Recommendation

Segregation Chronicles.

Okay, Wide-Awake. I need testimony.

I’m starting a side project (working name: Segregation Chronicles) that will document the physical legacy of racial injustice in Wilson County. I was born in the waning days of legal segregation, and I haven’t lived here in almost 40 years, but I can reel off two dozen-plus sites that stand as mute testimony to trauma that continues to haunt us. I know y’all know more than I do, though, so I’m asking for your help. (Or your mama’s. Or your granddaddy’s.)

At which restaurants did we have to go around back for food? (Like Parker’s.) What theatres had separate entrances and black balconies? (Like the Drake.) What businesses had partitions in their sitting rooms — or whole separate sitting areas? (Like the train station.) Who wouldn’t let you eat at the lunch counter? Who had a colored water fountain (other than the county courthouse)? Where did the Klan rally? Where were German POWs allowed to rest, but your father was told to get his black ass up? Where was the black liquor house that had to pay off a white cop to sell white people liquor after midnight?

Please post here. Or email me at blackwideawake@gmail.com. Or let me know if you’d rather call. All responses from any source, black or white, appreciated. Thank you, and stay tuned. (Especially if you want to know what this photograph shows.)

UPDATE: Check out Segregation Chronicles here, blackwideawake.tumblr.com.

The why of Black Wide-Awake. (And a recommended reading.)

“Every place writes its own elegy before it is founded. Each beginning is an end to what has preceded it; something has always come before. So excavate your own cellar, then the ruins on top of which it was laid, and the bones beneath the ruins. Then dig some more. I may be a sentimental fool, but I can’t deny this particular truth, that it is not so simple as I would like it: paradise is ending on our watch. Then again, it is possible that this is finally true; we shall see, soon. Anyway, I am not fool enough that I would cede my right to complain loudly about what has been stolen from me and no one but me. I take my role as custodian of my nostalgia with a mortal seriousness. Life has supplied me with only these eyes, only this bizarre sensibility composed solely of this accretion of embarrassingly personal, minor events that has solidified into the unshapely mass called ‘me.’ None of us lives in the same world. Seven billion planets, not one, currently revolve around the sun in the third place of the solar system. They told you wrong in school. …”

“… These things that happened years ago and don’t matter to anyone are long-gone wind and rain. Ephemeral, meaningless. But they amount to forces that shaped the rocky earth and waterways (the buildings and institutions and beliefs and histories) that made me.  Guard against its theft, the past of the place that made you. At least notice it, if you cannot save it.

Melissa Holbrook Pierson, The Place You Love Is Gone: Progress Hits Home (2006).

——

I happened upon my old Tumblr account this morning, which I basically abandoned about five years ago. I posted the passage above in maybe 2011, years before I created Black Wide-Awake, and it just kind of waited for me to step into my purpose.

Recommended reading, no. 5.

I am always looking for ways to improve Black Wide-Awake, to hone its mission, to reach its people, to expand its reach. I am inspired by the work of others pursuing similar projects with similar focus and will highlight them periodically here.

First up, Cierra Chenier’s Noir ‘N Nola, a multi-faceted blog focusing on a city that I know well and fiercely love.

In her own words:

“NOIR ‘N NOLA is a brand highlighting the history, politics, lagniappe, & soul of Black New Orleans. It promotes the unity and self-reliance of our community. It connects our history to our present, while laying the foundation for a better future. It is not politically correct. It is not a plea of help from others, but rather a call to action amongst ourselves.

“NOIR ‘N NOLA illuminates our rich history, highlights our local gems, unifies through cultural events, emphasizes issues relative to our community, and most importantly: commemorates the exclusivity that is BLACK NEW ORLEANS.”

Chenier goes on in a message to her people:

“To be Black in New Orleans is something that cannot be understood, bought or imitated. It is the way we pronounce ‘baab-ay’ in that thick accent, to the smell of Creole cuisine coming from your maw maw’s kitchen. It is the need to always represent the ward, neighborhood, or housing project you grew up in, and knowing what to do when you hear: ‘Cash Money takin’ over for the ’99 and the 2000.’ From holding the late, great Soulja Slim in high regard, to our laid-back attitude mixed with Southern charm. It is the tradition of bringing out the brass band to properly send home a loved one. It is second nature that once you hear second-line music at a party, ‘y’all ain’t gotta go home, but y’all gotta get the hell up outta here!’ It it the usage of ‘before the storm’ and ‘after the storm’ as a legitimate timestamp. It is the common knowledge that Manchu has the best chicken and Gene’s has the best hot sausage po’ boy. From knowing the difference between being from ‘across the river’ and from ‘cross the canal,’ to the endless debate of whether that frozen treat is called a ‘huckaback’ or ‘frozen cup.’ It is the ability to turn every situation into a laughing matter and making lemonade out of every lemon that was thrown at us. No wonder Bey used us as inspiration. We dodge bullets like we dodge beads and the murder rate is just as high as the heat index, but it’s home, and there ain’t NOTHING like home.

“As NOIR ‘N NOLA, or Black in New Orleans, we are built different.

“We possess a resilience and charm that cannot be found anywhere else.

“It must be something in the water.”