Grady’s Gift

January 14, 2012 § 1 Comment

On December 1, 1999, Howell Raines, the Executive Editor of The New York Times from 2001 until he left in 2003 and contributing editor for Condé Nast Portfolio, published a remarkable tribute to the African American woman who raised him.  It appeared in the New York Times Magazine. I present it in its entirety.

 

“…she taught me the most valuable lesson a writer can learn, which is to try to see — honestly and down to its very center — the world in which we live.”

GRADY SHOWED UP ONE DAY at our house at 1409 Fifth Avenue West in Birmingham, and by and by she changed the way I saw the world. I was 7 when she came to iron and clean and cook for $18 a week, and she stayed for seven years. During that time everyone in our family came to accept what my father called “those great long talks” that occupied Grady and me through many a sleepy Alabama afternoon. What happened between us can be expressed in many ways, but its essence was captured by Graham Greene when he wrote that in every childhood there is a moment when a door opens and lets the future in. So this is a story about one person who opened a door and another who walked through it. « Read the rest of this entry »

THE HELP: A SATAN’S SANDWICH?

September 15, 2011 § 4 Comments

THE HELP: A “Satan Sandwich?”    

I read the book The Help last year and have seen the movie now twice.  I’ve read at least 13 film reviews (from the New York Times and the Rolling Stone to the Christian Science Monitor and the Hollywood Reporter) as well as several academic responses (see the rather strident statement from the Association of Black Women Historians at http://www.abwh.org/ ) and innumerable comments from bloggers. From a term used recently by Representative Emanuel Cleaver regarding the August debt deal, it seems that The Help has created a “satan sandwich” of its own.

Despite all of the laments about stereotypes and the question about whether whites can write about black experience (check out the 1921 Pulitzer Prize-winner Julia Peterkin at http://www.virginia.edu/woodson/courses/hius324/peterkin.html) and the creation of two new magical negro characters (see The Rumpus blog below for an illuminating description), I  decided I like “The Help.” I appreciate the struggle of the director to create a film on the subject of “help” in the 1960s.  It would be controversial from any point of view.  I’ve been looking at the issues of the impact of African American domestics on the white children they raised in the blog at www.justlikefamily.wordpress.com.  I hope to open discussion about this complex and sometimes perplexing relationship and invite the biological children of the domestics to weigh in on what it was like to have their mother raise white children. « Read the rest of this entry »

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