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Civil Rights Childhood

Civil Rights Childhood

Jordana Y. Shakoor
Copyright Date: 1999
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    Civil Rights Childhood
    Book Description:

    Two voices blend in this poignant memoir from the Civil Rights era in Mississippi--a father's and a daughter's. He was Andrew L. Jordan, a son in a dirt-poor family of sharecroppers near Greenwood. Jordana Shakoor is his little girl who grew up to write this book. In her southern childhood she is just becoming aware of her people's dreadful predicament of loving their homeland but of hating its mistreatment of blacks. Like virtually all other southern black families, the Jordans endured humiliation and fear of white reprisals.

    The child states that her father rejected the ugly Jim Crow tradition and aimed at achieving an improbable dream in black Mississippi--to become a schoolteacher. First, he served as a "colored soldier" in the armed forces. Then he returned home to marry in 1955, an especially ominous year in the calendar of black southerners (the heinous murder of the black northern teenager Emmitt Till occurred then). Jordan got his education with aid from the GI Bill and realized his dream of teaching. But it wasn't enough. Beginning to live according to his conscience, he joined his life to the Civil Rights Movement. At first he moved behind the scenes and then worked openly in mass meetings and voter registrations. For his activism he lost his job and, unemployable at home, he was driven from Mississippi.

    In Ohio his family merged into the American middle class. When the daughter was twelve, Jordan let her read his fascinating memoir. It made her proud. When she was thirty-five, her father died. By the time she was forty she had begun to intertwine their two stories and their two voices. In a loving reminiscence of her childhood and family influences in Mississippi during a time of danger and strife Civil Rights Childhood unites their two lives and their histories.

    The voices in this book tell a story whose theme is familiar to legions of African Americans. Yet its particular voices, until now, have gone unheard. Though this is told by a child born in the segregated South, it also is the story of her family's triumph over a dark heritage, a story of a Civil Rights childhood that casts away a centuries-old tradition of insult and denial to embrace instead a Civil Rights heritage of freedom and love.

    Jordana Shakoor is president of JYS Consultants, PosiPower Concepts, a management and eductional consulting firm in Worthington, Ohio

    eISBN: 978-1-61703-092-5
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-1)
  4. Chapter 1 Son of Mississippi Sharecroppers
    (pp. 2-13)

    Andrew L. Jordan, my father, was the fourth of five seedlings that sprang from the union of Cleveland and Elizabeth Jordan. Daddy was born in the land of the Mississippi River, which snakes through a rich Delta soil. He was mired in the ugliness of a southern philosophy according to which white skin was supreme and black skin inferior. He languished in a land of lily-white magnolias where for centuries blacks had had no freedom. It was a mesmerizing place that nourished the roots of people who endured years of injustice. My family was born in the most racist state...

  5. Chapter 2 Fear and Discrimination
    (pp. 14-29)

    Long before I was born and cradled in the protective arms of my father, white children in Mississippi were being read fairy tales written by Hans Christian Andersen, Charles Perrault, and Beatrix Potter. Hearing how Hansel and Gretel, lost in the forest, came upon a wicked witch who wanted to eat them instead of the candy-and-cake-decorated house with which she had lured them, these children could feel especially loved and cared for, lying like delicious morsels in the safety of their four-poster beds. They could tremble with delight at their father’s deliberate metamorphosis into Little Red Riding Hood’s big bad...

  6. Chapter 3 Mama’s Plantation
    (pp. 30-49)

    Although my parents both grew up in Mississippi, their lives were very different. Arella Love, my mother, was born March 29, 1935, on the Wildwood Plantation. She grew up not far from there on Jimmy Cole’s plantation in Money, Mississippi. Her childhood experiences were unlike Daddy’s; while he was dirt poor, Mama was allowed certain advantages by the owners of the plantation where she lived.

    Because of their contrasting experiences in Mississippi, their union was a successful one. Although Daddy was determined to succeed, it was Mama who, during the difficult times, always saw the rainbow. My father’s achievements were...

  7. Chapter 4 A Colored Soldier
    (pp. 50-65)

    Daddy was in the eleventh grade at Broad Street High School when he received his induction papers. The year was 1952, and he was twenty-one years old. Although his grades were above average, he had not completed high school. It isn’t clear whether my father entered school late or lost several years of schooling along the way. What is indisputable is that for several generations the Mississippi cotton fields deferred or ended educational opportunities for children of Negro sharecroppers like my father. However, Daddy was as eager to become a soldier as he was determined to become a schoolteacher. Both...

  8. Chapter 5 A Lynching in Money, Mississippi
    (pp. 66-77)

    In 1955, about the time Daddy and Mama were courting, a lynching took place in Money, Mississippi, forever altering the lives of blacks and whites in the Delta. People around the world were shocked that something like this could take place, even in the state of Mississippi.

    Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old black boy, and his cousin Curtis Jones were sent from the South Side of Chicago by Emmett’s mother to spend a two-week holiday with Till’s great-uncle, Moses Wright. Curtis made it safely back to Chicago that summer, but Emmett’s unrecognizable body was shipped home in a pine box. Roy...

  9. Chapter 6 Five Little Girls
    (pp. 78-99)

    All five Jordan girls were brought into the world by seasoned black midwives, who had acquired their medical skills from other black women who had learned the art of birthing from previous generations. Each of us cost fifteen to twenty hard-earned dollars, which was placed in the palm of a skilled practitioner as she went wearily out the back door. No malpractice suits were ever filed because we looked funny or weren’t as smart as we should have been. If we looked funny, then that was how God intended us to look, and, since Daddy was studying to become a...

  10. Chapter 7 Granddaddy Jordan during the Struggle
    (pp. 100-111)

    Daddy’s parents lived on Avenue H in Greenwood. He and Mama stayed there for a little while when they first got married. The Jordans’ rented frame house was green and rather square-shaped with white trim along the roof. The toilet was precariously situated on a small porch attached to the rear of the house. At the front of the house, during the summer, family and friends gathered on a large porch for conversations that were punctuated by hands thrown up to greet neighbors who rode or walked past. This all-black section of Greenwood was populated by folks with various kinds...

  11. Chapter 8 A Teacher Takes a Stand
    (pp. 112-133)

    On May 13, 1960, Daddy graduated with a bachelor of science degree from Mississippi Vocational College (now known as Mississippi Valley State University). James H. White, the first president and one of the founding fathers, signed his diploma. The day should have been one of the happiest in Daddy’s life. However, he had not had the opportunity to become a traditional student. He had started college in his mid-twenties, then married and soon had a big family. He did not have a carefree student’s life. He worked, studied, and was a father.

    Preparing himself to become a high school business...

  12. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  13. Chapter 9 The Death of a Leader
    (pp. 134-143)

    It doesn’t matter how forewarned people are: when a leader is felled, there is a profound effect on the survivors. Medgar Evers had many survivors in addition to his wife, Myrlie, his three children, his brother, Charles, and other family members. Thousands of black people in Mississippi and throughout the country were devastated when they learned he had been slain.

    Born in Decatur, Mississippi, in 1926, Medgar Evers was the forerunner of the civil rights movement in the Magnolia State. A World War II veteran, he challenged the racist system in 1946, when he and five other young veterans, including...

  14. Chapter 10 Blackballed in Mississippi
    (pp. 144-157)

    After the death of Medgar Evers, many blacks in Greenwood were more determined than ever to register to vote. Throughout Mississippi and the South, the white power structure could no longer completely suppress black activism. Change was gradual, and there was still white resistance. The Citizens’ Council, being the most organized effort, was backed by the KKK. If it had not been for the interest of the northern media in the civil rights struggle, the organizing of blacks would have taken longer, and more blacks would have been lynched.

    “Who speaks for black people?” Was the question of blacks in...

  15. Chapter 11 The Last Summer
    (pp. 158-179)

    I thought the irises of all white people’s eyes were sky blue. Where I got this notion, I don’t know. Daddy didn’t tell me. (He rarely talked about white folks at home, although he was involved in the struggle and white people were the cause of our dilemma.) It was certainly not from anyone in school, where I only saw names scratched out at the front of first-grade readers, because, as when Daddy was a child, my class got the raggedy, hand-me-down books. Perhaps in those books the characters Sally, Dick, and Jane had blue eyes; I haven’t seen one...

  16. Chapter 12 Moving to Ohio
    (pp. 180-199)

    Before we could join Daddy in Toledo, a number of things had to be done. He had to find a place for our family to live. Shortly after Mama came for us girls, Daddy moved out of his brother’s house into a one-room boardinghouse closer to work. There, he scrimped and saved nearly every penny, working double shifts so that he could rent a three-bedroom house near his brother’s on Vermont Street.

    Daddy moved into the house and immediately began saving for our bus fare. He was exhausted and working around the clock. Fortunately, he didn’t have to buy any...

  17. Chapter 13 A Schoolteacher
    (pp. 200-216)

    Daddy was just as much a teacher at home as he was at school, and he was constantly buying or bringing home educational games and books. Often around the dining room table he would give us math quizzes or pull out the flash cards of multiplication tables or set up spelling bees. And Daddy gave us lessons in black history long before anything of substance about black people was taught in schools. Who was called Moses? Who was Paul Laurence Dunbar? Who was Frederick Douglass? Who was Denmark Vesey? Who was Nat Turner? Who was Mary McLeod Bethune? Where is...