copyright Bettina Networi, inc. 2014
Who would have expected different guests, not previously known to one another, pick up and read Sarah Lawrence Lightfoot’s book “Balm In Gilead” during their stay in a Bettina Home.
All of our homes have large quantities of books. Host families generally buy them at Estate Sales for very little money so they are able to offer great reading materials to and encourage guests to take a book home with them if they are in the process of reading it and would like to finish the book.
We have such responsible guests that they do take books home and when they return, they bring new books they have purchased the same way, giving them to the host family for other guests to discover. What a lovely interlude!
Lightfoot’s book brought some wonderful reminiscences by the guests. The first days conversation, one woman shared the book with the other guests and on the second day, all contributed because they found the book in their rooms and read it. It was an unexpected gift for me because I knew the family and the southern United States that was under discussion.
Mostly, the book caused the women (no men present) to go over their history rather than critique the book.
One critique, however, was what one woman felt as the author’s anti-southern bias, which she said permeated the book. It talked of relatives going South as a ‘missionary field’ to raise the educational standards of the poor Blacks in the South. That caused a discussion of great emotion since racially the women at breakfast were a mixed group and all but one from the north. That left the poor lone Southerner with only me as back-up and sometimes I can’t be trusted to be loyal.
The truth of life among Blacks in the South is very seldom portrayed accurately. Just like those who most profited from slavery is often skewered with slavery’s Northern interests very seldom revealed.
The Northern women – both Black and White – understood the books bias and didn’t see it as a bias, but as fact. One small part of “Balm in Gilead” describes Margaret and Charles Lawrence, with their very substantial education at top schools not able to find a job in the north and so consequently going south to Fisk and Meharry. The author (their daughter) didn’t seem to know why or rather described the Lawrences as not knowing why. What most Southern Blacks would understand is that -in the day – when you had that top rated education you went South for a job because you were not hired in the North. Black millionaires and other very financially substantial African Americans were Black Southerners or Black Northerners transplanted to the South because they had no place else to thrive.
A veery famous Black New England family moved to Alabama from Boston and worked there in substantial jobs until retirement when they returned to New England and took up their Yankee existence without missing a beat. They moved to Alabama because even with a Harvard Doctorate there were no jobs for them in the North.
There was much talk about “Victory over trauma” – which was portrayed as one way African Americans can survive this society almost intact. “Trauma and strength.”
One particular quote, read to us by one of the women was very poignant. “In order to survive one must confront the deep wound, experience the knifelike pain, move through the zombielike period of ‘depersonalization’ speak about the event, act it out, cry over it, stomp on it and finally emerge from it – usually with a scar.”
“One must transcend. Pain must not be the victor.”
In part of the conversation about Black Anger – “Anger nurtures until you can find more suitable vehicles out of which to act and to love.”
Black male sexism – “He did not denigrate my path, but he blocked it.”
“My mother gave me away to my grandmother.” Since I was raised by my grandmother, when they gave that quote from the book as a way of describing the phenomena of grandparents raising their grandchildren tears flowed from a couple of us.
There was so much more. To get the entire story you must read the book. We recommend it heartily.
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