Last week, I finished reading The Help by Kathryn Stockett. On the cover of my paperback copy, NPR is quoted: “This could be one of the most important pieces of fiction since To Kill a Mockingbird…If you read only one book…let this be it.” I highly recommend this book.
Stockett’s work brought out a variety of emotions ranging from laughter, tears of sadness, as well as fist-shaking-book-throwing anger. Yep, I said it: I threw a book.
In reading The Help, I was absolutely appalled by how the women treated their maids and how our society not only supported but perpetuated the mistreatment and abuse of African-Americans: our own people. American citizens. My better-half walked in the house to find me perched in my chair and absolutely livid.
Please do not think for a moment I am minimizing the suffering of others, but people in our society are very quick to gasp and shake their heads in disgust over the mistreatment of (insert the name of an ethnic or religious group here) in Blah-Blah country and/or women being stoned to death in Blah-Blah country. Do they not realize what was happening in our own backyard? Our fellow citizens were abusing and killing our own people as recently as the 1960s.
Through reflecting, I was left wondering how many people are actually aware of what was happening in this country. I do not feel that any of my high school history or social studies classes even remotely touched on the depth of the issue. In my opinion, the topic was barely scratched until my early undergraduate years at Ferris State University thanks to Dr. Kimn Carlton Smith.
Library and book-related passages…
I head down the steps to see if my mail-order copy of The Catcher in the Rye is in the box. I always order banned books from a black market dealer in California, figuring of the State of Mississippi banned them, they must be good.
“Go down to the State Street library. They have a whole room full of Southern writers. Faulkner, Eudora Welry–.”
Aibileen gives me a dry cough. “You know colored folks ain’t allowed in that library.”
I sit there a second, feeling stupid. “I can’t believe I forgot that.” The colored library must be pretty bad. There was a sit-in at the white library a few years ago and it made all the papers. When the colored crowd showed up for the sit-in trial, the police department simply stepped back and turned the German shepherds loose. I look at Aibileen and am reminded, once again, the risk she’s taking talk to me. “I’ll be glad to pick the books up for you,” I say.
In the Mississippi History room, I search for anything remotely resembling race relations. I find only Civil War book, maps, and old phone books. I stand on tiptoe to see what’s on the high shelf. That’s when I spot a booklet, laid sideways across the top of the Mississippi River Valley Flood Index. A regular-sized person would never have seen it. I side it down to glance at the cover. The booklet it thin, printed on onionskin paper, curling, bound with staples. “Compilation of Jim Crow Laws of the South,” the cover reads.
P. 479 (viewpoint of the “book”)
“–a disgrace to the South! A disgrace to the good Southern women who’ve spent their lives talking care of their help. I know I personally treat my help like family and every one of my friends does the same–“
But Miss Joline holding up the book like she want to burn it. “Do not buy this book! Ladies of Jackson, do not support this slander with your husbands’ hard-earned–“
Stockett’s writing flowed nicely and I found it to be a very quick read. I especially enjoyed the ending — openness.
The Help rekindled my fire and inspired me. Very thought-provoking. As a result, I want to learn more about African-American librarianship particularly during the Jim Crow-era. With that said, I am going to begin my quest by visiting my alma mater’s, Ferris State University, special exhibit, the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia. Thanks to Dr. Kafi Kumasi, School of Library and Information Science at Wayne State University, I have a nice bibliography to work through as well.
I think I want to cover this topic as part of LIS 7990.
The movie is being released to theaters this month. Be sure to check it out!