To write Silent Ties I searched for materials that could provide insight into the relationships between whites and blacks in the 1940s and 50s. One of those resources was African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950, edited by R. Douglas Hurt. An essay by Melissa Walker entitled “Shifting Boundaries: Race Relations in the Rural Jim Crow South” discusses the relationships that often existed in the farm communities, but were not carried into the urban areas.
The rural setting allowed for an environment of cooperation as they worked together while maintaining the societal rules of each individual in their proper place. She highlights stories of children as playmates, eating at each other’s homes, sharing friendship. The essay reveals the flexibility of the relationships between children and how it changed as they aged. Just like with Addie and Missy, there were elements of kindness and caring for one another, but there were limits.
The essay also details the racial hierarchy that maintained the economic dominance of the white landowners. We see this in the relationship between J.P and James, and the system Granddaddy Tucker establishes upon his death. He leaves ownership of the land to J.P., with the understanding that James will have life use of a small portion. Even though he appears to love both sons, he limits the opportunities of one, relegating him to a status more aligned with servant than heir.
Ms. Walker also highlights the issue related to titles reserved for whites in public but used within the black community privately. We see the problems that arise when Missy inadvertently used the titles Mr. Jefferson and Miss Emily in front of Uncle Frank. As the story continues, we are forced to examine the reasons why Missy may have been encouraged to use the titles when addressing these particular black adults.
Another issue addressed in the essay was the practice of some blacks seeking protection and patronage from powerful whites. In Silent Ties, we see how Ada, James, and Emily use the Tuckers to help their family. Though Granddaddy Tucker’s love for Miss Ada was the reason protection was granted in the beginning, that story line changed. Eventually, it was granted because of fear as well.
To aid your discussion, I encourage you to read African American Life in the Rural South, 1900-1950, edited by R. Douglas Hurt. In future blogs, we will examine other issues highlighted in this enlightening book.
“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana