Cover To Cover…‘Jim Crow Wisdom…”

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Many African Americans, Holloway claims, share stories of perseverance and strength through memoirs, stories, and anecdotes, and some of the most powerful tales are told in physical manifestations of museum or preserved buildings. Many of these stories serve as subtle (or not-so-subtle) warnings, lessons in getting along in a White world.

But, as he learned, stories can be edited or omitted entirely. There’s a certain kind of unneeded “shame” in some facets of family history that may be hidden or forgotten. They’re buried or, as Holloway says of his own family, a certain “branch of the family tree isn’t even dead. It’s simply gone.”

Good or bad, this all serves as “the preservation of social status and authority,” as well as being cautionary in nature for future generations. It helps in “establishing links, forged from common experience, to the larger Black community” by sharing wisdom and lessons learned from the Jim Crow era and more recently. Still, “The editing… continues” and that, says Holloway, is detrimental to the black community.

“… the silences in a family’s past can serve their purposes,” he believes, “… but they also come with the risk of too little memory, of not knowing the value of sacrifice that enabled a better future in the first place.”

In a way—at least for the casual reader—“Jim Crow Wisdom” was written backwards.

Author Jonathan Scott Holloway writes, in the second half of his book, about his family: recollections of learning stories he’d never heard, and finally understanding the tales that were ingrained at his core. It’s semi-biographical, lively, and because of the nature of what he writes, the latter half of this book underscores its title.

But first, we must get through the first half, which is very, very academic. Holloway is a professor at Yale, after all, and the beginning of the book shows it. It’s not unreadable, but it belies the spirit of the second half.

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