounts not only Hughes' lynching, but also the riot that followed - a riot that destroyed the most prosperous sections of a small African American community under siege by hostile Whites. McElroy's work is accessible and her prose is often conversational, creating a tone that is familiar in its frank recounting of the past. I wish the book were longer, that the author had more fully developed some of her ideas and filled in some narrative holes. Nevertheless, McElroy's specific experience in a world dominated by wealth, manhood, and Whiteness belongs to all Black women who struggle to maintain an authentic identity in American society.

Eisa is author of the novel
Crystelle Mourning and lives with her husband and son in Brooklyn.
Reprinted from the Spring, 2011 issue of The Crisis, p34

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