Dunbar on Black Books
November 1998    

  The Anniversary Issue
Having made its move from elsewhere to the web in November 1997, this issue celebrates the first anniversary of "Dunbar on Black Books" in this environment. We thank our readers for the loyal attention which is represented by the respectable number of "hits" we receive each month.


Daisy Anderson died at age 97 in Denver, Colorado on September 19, 1998. Her obituary, written by Robert McG. Thomas, Jr., was published in the New York Times of September 26, 1998 and gives an insight into the lives of what was a remarkable couple. This obituary is the source for our sketch of these two devoted persons.

Mrs. Anderson, nee Daisy Graham, was 21 years of age when she married Robert Anderson in Forest City, Arkansas in 1922. He was 79 when they married. Born into slavery in Green County, Kentucky in 1843, Mr. Anderson fled the flax and hemp plantation in Kentucky during the waning days of the Civil War in 1865. After his discharge from the Army in 1867 he attempted several unsuccessful farming ventures. He then acquired a 2,000-acre homestead in Nebraska and made himself a wealthy man running it. In 1922 when he came to Forest City, Arkansas to visit his brother, he was not only wealthy, but also he was lonely. There, a matchmaking preacher introduced him to Daisy Graham. We are told that he captivated "Miss Daisy" with his talk about his experiences as a slave, soldier and gentleman farmer. Thirty days after their being introduced, the May-December marriage took place. His wife described the union as an eight-year honeymoon, which ended when her husband was killed in an automobile accident in 1930. In 1927 she turned the stories that her husband had told her about his life into a book entitled From Slavery to Affluence: Memoirs of Robert Anderson and published it privately.

Spoiled by her late husband's generosity, Mrs. Anderson became a spendthrift and during the Depression lost the holdings that her husband had left to her. She became a lecturer in her later years and spent her life working for racial harmony and keeping the memory of her late husband alive. She became somewhat of a celebrity, was introduced to Pope John Paul in 1993, and in 1997 presented a copy of her book about her husband to President Clinton.

[0721] Family Tales: Curse or Happenstance? by Lillian Pegues. Noble House. ISBN 0060168234.

Lillian Pegues has written an intriguing book which begins with the lives of two slaves, ostensibly her kinfolk, bought at auction in South Carolina in 1860 from one of the last consignments of slaves to be shipped there from "the Haitian shores" and held in slavery on the Pegues Plantation. The book follows the lives of several of the descendants of Kwassi and Jessamine from then down to current times. Composed of a prologue, fourteen chapters, and an epilogue, this book chronicles the tragedy-filled lives of these achievers. The tales which are told about each of the five generations of the Pegues family unfold against an historical account of events that transpired during the period. Further, the dialog, in almost all cases, attempts the vernacular and the diction of the respective period. This does not always come off well. As a specialist in nonfiction, this reviewer admittedly brought a nonfiction mindset to his look at the book. Having said this, we have several observations about this tightly-written family history.

It would have been useful to have had some reference made to the sources which the author consulted. I was reminded of a comment attributed to an editor of a manuscript by Truman Capote. That editor wrote in the margin "How know?" We wondered how Dr. Pegues knows, for example, some of the things she says about, or attributes to Kwassi and Jessamine. The verisimilitude of the work would have been enhanced with a reference, however parenthetical, to her sources.

The persistent invocation of the Obeah man in practically every tale in the book is striking, particularly as regards, say the current generation of the Pegueses. It is understandable in the cases of the generations of say Kwassi and Jessamine who were members of the generation of the 1860s. It is harder to comprehend as regards those of the more recent generations. So too it is with the crows that gather on the fences and trees of the plantation and become loud and raucous when tragedy befalls a Pegues a thousand miles away. Even they, however, "seemed to have prolonged their rituals for a longer period of time as if they were not quite certain just what they should do. It was as if they knew that a very unusual event had occurred, but no one seemed to be sure that they knew just what it was." Could it be that the crows were about their own business, business that had nothing to do with a Pegues?

There are some curious anomalies in this book. The most striking is the statement that during the riots of 1967, Justice Thurgood Marshall set up a Commission on Civil Disorders which was chaired by Governor Otto Kerner of Illinois. In the normal course of events, justices of the U.S. Supreme Court do not set up commissions to look into national problems. Moreover, the fact is that President Lyndon Baines Johnson established the Kerner Commission in the late 1960s to look into urban disorders.

Another anomaly is inherent in the account of Winston's separation from the U.S. Navy at the end of World War II. According to Pegues, when Winston's ship arrived back in the United States from the Far East, his separation from the service was instant. As she tells it, Winston collected his gear and said good-bye to all of his associates. He purchased a ticket to Steeltown (his home) and was on his way. It sounds like Winston was absent without leave from the moment his ship docked. No one was ever separated from any branch of the U.S. military service in this way. One asks oneself how to assess the accuracy of the author's recounting of events which took place long before her birth and which are recounted in this book, when the telling of those which took place well within her lifetime do not inspire confidence. But, then, a tale is a story or account of true, legendary, or fictitious events. For this reviewer of nonfiction books, the jury is still out as regards the place of Family Tales: Curse or Happenstance? in this spectrum.


[This responds to our "Spotlight on Abdourahman A. Waberi."]

    Your text on A.A. Waberi [is] well thought out, if not really on target. Not really on target because you seem to accept his optimism on the racial situation in France based on the ceremony on June 9, 1998 on the Place de la Concorde. . . . I haven't read his text but I did see those famous statues on television and I have to say that they were very ugly - huge plastic inflated balloons .&nbsp.&nbsp. Very stereotypic and in a way simplistic. The truth is that here in Paris and elsewhere in France, the racial antagonism has grown to frightening proportions .&nbsp.&nbsp. I will comment more on the position of A.A. Waberi.&nbsp.&nbsp.&nbsp. don't think that I don't respect him as a writer, but I have to think that he wants things to change so much that he sees daylight in the slightest flicker of hope.
    Emil Cadoo
    October 12, 1998



    0717 Reaching Up for Manhood: Transforming the Lives of Boys in America. by Geoffrey Canada. Beacon Press. ISBN 0807023167
    The president of the Rheedlen Centers for Children in New York City makes the case that the emotionally repressive upbringing of inner city males tends to work against their developing effective psychosocial skills. He also says that a great stumbling block to character development among youth is the vulgar identification of their self-worth with consumer products. [Source: review by Kwame Okoampa-Ahoofe, Jr. AMNEWS 8/13/98]

    0718 And Not Afraid to Dare: The Stories of Ten African-American Women. by Tonya Bolden. Scholastic Press. ISBN 0590480804
    Treats the lives of Toni Morrison, Mary McCleod Bethune, Clara Hale, Ida B. Wells, Ellen Craft, Charlotte Forten Grimke, Leontyne Price, Mae Carol Jemison, Jackie Joyner-Kersee and Mary Fields.

    0719 Africans in America: America's Journey through Slavery. by Charles Johnson, Patricia Smith & the WGBH Series Research Team. Harcourt Brace. ISBN 0-15-100339-4
    "A monumental research effort wed with fine writing has produced a work that can stand on its own. Studded with a dozen short stories by Johnson, the NBA-winning author of Middle Passage, and filled with arresting period illustrations, it is ultimately shaped by journalist/poet Smith's (Big Towns, Big Talk) beautiful narrative. There is plenty to praise, in particular the drawing together of several slave narratives and other accounts to flesh out the true picture of slave lives in this country." [Source: PW, 09/21/98]

    0720 Surviving the Silence: Black Women's Stories of Rape. by Charlotte Pierce-Baker. Norton. ISBN 0-393-04661-3
    A memoir of her rape in her home while her husband and child were held at gunpoint. The author describes the psychological damage that was done to her and her family and the difficulty she had in dealing with her anger over the fact that the rapists, like her, were black. An important inquiry into a too often overlooked crime. [Source: PW, 09/21/98]

    0721 Family Tales: Curse or Happenstance? by Lillian Pegues. Noble House. ISBN 0060168234.
    Reviewed in this issue.

The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them.
--Mark Twain     

Copyright © 1998 by Harry B. Dunbar. All rights reserved.
Dunbar on Black Books