Abiding Faith Letter 21

Abiding Faith Letter 21


ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes



I bought an orange Volkswagon bug. In the mid 1970s, I traveled by bus to New Orleans,

but this was my first drive through the South alone. I was somewhat wary about

driving through Mississippi. On this first trip, I, however, stayed overnight in Meridian

at a motel. Hearing classical music on a public radio station, I was a bit reassured

that Mississippi had entered the modern world.



Letters of an Abiding Faith:

Legacy of a Slave’s GrandDaughter to her Son

written by Ella Lewis to her Son (Rudolph Lewis)

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Letter 21


September 9, 1983


Dear Son,

How are you. Fine I hope. I received your most kind and Welcomed letter a few days ago. I was glade to hear From you. I trust you like your new Job Better. This leave me doing OK Thank the Lord. Every Body here is Fine Send love.

Saturday I went up to Millard Stith to Fish Fry.* And Sunday I went to Church. Heard a nice Sermon. But the weather is still hot down here. How is the weather up there. I glade you decided to get Some insurance That nice. Doc is it any thing you want me to send you far as the house.** Because you could carry a lot of things from here for your apartment. I got plenty dishes, glasses. Let me Know if you want me to send you any Thing. Just let me Know. Lucinda Say your girl Friend Call. Her talk a long time. Doc you take care of your self and start Eating. And dont Forget to pray. I am praying for you.

And dont forget if you want me to Send you something. Just name it. I love you

All Ways Mother

This is my Security ###-##-####

I was Born in Sussex County in Va. My Maiden name Ella Jackson now Lewis.

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*For ages, Millard Stith and his family have held an annual fish fry during labor day weekend. That tradition continues: hosted  awhile by his brother Lawrence Stith but he too passed. Someone, however, decided that tradition was still important and against the reserve of some, the fish-fry was held again in 2002.

**At the writing of this letter, I was already in Monroe, Louisiana, which is about thirty miles west of Vicksbury, Mississippi. I had my fears about going South. But still I had a fascination for New Orleans and I wanted to see it for myself, close up and over an extended period of time, at least a year. Moreover, I wanted to challenge my own fears. The reward, of course, was to be near that romantic city where all things are possible in dreams and love.

I would stay only a year in Monroe at Northeast Louisiana University (NLU), teaching composition and literature. I believe I was paid about $14,000 a year, which was more money than I had earned at one time in my life.NLU was a white school in need of faculty integration. I was the token Negro in the department. In that there was not much to enjoy on campus, I soaked up Negro Monroe. I enjoyed Monroe’s night life. Nightclubs stayed open until three and four o’clock in the morning. 

Months before I left Washington, D.C. I bought an orange Volkswagon bug. In the mid 1970s, I traveled by bus to New Orleans, but this was my first drive through the South alone. I was somewhat wary about driving through Mississippi. On this first trip, I, however, stayed overnight in Meridian at a motel. Hearing classical music on a public radio station, I was a bit reassured that Mississippi had entered the modern world.

At the end of my year in Monroe, I returned to Virginia on Route 61, through Memphis and Nashville, and then through the mountains into southwestern Virginia onto Route 56, which ends in Norfolk.  In driving through the Mississippi Delta, I understood why it was the birth place of the blues. There were all these cotton fields — as far as one could see on all of the cardinal points and the land was low and flat and there was not a tree underwhich to catch some shade from a white-hot burning sun. I would have left that life too and begin to roam here and there –anywhere but a Mississippi cotton field.

I drove back again down through the deep South. This time taking the long way. I went south on 95, stopping in Charleston and Savannah and then crossing west on a secondary road through Alabama. I wanted to see the great Tuskegee. I was surprised by its small town isolation. I did not drive onto the campus. It was late evening and I was anxious to get out of Alabama. I am sure I would have been awed by the legacy of the Great Booker T. Nevertheless,  I was indeed impressed by the redness of the soil, which reminded me of Bukavu, Zaire.

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Sex at the Margins

Migration, Labour Markets and the Rescue Industry

By Laura María Agustín

This book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work, that migrants who sell sex are passive victims and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label ‘trafficked’ does not accurately describe migrants’ lives and that the ‘rescue industry’ serves to disempower them. Based on extensive research amongst both migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustin, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry, and although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice. “Sex at the Margins rips apart distinctions between migrants, service work and sexual labour and reveals the utter complexity of the contemporary sex industry. This book is set to be a trailblazer in the study of sexuality.”—Lisa Adkins, University of London

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Salvage the Bones

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On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. She and her brothers live in a ramshackle house steeped in grief since their mother died giving birth to her last child. . . . What remains, what’s salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.—WashingtonPost

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

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By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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update 31 December 2011




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