The Recollections of a Sharecropper’s Son
Publication Year: 2013
Hodges has structured the book as a series of brief but revealing vignettes grouped into two main sections. In part 1, “Learning,” he introduces us to the town of Greenwood and to his parents, sister, and myriad aunts, uncles, cousins, teachers, and schoolmates. He tells stories of growing up on a plantation, dancing in smoky juke joints, playing sandlot football and baseball, journeying to the West Coast as a nineteen-year-old to meet the biological father he never knew while growing up, and leaving family and friends to attend Morehouse College in Atlanta. In part 2, “Reflecting,” he connects his firsthand experience with broader themes: the civil rights movement, Delta blues, black folkways, gambling in Mississippi, the vital role of religion in the African American community, and the perplexing problems of poverty, crime, and an underfunded educational system that still challenge black and white citizens of the Delta.
Whether recalling the assassination of Medgar Evers (whom he knew personally), the dynamism of an African American church service, or the joys of reconnecting with old friends at a biennial class reunion, Hodges writes with a rare combination of humor, compassion, and—when describing the injustices that were all too frequently inflicted on him andhis contemporaries—righteous anger. But his ultimate goal, he contends, is not to close doors but to open them: to inspire dialogue, to start a conversation, “to be provocative without being insistent or definitive.”
Recently retired, John O. Hodges was an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, where he was also the chair of African and African American Studies from 1997 to 2002. His articles have appeared in the CLA Journal, the Langston Hughes Review, Soundings , and The Southern Quarterly.
Published by: The University of Tennessee Press
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TItle Page, Copyright, Dedication
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This book has been long in the making. I only trust that the final delivered vol-ume justifies the long gestation period. Numerous individuals have contributed one way or another to whatever success I have achieved here. I offer thanks first of all to members of the Delta community with whom I have shared joys and sor-rows, successes and bitter disappointments. My family, friends, and schoolmates ...
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Over the twenty or so years that I have been at work on this project, I have seen it take several shifts and turns in focus and emphasis until it has evolved into what it is today. Originally, it was meant to be a book of essays on the religion and cul-ture of the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta. The book would help correct certain miscon-ceptions of the Delta and of “my people” that were presented in other works on ...
Part I: Learning
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Every few years [the Mississippi River] rises like a monster from its bed and pushes over its banks to vex and sweeten the land it has made. For our soil, very dark brown, creamy and sweet-smelling, without substrata of rock or shale, was built up slowly, century The place I call home is a land of profound contradictions and paradoxes, be-...
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I never knew my maternal grandfather, Eli Wilson, but those who did said that I resembled him not only in appearance but also in aptitude. According to my cousin Luevina Lymon, he was a stout, dark-complexioned man. “That boy,” some friends of the family said of me, “is the spitting image of Eli.” I always ap-preciated what seemed to me to be a compliment, so much so that I, quite unof-...
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I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.Unlike my sister, Edna, I had no knowledge of my father, Tommie James “T.J.” Hodges, when I was growing up. I was only about three when my mother left Richmond, California, where we lived, to return to Greenwood to help take care ...
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My mother was called Sister, Menthe, Mantha—everything, it seemed, except her real name of Samantha. I always thought that was a shame since she had such a beautiful name. My mother and I were close, and I loved her dearly, despite the near-death whippings she gave me. For a long period following her death in 1971, Those familiar with Saint Augustine’s deep affection for his mother, ...
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The house we lived in was not unlike that of the other sharecroppers in our area. In fact, the color of the houses identified them as belonging to the same planter. It was a green, three-room, frame shotgun structure with a tin roof. There were front and back porches. We had no running water and, of course, no indoor bath-room facilities. The toilet, or outhouse as we called it, was about twenty feet in ...
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...[E]nlightenment was viewed as the greatest single opportunity to escape the indignities that whites were heaping upon Blacks. Chil-dren were sent to school when it was a great inconvenience to their parents. Parents made untold sacrifices to secure the learning of their My stepfather was always difficult for me to understand. Here was a man who ...
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...docile, hungry, and subordinate laborers, the only productive work-force conceivable to them. Recognizing that former slaves possessed neither land nor money for rent or supplies, planters exploited their Several of the major planters in the Delta also had careers in regional and na-tional politics. There were, for example, U.S. Senators Leroy Percy of Wash-...
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Though most families knew the outcome, settlement day was filled with ex-citement and expectation. It was always held just a few days before Christmas. Whether or not one cleared anything could spell the difference between a joyous holiday season and a disappointing one. But even if our family didn’t clear any-thing, which was most often the case, we were generally allowed, even encour-...
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The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true Unlike some of my classmates, who were eighteen when they graduated from high school, I was nineteen when I got my diploma in 1963. This was true not only for me but for several others who spent their first years attending planta-...
G Street Boys
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I insist that the object of all true education is not to make men car-Believing we could do better in town than on the plantation, my family moved to 804 Avenue G in Greenwood around 1957, when I was about thirteen. About that same time or a little later, two other families with teenage boys moved to homes on Avenue G, the McNeals and the Elliotts. It was a matter of providence that we ...
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The man who shoots and burns and drowns us is surely our enemy, but so is he who cripples our children for life with inferior public couraging the days might be, when one resolve did not continually remain with me, and that was a determination to secure an education While I felt a special connection with the boys on Avenue G, I had many close ...
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Many a child called dull would advance rapidly under a patient, wise, and skillful teacher, and the teacher should be as conscientious in the As I mentioned earlier, I always liked school, perhaps because I feared the al-ternative. My mother assured me that if I stayed in school, the heaviest thing I would pick up would be a pencil. That was a good bargain for someone who had ...
Going to the ’House
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It must be borne in mind that the tragedy of life does not lie in not reaching your goal. The tragedy of life lies in having no goal to reach.I knew fairly early on that I would be going to college. Both my mother and step-father, in their own ways, made great sacrifices on my behalf. My teachers and members of my church also expected it of me. I also knew that if I wanted to get ...
Part II: Reflecting
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According to a woman I knew as Miss Emma, one of my mother’s closest friends, my uncle Obe was the meanest man she had ever seen; she asked for water but he gave her gasoline. That line, of course, comes from the Muddy Waters1 song Miss Emma flipped the script to express her own feelings of hurt and pain. She, like Muddy before her, was expressing the most classic theme in the ...
Gambling on the River
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The Delta bluesman David “Honeyboy” Edwards not only gambled all night long; he also gambled from town to town. Edwards was only one member of a breed for whom this type of hustling often meant a willingness to go anywhere the action appeared most promising. Malcolm X observed that, when it comes to gambling, you’re either the fox or the rabbit, the hunter or the hunted. To find ...
Black Ways and Other Folkways
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Some envious outsider made the suggestion that no one was eligible for membership who was not white enough to show blue veins. The suggestion was readily adopted by those who were not of the favored few, and since that time the society, though possessing a longer and more pretentious name, had been known far and wide as the “Blue ...
African Gods in Mississippi
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The most dominant and intact African survival in the black diaspora It was not until I began the academic study of religion that many of the old cus-toms and superstitions made much sense to me. To my youthful eyes, those prac-tices were simply things the old folks believed and around which they regulated their lives. With the Delta of that time, there were many similarities to tribal or ...
A Delta Revival
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Then I said, I will not make mention of Him nor speak any more in His name. But His Word was in mine heart as a burning fire shut up in my bones and I was weary with forbearing and I could not stay.Each year at the end of summer, our church held its revival. I joined Good Hope Missionary Baptist Church when I was about twelve years old. I remember sit-...
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Mississippi and the Mississippi Delta. The shaded area in the smaller map indicates the area G Street Boys: (from left) John McNeal, Jeffie McNeal, the author, James O. Elliott, and Home at 804 Avenue G. It is pictured here as later refurbished; originally, half of the house was The author’s cousins Lula (second from left), Carlos (third from left), and Myrtle (fourth from Uncle Oliver (center) and his cousins Arthur “Big Son” Chandler (left) and Stone Chandler ...
The Black Church
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The Negro church of today is the social centre of Negro life in the United States, and the most characteristic expression of African Booker T. Washington once quipped that if you could find a black man who wasn’t a Methodist or a Baptist, some white man had been tampering with his religion. Although not generally known for his humor, Washington was giving a ...
The Black Preacher
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As far back as I can remember, folks have told me that I had a mark, or gift, which meant that they felt I had been set apart for some special purpose. No purpose in their minds could be greater than that of becoming a minister of the gospel. Ad-mittedly, there was little in my early or later life that dispelled this notion among those determined to believe it. Family members and close friends claimed they re-...
The Folk Sermon
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The black and massive form of the preacher swayed and quivered as the words crowded to his lips and flew at us in singular eloquence. The people moaned and fluttered, and then the gaunt-cheeked brown woman beside me suddenly leaped straight into the air and shrieked like a lost soul, while round about came wail and groan and outcry, ...
Is God Good?
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O God? How long shall the mounting flood of innocent blood roar in Thine ears and pound in our hearts for vengeance? . . . Forgive us, good Lord, we know not what we say! Bewildered we are and passion-tossed, mad with the madness of a mobbed and mocked and murdered people; straining at the armposts of Thy throne, we raise our shackled ...
The Color Line
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To live anywhere in the world of a.d. 1955 and be against equality be-cause of race or color, is like living in Alaska and being against snow.William Faulkner, address to the Southern Historical AssociationThe problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color-line.W. E. B. Du Bois wrote more than a century ago that in most American cities ...
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The majority—by no means all, but the majority—of the white people in Mississippi 1) either approve Big Milam’s action or else 2) they don’t disapprove enough to risk giving their “enemies” the satisfac-Without a doubt, the most significant event of my youth was the lynching of Emmett Till, a fourteen-year-old Chicago boy, in August 1955. At first, the anger ...
Ruleville Revisited: Reflections Fifty Years After Marius
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...“It can be worth your life these days to work for civil rights in Mississippi.” So begins an article, “Ruleville: Reminiscence and Reflection,” by the late historian and novelist Richard C. Marius, published in the September 23, 1964, issue of the Christian Century (pp. 1169–71). Marius’s comments were spurred by the then-recent flurry of civil rights activities that had engulfed Mississippi in the early ...
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Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet deprecate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. . . . This struggle may be a moral one; or it may be physical; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes noth-We were neither shocked nor surprised when our civics instructor in high school ...
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We believe that there are white Mississippians who want to go for-ward on the race question. Their religion tells them there is some-thing wrong with the old system. Their sense of justice and fair play choose to change or not, the years of change are upon us. In the racial Medgar Evers, in a radio address a few weeks before his shooting...
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...freed the slaves, yet their heirs, their grandsons, are not fully free. They are not yet freed from the bonds of injustice. They are not yet freed from social and economic oppression. And this Nation, for all its hopes and all its boasts, will not be fully free until all its citizens By most accounts, 1963 was the most significant year of the civil rights movement. ...
Endesha: A New Walk for Freedom
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Where the old Cat had walked her “walk,” sensuous and slow and wanting only to attract the longing gaze of hungry men, this new Cat had no time for that kind of nonsense. I raced to get where I needed to go, even arriving early, eager to get a head start on the day’s work. I couldn’t wait for freedom to come to me; I was poised to take elu-...
Whites in the Struggle
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While life in Mississippi can be languid and pleasant, certain hazards confront the dissenter who would disparage the local customs. Mis-sissippi is famous for a past of police brutality, and for the sure ha-rassment, even to death, of those who defy the code. . . . Today  the press has become even less bothered about reporting brutality ...
Reunion as Pilgrimage
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Most of us have been away from Greenwood now for forty, fifty, sixty years, or more, reside in various places throughout the United States and abroad, and per-haps have no real desire to return to this place as permanent residents. The ques-tion so often posed by outlanders who wish to make our acquaintance is, “Where is home?” We respond with a question intended to make a clarifying distinction: ...
Epilogue: The Delta Then and Now
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Black people are the magical faces at the bottom of society’s well. Even the poorest whites, those who must live their lives only a few levels above, gain their self-esteem by gazing down on us. Surely, they must know that their deliverance depends on letting down their In bringing these fragments to a close, it is important to remind myself and my ...
Appendix 1: Table of Black and White Persons in the Delta by Population, Education, and Income
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Appendix 2: Reports Relating to 1962 Civil Rights Activities in Which Author Was Involved
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Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2013
Edition: First Edition.
Series Editor Byline: John Smith, Will Wordsworth