In 1978, Mamie Garvin Fields, then nearly 90, came from her native Charleston to work with her Brandeis-sociologist...



In 1978, Mamie Garvin Fields, then nearly 90, came from her native Charleston to work with her Brandeis-sociologist granddaughter Karen on (what Karen calls) ""a subjective personal account of life and work in South Carolina from 1888 to now."" For Karen, it was natural to see the history of a black woman of that period in terms of ""an abstract schema. . . strongly colored with discrimination, violence, economic pressure and deprivation of human rights."" All of which, she recognized, had little or nothing to do with actual people and places and choices. The title has historical and individual meaning. It was in Lemon Swamp that Mamie's slave grandfather saw his wife taken away by a fleeing owner; but Lemon Swamp is also where the child Mamie--reveling in the love, solidarity, and joyous sociability of her grandfather's large farm--was thrilled by ""the delicious horrors of its darkness, and its quiet."" Certainly, throughout her life--as a child in a hard-working, ""respectable"" family and a close (if hierarchical) Charleston society, as eager pupil, teacher, religious leader, and civil activist--Mamie faced all the humiliations and challenges of a Jim Crow environment. But: ""Nobody thought about it every minute--if they did, they could not stay in their right mind."" We do hear of Mamie's many battles to openly face-down, or contemptuously evade, the consequence of mainly ""unwritten"" laws which withheld even simple essentials that, as her humbler acquaintances put it, ""ain' fo we."" Schoolroom equipment beyond a bell and rollbook, say, or a USO for black soldiers. Her own family's quest for education reached back into slavery, when ""some would steal away to teach; steal away to learn."" Though the narrative sometimes wilts under the load of genealogy and the string of ""boastings"" (common to survivors), Mamie's accounts of teaching in poor rural areas where rats were eaten and cults proliferated, of exuberant family occasions, and of the mores and marvels of her Charleston community (""You cannot get respect in your apron"") are ag freshly remembered. The intermittently absorbing, often informative testament of an accomplishing, rightfully proud woman.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 1983

ISBN: 0029105501

Page Count: -

Publisher: Free Press/Macmillan

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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