Twenty-three autobiographical articles by noted African American journalist T. Thomas Fortune, comprising a late-life memoir of his childhood in Reconstruction-era Florida
T. Thomas Fortune was a leading African American publisher, editor, and journalist of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, who was born a slave in antebellum Florida, lived through emancipation, and rose to become a literary lion of his generation. In T. Thomas Fortune's “After War Times,” Daniel R. Weinfeld brings together a series of twenty-three autobiographical articles Fortune wrote about his formative childhood during Reconstruction and subsequent move to Washington, DC.
By 1890, Fortune had founded a predecessor organization to the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, known as the National Afro-American League, but his voice found its most powerful expression and influence in poetry, prose, and journalism. It was as a journalist that Fortune stirred national controversy by issuing a passionate appeal to African American southerners: “I propose to start a crusade,” he proclaimed in June 1900, “to have the negroes of the South leave that section and to come north or go elsewhere. It is useless to remain in the South and cry Peace! Peace! When there is no peace.” The movement he helped propel became known as “the Great Migration.”
By focusing on Thomas’s ruminations about his disillusion with post–Civil War Florida, Weinfeld highlights the sources of Fortune’s deep disenchantment with the South, which intensified when the Reconstruction order gave way to Jim Crow–era racial discrimination and violence. Decades after he left the South, Fortune’s vivid memories of incidents and personalities in his past informed his political opinions and writings. Scholars and readers interested in Southern history in the aftermath of the Civil War, especially the experiences of African Americans, will find much of interest in this vital collection of primary writings.
"Starting around 1950, people stopped raising chickens, milking cows, and raising hogs. They just buy it at the store, ready to eat. A lot buy a steer and have it processed in Dongola and put it in their freezer. What a difference! Girls have got it so easy now. They don't even know what it was like to start out. And I guess my mother's life, when she started out, was as hard again as mine, because they had to make everything by hand. I don't know if it could get any easier for these girls. But they don't know what it was like, and they never will. Everything is packaged. All you do is go to the store and buy you a package and cook it. Automatic washers and dryers. I'm glad they don't have to work like I did. Very glad."
Edith Bradley Rendleman's story of her life in southern Illinois is remarkable in many ways. Recalling the first half of the twentieth century in great detail, she vividly cites vignettes from her childhood as her family moved from farm to farm until settling in 1909 in the Mississippi bottoms of Wolf Lake. She recounts the lives and times of her family and neighbors during an era gone forever.
Remarkable for the vivid details that evoke the past, Rendleman's account is rare in another respect: memoirs of the time—usually written by people from elite or urban families—often reek of nostalgia. But Rendleman's memoir differs from the norm. Born poor in rural southern Illinois, she tells an unvarnished tale of what it was really like growing up on a tenant farm early this century.
Edgar Allen Imhoff renders a series of touching, colorful vignettes about growing up in southern Illinois during the Great Depression. He writes poignantly of his family and their struggles (including his father’s exhausting but successful effort at self-education) as he revisits his early childhood years in the country and his eventual move to the town of Murphysboro, where he encountered school bullies, outstanding teachers, first love, World War II, and adolescence.
Imhoff contrasts these memories of his youth with events, incidents, and thoughts from his more recent past. While writing a government check with six figures to the left of the decimal, he remembers how his mother once scrounged together thirty cents so Imhoff and his brother and sister could go to the circus with their classmates. Listening to President Carter give a speech in the Rose Garden reminds him of the contrasting elocutionary style of the Reverend William Boatman, the pastor at his country church, which was built by Imhoff’s great-great-grandfather and others.
Through such contrasts, Imhoff not only paints a loving picture of his past, he also comments on the alienation and emptiness that mark many lives in the United States, especially those of modern nomads. Imhoff has himself become a nomad, living far from the land of his birth, enjoying a successful and rewarding career. Yet he is drawn repeatedly to his past, his family, his childhood home, and the intricate combination of events, attitudes, values, and loyalties that influenced and molded him.
In 1940 seven-year-old Tony Bailey was evacuated to the United States—one of more than 16,000 children sent overseas at a time when a Nazi invasion of England seemed inevitable. He spent four years with the wealthy Spaeth family in Dayton, Ohio, before returning to his parents in Southampton. Evocative, heartfelt, and charming, this is a story of a double childhood—of a boy who became American while never ceasing to be British.
"An original, sensitively told story in which the perspectives of the child are carefully remembered. . . . Bailey's book speaks, with gentle eloquence, not only to those who remember being boys, but to everyone who would seek to protect children from the hurts and ravagings that ordinary life can inflict, to say nothing of war." —Richard Montague, Newsday
"No doubt Tony Bailey owed America something for its hospitality during those anxious years, and with this book he has amply repaid the debt." —Joseph McLellan, Washington Post
"An exquisitely controlled, quietly amusing and moving story." —Publishers Weekly
"As tender as it is truthful, and as amusing as it is unpretentious." —John Russell, New York Times Book Review
The Attic: A Memoir
Harnack, Curtis University of Iowa Press, 2011 Library of Congress PS3558.A62474Z463 2011 | Dewey Decimal 813.54
In The Attic, his sequel to the classic We Have All Gone Away, Curtis Harnack returns to his rural Iowa homeplace to sift through an attic full of the trash and treasures left behind by the thirteen children in two generations who grew up in the big farmhouse.
The adult Harnack had been making pilgrimages to his past from various parts of the country for thirty-plus years; now the death of an uncle and the disposal of an estate bring him home once more. The resonant diaries, church bulletins, photos, newspaper clippings, and other memorabilia in the attic allow him to rediscover both personal and universal truths as he explores the enduring legacies of home, family, and community.
Finally, discovering a cache of letters written home while he was in the Navy in the mid 1940s, he confronts a stranger—his younger self. Harnack’s “dream-pod journey . . . from who I am now to how it once was for me” tells the life story of a close-knit family and extends this story to our own journeys through our own memory-filled attics.