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The Colored Car

Gender, Trauma, and Uncanny Films in the Weimar Republic

Jean Alicia Elster

Publication Year: 2013

In The Colored Car, Jean Alicia Elster, author of the award-winning Who's Jim Hines?, follows another member of the Ford family coming of age in Depression-era Detroit. In the hot summer of 1937, twelve-year-old Patsy takes care of her three younger sisters and helps her mother put up fresh fruits and vegetables in the family's summer kitchen, adjacent to the wood yard that her father, Douglas Ford, owns. Times are tough, and Patsy's mother, May Ford, helps neighborhood families by sharing the food that she preserves. But May's decision to take a break from canning to take her daughters for a visit to their grandmother's home in Clarksville, Tennessee, sets in motion a series of events that prove to be life-changing for Patsy. After boarding the first-class train car at Michigan Central Station in Detroit and riding comfortably to Cincinnati, Patsy is shocked when her family is led from their seats to change cars. In the dirty, cramped "colored car," Patsy finds that the life she has known in Detroit is very different from life down south, and she can hardly get the experience out of her mind when she returns home-like the soot stain on her finely made dress or the smear on the quilt squares her grandmother taught her to sew. As summer wears on, Patsy must find a way to understand her experience in the colored car and also deal with the more subtle injustices that her family faces in Detroit. By the end of the story, Patsy will never see things the same way that she did before. Elster's engaging narrative illustrates the personal impact of segregation and discrimination and reveals powerful glimpses of everyday life in 1930's Detroit. For young readers interested in American history, The Colored Car is engrossing and informative reading.

Published by: Wayne State University Press

Series: Great Lakes Books Series


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pp. 1-2

Title Page, Series Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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p. vii-vii

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pp. ix-x

I offer my utmost gratitude to my mother, Jean Ford Fuqua, and my aunt, Maber Ford Hill, for their willingness to share more tales from their youth. All due appreciation to my editor, Kathryn Wildfong, for opening the door to this second volume in the Ford family story. (Kathy, you’re ...

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pp. xi-xiii

The history of the struggle for civil rights in the United States—the attempt by African Americans to possess basic rights of American citizenship that were denied to them based upon racial discrimination—can be studied through ...

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1. Piccalilli

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pp. 1-23

Mounds of ground-up onions, celery, cabbage, and sweet green peppers were piled high on the table in the middle of the summer kitchen— Patsy did not have to ask her mother what she was making. In the early weeks in July, it was the ...

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2. The Baker Streetcar

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pp. 24-40

The next morning, the girls were jammed in together between the dresser and the foot of the bed in their parents’ bedroom off the dining room. The heavy scent of their mother’s perfume—Desert Flowers—hung in the air as ...

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3. Tickets to Clarksville

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pp. 41-56

Patsy, Laura, and Jean found it hard to keep up with their mother’s brisk pace after they crossed Joseph Campau and began the walk down Halleck Street toward home. The midday sun beat down on them. Wet circles grew larger on ...

4. The Colored Car

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pp. 57-77

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5. Clarksville, Tennessee

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pp. 78-103

Clarksville Station! Next stop Nashville. All aboard! “Baby, we’re here. Clarksville. Come on, honey, let’s go,” May Ford said to Patsy as she leaned close to her ear and touched her gently on the shoulder. Patsy opened her eyes and looked out the

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6. A Thousand Jars

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pp. 104-120

“Mama, these grapes don’t smell good. They smell funny,” Laura said as she struggled to hold the long broom handle, sweeping around the bushel of purple grapes her father had placed near the door to the summer kitchen. It was the last week in July—May Ford and ...

7. Twenty Squares

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pp. 121-133

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8. The Petition

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pp. 134-147

It was mid-morning, it was hot, and it was humid. May Ford was in the summer kitchen cutting up string beans. It had been one week since May finished canning peaches, and now she was putting up string beans. Patsy sat at the quilt frame that had been ...

9. The Summons

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pp. 148-152

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10. Piano Lessons

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pp. 153-167

“I’m finished, Mama,” Laura announced to her mother, getting up from the bench in front of the upright piano in the living room. May Ford stood in the kitchen doorway, cradling her right hand—still red from the scalding that ...

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11. The Courtroom

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pp. 168-181

The donkey saw was quiet that morning. Douglas Ford was not wearing work clothes and cutting wood outside in the wood yard. He was in the house, seated at the kitchen table, wearing his black suit and a black and gray striped tie. He smelled like shaving cream. He ...

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12. Red Sky

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pp. 182-192

It was late the next night and the house was quiet. In the bedroom off the kitchen shared by the three oldest sisters, Patsy was roused from her sleep by the smell of the kindling fired up in the wood-burning stove in the kitchen. But ...

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13. The Quilt

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pp. 193-202

The summer kitchen did not burn, but the building had what Douglas Ford told his children was called smoke damage. In the week after the fire, Douglas and May Ford washed down everything in the front and back rooms ...

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pp. 203-204

The four Ford sisters all earned their bachelors and masters degrees and were educators in the Detroit Public Schools: Maber Ford Hill (Patsy) retired as an elementary school reading specialist; Marion Ford Thomas (Laura) retired ...

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About the Author

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pp. 205-207

Jean Alicia Elster (BA, University of Michigan; JD, University of Detroit School of Law) is the author of Who’s Jim Hines?—for ages 8 and older—published by Wayne State University Press (2008). Who’s Jim Hines? was selected as ...


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p. 226-226

E-ISBN-13: 9780814336083
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814336069

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2013

Series Title: Great Lakes Books Series