Showing 71 - 80 of 118 annotations tagged with the keyword "African-American Experience"

What Would I Do White?

Jordan, June

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Aull, Felice

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The speaker conjectures on what it would be like to be white. Her question is a challenge and her examples are not flattering to whites. "I would forget my furs on any chair. / I would ignore the doormen at the knob . . . " and, finally, "I would do nothing. / That would be enough."

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Sapphira and the Slave Girl

Cather, Willa

Last Updated: Nov-30-2006
Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Sapphira was a fashionable young woman in Winchester when she married Henry Colbert, a man beneath her station, and moved to a rugged backwoods village, where they have lived for more than 30 years. Twenty of Sapphira's slaves came with them. This caused somewhat of a sensation among the poor, non-slave owning population of the region, where even to this day the Colberts are admired but not well-liked. Henry successfully took over the village grinding mill, while Sapphira assumed the role of local granddame. They had three daughters, all of whom married and moved away. However, Rachel's husband died, and she returned to Back Creek with her two young children.

Sapphira and Rachel are lay nurses who often visit and comfort the sick. Sapphira appears to do this work out of a sense of noblesse oblige, but Rachel feels empathy for the sick and less fortunate. She sets herself above nobody. Rachel is also an abolitionist at heart (as, to some extent, is her father), but Sapphira is firmly convinced that slavery is not only necessary, but also moral. Henry, a rather ineffectual male presence in this story, has responded to Sapphira's haughty regime by gradually withdrawing. In fact, he has largely abandoned the Big House to live at the mill, which he justifies by claiming the lack of a reliable foreman.

Sapphira suffers from severe dropsy. Her swelling is so bad she can no longer walk. She is jealous of a young slave named Nancy, with whom she believes Henry is having an affair. Much of the novel describes Sapphira's attempts to get rid of Nancy, first by selling the girl in Winchester, and later (when Henry refuses to sell) by importing her ne'r-do-well nephew to rape and destroy Nancy. This doesn't work either, primarily because Rachel takes Nancy under her wing and arranges her escape to Canada via the Underground Railroad.

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Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

Hurston's powerful, lyric second novel centers on Janie Crawford, an African-American woman who tells her life story to her friend, Phoeby. Janie, raised in rural west Florida by her grandmother, is forced to marry, at age sixteen, a landowner, Logan Killicks. Far from giving her stability and respectability, Killicks instead treats her like a mule. Her image of love and life as a beautiful blossoming pear tree that grew in her grandmother's yard is dashed by the harsh realities of this loveless marriage.

She leaves Killicks to marry Joe Starks, an ambitious businessman who builds and becomes the mayor of an all black town. Joe also treats her as property--as a showpiece to bolster his image in the town, and does not allow her to befriend any one else. When Joe dies after seventeen years, Janie is finally financially and spiritually independent.

She falls in love with a young roustabout, Tea Cake--a man who (mostly) treats her as an equal partner and who returns her love fully. Despite the townspeople's disapproval, Janie and Tea Cake leave the town to make their way in the Florida muck, working side by side as itinerant farm hands.

During a hurricane and flood, Tea Cake saves Janie from a mad dog, but gets bitten himself. Tea Cake later develops fulminant rabies and is too late to receive effective treatment. Tea Cake turns on Janie and she must defend herself. The novel closes back in the frame of telling the story to Phoeby, of teaching Phoeby about love: "Love is lak de sea. It's uh movin' thing, but still and all, it takes its shape from de shore it meets, and it's different with every shore." Janie, reflective, mature, and strong, has gained wisdom from her life and suffering.

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A Lesson Before Dying

Gaines, Ernest

Last Updated: Nov-28-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Novel

Summary:

In a rural town in Louisiana in the late 1940's a poorly educated young black man, Jefferson, is in the wrong place at the wrong time: he is in a liquor store with two friends when they murder the white storekeeper. Jefferson is unfairly convicted of murder and sentenced to the electric chair by a white judge and jury.

His defense lawyer, in trying to stave off the death sentence, labels him a "hog"--and it is this label that Jefferson's godmother wants disproved. She enlists the help of the narrator of the novel, Grant Wiggins, the plantation schoolteacher.

Wiggins agrees to talk with Jefferson only out of a sense of duty--he is an unhappy, angry man who dreamt of escape from his impoverished youth yet returned to his hometown after a university education to teach in the same one-room parish school he attended. Despite humiliation at the hands of the white sheriff, Jefferson's lack of cooperation, and his own sense of futility and uncertain faith, Wiggins forges a bond with Jefferson that leads to wisdom and courage.

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Annotated by:
Clark, Stephanie Brown

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

Brown, anthropologist and Professor of Anthropology of Religion at Drew University, describes the life, religion and healing practices of Marie Therese Alourdes Macena Margaux Kowalski, also known as Alourdes or Moma Lola, a priestess of Voodou, who emigrated to the U.S. from Port-au-Prince in Haiti at the age of 24. What began as an ethnographic research project on immigrant Haitians, turned into a deep personal friendship between Moma Lola and Brown, and a privileged look at the practices and patients of a priestess, and at the socio-cultural lifeworlds of the Haitian community in Brooklyn and in Haiti between 1978 and 1986.

The book presents an intimate description of an alternative healing tradition through a number of perspectives. Brown alternates between a personal, an analytical, and a descriptive narrative of Moma Lola’s own history and her encounters with patients. In some chapters, Brown fictionally reconstructs the patient’s stories, so that the book is part traditional ethnography, and part fiction.

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Annotated by:
Sirridge, Marjorie

Primary Category: Literature / Nonfiction

Genre: Biography

Summary:

In the book’s Introduction, Dr. Cleaveland explains his personal need for real and fictional heroes. Seeing himself often as a victim of cruel childhood peers, he sought protectors and savored particularly the exploits of World War II heroes. His heroes, he notes, delivered him safely through childhood and adolescence.

Cleaveland describes seeing a documentary movie about Dr. Croydon Wassel in 1944; Dr. Wassel became his first personal hero. A book about Dr. Wassel was read by Cleaveland many times; later, as an adult, Cleaveland looked for the book again and set out to ascertain its authenticity. From extensive research he found Dr. Wassel to be far more courageous than he had anticipated--"studied, found not wanting."

The author was introduced to the story of Dr. Billie Dyer in 1992 through a collection of short stories. Dyer was a black physician who kept a diary during his eighteen months in service in the U.S. Medical Corp during the First World War. Cleaveland found a copy of the diary in the public library in Lincoln, Illinois and learned more about a new hero.

Other heroes he writes about were Dr. Woodrow Dodson, who served sixty years as a "domestic medical missionary"; and Dr. Lonnie Boaz, a black physician, the son of a victim of a hate crime, who became a well known ophthalmologist, husband, father, civic leader, and reformer after starting out as a painter, janitor, and army medic.

Cleaveland considers some of his patients to be heroes: Vera Gustafson, a World War II nurse whom he interviewed extensively, later adding historical information to her story; Paulette McGill, a childhood diabetic cared for by Dr. Cleaveland for twenty years; and an obese diabetic who became a "universal friend," teaching others about devotion and courage. Other patients were also deemed heroic, each for some special reason.

The longest story, saved till the last, is about Dr. Janusz Korczak, described by Dr. Cleaveland as the most heroic figure he knows of. Korczak was a Polish, Jewish pediatrician who devoted his life to improving the welfare of children in the Warsaw ghetto; he was deported to the Treblinka concentration camp with the children. (A movie that came out in 1990 dramatically tells this story.)

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Annotated by:
McEntyre, Marilyn

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This film tells the remarkable story of Vivien Thomas (played by Mos Def), an African-American fine carpenter, who found his way into medicine through the back door and changed medical history. Hired when jobs were in short supply to work as a custodian and sometime lab assistant to Dr. Alfred Blalock (Alan Rickman), a research cardiologist, Thomas quickly becomes an irreplaceable research assistant. His keen observations, his skill with the most delicate machinery and, eventually, in performing experimental surgery on animals, make clear that he has both a genius and a calling.

Though the relationship has its tensions (Blalock, as a Southern white man and a doctor, has some blind spots in the matter of mutual human respect, though he highly values Thomas’s skills) it lasts for decades. The two move their families to Baltimore, where Blalock becomes Head of Surgery at Johns Hopkins and, much to his colleagues surprise and to some of their dismay, brings Thomas in to perform groundbreaking open heart surgery on a blue baby. It is not until after Blalock’s death that Thomas is granted an honorary doctorate from Johns Hopkins, where he continues to work in research until his own retirement.

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Robert Coles, Teacher

Goodman, Barak

Last Updated: Sep-07-2006
Annotated by:
Shafer, Audrey

Primary Category: Performing Arts / Film, TV, Video

Genre: Video

Summary:

This video depicts Robert Coles, noted author, psychiatrist, documentator and humanist, teaching his popular undergraduate course, "The Literature of Social Reflection," at Harvard University in 1990. The film begins with a bell tolling in a steeple and students entering the lecture hall. Excerpts from his lectures are presented in 4 parts: I: Ruby; II: Seeing--The Paintings of Edward Hopper and The Stories of Raymond Carver; III: Praying; and IV: Potato Chips and Tolstoy.

Some additional documentary clips are shown, such as footage of six-year-old Ruby Bridges being escorted into a previously all-white New Orleans school amidst a screaming mob during forced integration of schools. In between segments, brief interviews of Coles’ students let the viewer know that his message is getting through: it matters how you live your life--it matters a great deal.

Coles teaches with stories and these stories are riveting. In 1960, while in the Air Force and assigned to a psychiatric detail, he befriends young Ruby after he witnesses her courage in entering the school building. He comes to know her family and teacher.

Several months later, during the morning escort, Ruby stops in front of the school and says something which makes the mob even more frenzied. Coles is asked by the teacher to tell Ruby not to do that again. Upon gentle questioning, it turns out that Ruby was not talking to the mob, but to God: "Please God, try to forgive those people because they don’t know what they’re doing."

It was a prayer she said every morning, usually a couple of blocks away from the school, but that morning she had forgotten to do it earlier. Coles discusses the remarkable gift of forgiveness instilled in this brave child by her parents, who despite poverty and lack of opportunity to advance in life, were able to love and teach their children values and grace.

In Part II, Coles uses paintings by Edward Hopper, a poem by Raymond Carver ("What the Doctor Said" (annotated by Felice Aull and Irene Chen, also annotated by James Terry) and Carver short story (Cathedral) to illustrate how difficult it can be to truly communicate with and know another person. And how magical the moments are when we do.

In Part III, Coles shows some of the children’s drawings that he has collected during his documentary work. Coles delights in describing what the children said about their drawings at the time they created them. He clearly respects them and their ideas.

The last part ends with the story of the death of Coles’s mother at Massachusetts General Hospital. In her dying days she befriended an African-American woman, whose job was at the bottom of the hierarchy of the hospital: an orderly. After Coles’s mother died, it was this woman--not any doctor or nurse--who taught Coles how to take the time and be with his mother, rather than rush off as he was preparing to do. Coles asks, "Who was the doctor, the healer, the wise person?"

He notes that these twists are characteristic of many stories, such as those by Flannery O’Connor. He then concludes before a standing ovation: "Let us be good to one another, live on behalf of one another . . . . We are lucky to have these writers . . . and to have the lives that can include them."

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The Monster

Crane, Stephen

Last Updated: Sep-01-2006
Annotated by:
Willms, Janice

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

A small-town doctor’s son is saved by a black man from a burning house. In gratitude, the doctor takes it upon himself to salvage the life of the badly burned and disfigured hero. Others warn him that he is doing no service to the patient, but the physician cannot let go of one whom he owes such a profound debt. The town begins to fear the newly created "monster." The burned man’s life becomes a nightmare of rejection; the physician and his family are progressively rejected by the community.

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Milk

Pollack, Eileen

Last Updated: Sep-01-2006
Annotated by:
Squier, Harriet

Primary Category: Literature / Fiction

Genre: Short Story

Summary:

This is a story about Bea, a single woman professor who has just had a caeserian section for an 11 pound boy, and her hospital roommate, Corinne. Bea describes her own discomfort with Corinne’s race, while admiring Corinne’s pride and nurturance toward her newborn son. As the story progresses, Corinne is betrayed by the medical world in a multitude of ways: misdiagnosis, racist treatment, denial of medical treatment, and incompetent care, resulting in Corinne’s sepsis and her son’s eventual death.

At the end of the story, after Corinne and Bea are discharged from the hospital, Bea tries to visit Corinne and deliver the pictures of her child that Corinne hadn’t been able to afford. But at the last minute, Bea turns away. Although she wants to help, she feels wholly inadequate, and believes she will only cause Corinne pain. Ironically, Bea remembers her last night in the hospital, how she covered her ears as Corinne’s baby whimpered, and as her own breasts surged with milk for the crying child. Even though her instincts and body tell her what to do for Corinne, she is not able to listen.

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