ChickenBones: A Journal
for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes
Within hearing distance of my friend Deborah, she informed him that
there were “too many black people” in the establishment, she
was afraid they were going to rob her, and she was calling the police.
Deliverance from MarksvilleHow many is too many black people?
By Melinda Barton
Marksville, Avoyelles Parish, Louisiana.
It has been nearly 3 weeks since I said goodbye to this little town nestled deep in the heart of Cajun country (or should I say Klan country?). I don’t honestly know if I’ve ever been so relieved to leave a place in my entire life, a period spanning nearly thirty years now. I encountered there an anachronism that belonged more to my parents’ youth than to mine: virulent racism of the Deliverance kind.
It was Sunday, September 25, 2005. (Keep that year in mind.) Rita had just done her worse. Having been confined to the evacuee shelter for days due to the storm, often without electricity, we were aching for a little recreation. In a town as small as Marksville, that meant a night playing pool at a small daiquiri shop on the main drag, Louisiana Highway 1. Although it’s usually completely classless to mention this information, it’s necessary here: “We” meant a group of African-Americans and myself.
My friend Deborah and I arrived early in the evening, desperate for a little stick action.
We spent much of the evening teaching the local gentlemen what it means to get your ass kicked by a couple of crazy broads. No problems there. As time passed, more of our friends showed up and we had our own evacuee pool tournament going. People were drinking, playing pool and poker machines, and rockin’ the juke box. All was well. A normal fun night out with the crowd.
That was until “too many black people” showed up. The bartender, a white woman, apparently became afraid at the appearance of so many black faces and called the owner. Within hearing distance of my friend Deborah, she informed him that there were “too many black people” in the establishment, she was afraid they were going to rob her, and she was calling the police. (Keep in mind that not a single hostile word or act precipitated this call.)
The owner showed up moments before midnight and announced that the shop was closing in two minutes and we had to leave, despite the fact that the bartender had told me on the phone that they closed at 2 a.m. It took us only a few moments to settle our business and leave. By the time we made it to the door, there were three police cruisers in the parking lot. These would soon be joined by half a dozen more.
Fortunately, no one was arrested and no violence ensued. Although one African-American police officer told my friend that “You black people from New Orleans make me sick, coming all the way out here to bother people.” And that’s precisely what happened, you know. We were all sitting around NOLA one day, when we decided that it’d be a real kick to go live in a shelter in Klan country and aggravate the local hicks. A great plan, that.
If we’d only known that we were bringing “too many black people,” we could have avoided all this trouble. I really must know: how many black people constitute “too many”? Precisely when did we reach the black person quota? Are six black people okay?
How about ten? At what precise point do some black people become “too many black people”? Perhaps this is one of those timeless philosophical questions that has no real answer.
If only it had ended there. But there was oh so much more. It’s easiest to just write a list; so here it is:
The Avoyelles Parish Ignorance Top Five List:
5. The local casino refused to serve alcohol to evacuees, although they were free to spend their money gambling.
4. They brought in the National Guard to protect Wal-Mart because there were “too many” evacuees in town. Read: too many black people.
3. A police officer working at the shelter was so virulently racist and so prone to barking at evacuees as if they were prisoners that the two highest-ranking female officers quit the post in protest. Despite attempts by these two officers and the captain of the shift to have him removed, his “family connections” kept him there.
2. A young woman and her child were invited to stay with a local woman, until said local woman’s neighbors began calling her with racist threats. Although this local woman refused to tell the young woman the precise nature of the threats, she explained: “Let’s just say it’s hunting season, so if they shoot you, they can say it was an accident.”
1. A town just a short distance away from Marksville was scheduled for a FEMA trailer park. (Marksville had already refused to house one there.) The big topic of the town meeting: “Can we segregate it?”
And all this leads to the moment when the Red Cross announces the next Sunday that the shelter is closing the next day despite plans to keep it open until October 15. So, everyone had less than 24 hours to pack their things and make arrangements either to go with the Red Cross to a shelter in Alexandria, LA or to find another place to go. Some shelter residents had already gone through more than half a dozen of such moves. Personally, I was done with living in the past, so I moved to my mother’s now habitable apartment in Picayune, MS until my move to DC (set for this coming Monday).
In the end, other than the friendships I made, there are two things that will stick with me from my time in Marksville: 1.) A deep and abiding shame for the color of my skin, a feeling that will not pass easily. 2.) The eternal question: Just how many are “too many black people?”
posted 3 December 2005
* * * * *
#1 – Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark #2 – Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree #3 – Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane #4 – Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper #5 – Stackin’ Paper 2 Genesis’ Payback by Joy King #6 – Thug Lovin’ (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark #7 – When I Get Where I’m Going by Cheryl Robinson #8 – Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby #9 – The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane
#10 – Covenant: A Thriller by Brandon Massey
#11 – Diary Of A Street Diva by Ashley and JaQuavis
#12 – Don’t Ever Tell by Brandon Massey
#13 – For colored girls who have considered suicide by Ntozake Shange
#14 – For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree
#15 – Homemade Loves by J. California Cooper
#16 – The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper
#17 – Player Haters by Carl Weber
#18 – Purple Panties: An Eroticanoir.com Anthology by Sidney Molare
#19 – Stackin’ Paper by Joy King
#20 – Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey
#21 – The Upper Room by Mary Monroe
#22 Thug Matrimony by Wahida Clark
#23 – Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark
#24 – Married Men by Carl Weber
#25 – I Dreamt I Was in Heaven – The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter
#1 – Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable #2 – Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans #3 – Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane #4 – Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper #5 – Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You’re Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant #6 – Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey #7 – The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight #8 – The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing #9 – The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson
#10 – John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History by Ahati N. N. Toure
#11 – Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley
#12 –The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
#13 – The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell
#14 – The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore
#15 – Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can’t Commit by RM Johnson
#16 – Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins
#17 – Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell
#18 – A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose by Eckhart Tolle
#19 – John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard
#20 – Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris
#21 – Age Ain’t Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice
#22 – 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino #23 – Chicken Soup for the Prisoner’s Soul by Tom Lagana #24 – 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields
#25 – Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class by Lisa B. Thompson
* * * * *
A Novel by Jesmyn Ward
On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family thats 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 Katrinas inexorable winds is the voice of Wards 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 familys raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brothers blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt. Her fathers hands are like gravel, while her own hand slides through his grip like a wet fish, and a handsome boys 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 isnt usually just metaphor for metaphors sake. She conveys something fundamental about Eschs 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, whats salvaged, is something indomitable in these tough siblings, the strength of their love, the permanence of their devotion.
* * * * *
By Noam Chomsky
In this urgent new book, Noam Chomsky surveys the dangers and prospects of our early twenty-first century. Exploring challenges such as the growing gap between North and South, American exceptionalism (including under President Barack Obama), the fiascos of Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S.-Israeli assault on Gaza, and the recent financial bailouts, he also sees hope for the future and a way to move forwardin the democratic wave in Latin America and in the global solidarity movements that suggest “real progress toward freedom and justice.” Hopes and Prospects is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. “This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the worldto millions, I suspectfor the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him.” John Pilger In dissecting the rhetoric and logic of American empire and class domination, at home and abroad, Chomsky continues a longstanding and crucial work of elucidation and activism . . .the writing remains unswervingly rational and principled throughout, and lends bracing impetus to the real alternatives before us.Publisher’s Weekly
* * * * *
From The World and Africa, 1965
* * * * *
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
online through PayPal
* * * * *
Browse all issues
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
* * * * *
9 January 2012