It's Good to Be Black
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Southern Illinois University Press
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Forewords to the Sixtieth-Anniversary Edition
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This book, written by the daughter of a coal miner and a teacher, chronicles the story of the Berkley family and the inhabitants of Du Quoin, Illinois, before there was a Civil Rights Movement. It includes my grandmother’s observations of not only the citizens of her hometown...
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Until I once argued with a psychology teacher, I didn't know that all Negro children grow up with a sense of frustration and insecurity. Moreover, I still feel that this statement, along with such kindred obsenrations as ''all colored people can sing and dance," must be taken with the proverbial grain of salt....
1. Du Quoln, Illinois
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The little town of Du Quoin sat in the heart of the coal belt of southern Illinois. It was as though the officials of the Illinois Central Railroad had placed a dot along the tracks between Centralia and Carbondale and said, "Let's put a town about here." But such was not the case, for...
2. As a Fruitful Vine
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The ever new miracle of birth was an old, old taken-for-. granted thing in the Berkley household. For the fourteenth time in her twenty-three years of married life, Mother was going down into what was often referred to as "the valley of the shadow." ...
3. Cousin Frankie
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I was never overawed by accounts of the pyramids of Egypt or the leaning tower of Pisa. Cousin Frankie was the first wonder of my childhood world. Between us was an invisible yet vibrant bond of appreciation and understanding that is seldom found except between the very old and the very...
4. The Black Man's Strength
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The clanging of the fire bell jarred the stillness that lay over our town just before daybreak. Whether I was awakened by this or Dad's exclamation of "Great God a' mighty!," I do not know. Dad was looking out of the north window, his flannelette nightshirt striking the calves of his legs...
5. Before Our Time
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The Genicio yard was one of the show places in Du Quoin. One of the houses in the first block of Little Italy, it was a place of beauty and wonderment. Firello Genicio, lured to America from his native Italy by dreams of a fuller life in a new world, had built a miniature Italian village in his frontyard...
6. Sunday Morning
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Willie Turner was Dad's cousin. He was short, black, and bow-legged, with a perpetual smile and an infectious sense of humor. He should have been on the stage. To us he was much funnier than Bert Williams, who came to St. Louis every year with the Ziegfeld Follies. Some of the older...
7. We Become a Race of Champions
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Two things of world-wide importance happened in 1910. Halley's comet swept across the heavens dragging its nebulous tail, and Jack Johnson fought Jim Jeffries in Reno, Nevada. The first brought with it fear born of unscientific speculation. The effects of the comet were temporary and...
8. When the Black Spider Crawled
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Death is a black spider that creeps into every home no matter how strongly built. At first we heard only a vague rumor as the east coast of the country staggered, gasped, and died like flies from a strange sickness called Spanish Influenza. Suspicion pushed along the report that the...
9. We Witness a Hanging
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We were trailed through childhood by a group of nondescript animals we called pets. They were Prophet, our horse; Cherry, a Holstein cow; Blizzard and Prince, Dad's prize bird dogs. We didn't think of them as animals. They must have reasoned the same, else how could we account for the...
10. And May the Best Man Win
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Our family couldn't be a house divided against itself-that is, outwardly. At home there might be heated arguments as to the relative merits of this or that candidate, but everybody knew that all the Berkleys would march to the polls in one body and vote the straight Republican ticket...
11. Carnival Time
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Twice a year the town awoke to the lumbering of heavy wagons over the ruts in the dirt road. For weeks now, we had stood entranced before the flaming posters that covered the sides of the downtown store buildings and the barns...
12. Echoes of Algires
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If you had asked 100 people in DuQuoin the nature of Big Chick's illness, 99 would have told you that he was stricken with brain fever. The hundredth would have leaned over and whispered what at least 50 per cent of the others be~ lieved, "Chile, Big Chick's been conjured." ...
13. I've Never Seen "Uncle Tom's Cabin"
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We were returning from school when we noticed the men with their long handled brushes, buckets of paste, and rolls of paper by Old Man Teague's buggy house at the comer of Main and Hickory streets. We stopped to watch as they expertly matched the wide strips against the side of the...
14. The Stranger within Our Gates
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Railroad tracks are strange and mysterious things, yet like most commonplace miracles they were taken for granted in Du Quoin. For thousands of miles they lay riveted to wooden ties. If you stood on the tracks near our house and faced south, the tracks seemed to meet down near White...
15. We Attend a Baptizing
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Baptizings were always held at Blakesley's old mill pond on North Walnut Street. A small grove of trees gave the place the air of a private park and it was always used by young lovers who wanted a bit of solitude and beauty as a backdrop for romance...
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In many parts of the country the first robin is called the harbinger of spring. Du Quoin had dozens of signs. Apple trees with blooms of white tinged with pink, cherry trees in festive colors of white and red suspended brilliant patches of beauty above the mud~filled ruts called roads...
17. Miracle on Smoke Row
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If Du Quoin ever had a miracle happen, and what town hasn't had at least one, Martha Morris was it. She lived alone in a little three-room house that defied the ravages of time by her extravagant insistence on a new coat of paint every few years. Her house divided Smoke Row from the...
18. Balancing the Score
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Sarah, Mother's youngest sister who lived in Wyoming, sent us a large box of clothing at least twice a year. Aunt Sarah, who often remarked that she wouldn't be caught dead in a cheap dress, loved beautiful materials. When she had tired of a dress or coat she sent it on to Mother to be...
19. Living is Fun
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Psychologists tell us that every Negro child grows to adulthood with a sense of frustration. Those psychologists never visited our home. We may have had the frustrations common to childhood-maybe of wanting a classic Grecian nose instead of a short bulbous one. Being black, however...
20. A Bishop Visits Our City
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At first glance it seemed that the Baptists l1ad a comer on the religious market in Du Quoin. They boasted of four churches: rebuilt Mt. Zion, pastored by Lija Holmes; Free Will Baptist, pastored by Grandpa Berkley; Mt. Olive, presided over by Elder Winston; and a sprawling, squawking...
21. Davis' Mine Goes on a Rampage
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The whistle on the engine house at Old Davis' mine had
gone crazy and was screaming its head off.
It interrupted the lessons at Lincoln School where Miss Emma Tate was screeching at Earl Simmons, "No! No! No! Illinois is not bounded on the east by Maryland. Here...
22. Dad Converts a Socialist--Almost
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As I think of it now, Brick Taylor was an idealist. That wasn't what Dad called him when they had a big argument about politics one day. Dad called him a wall-eyed, limber-legged ole fool...
23. Our Pioneers in Race Relations
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I don't know how old I was when I discovered that the brotherhood of men we talk so glibly about is already an accepted fact on the lowest and highest levels of life. The only people unwilling to concede its urgency and practicability...
24. The Ugly Mask of Fear
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The night started out to be one of those normal cold winter nights that found Dad sitting by the big base-burner in his stocking feet, with his top shirt off and his red and blue suspenders making a colorful pattern against his ecru woolen undershirt. He was reading the Du Quoin...
25. Black and Powerful
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Every school day was an exciting chapter in the romance of learning-but not so today. I was weighted down by an inertia that was filled with foreboding. My mind refused to travel again the horror-strewn path of last night, but I could not go around it or rise above it. I could not explain...
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Books by Ruby Berkley Goodwin
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Publication Year: 2013