In the front matter to my book, “Red Clay and Roses”, there is a dedication, as many provide when they author a book. I want to share with you the story behind the dedication. It is not an ordinary dedication for supportive family and friends. It is a dedication to a man whose name I never knew. Well, it is to some degree, because I do mention my loving and supportive husband, Greg. Read as follows and then I will explain:
While visiting my grandparent’s farm in my youth, an elderly African American man told me,
“If your children can look at my grandchildren and not see color, then we have made progress.”
This book is dedicated to him, the progress that we have made,
and to my loving and supportive husband, Greg.
I am more than a half century in age at 52 years. I was born in 1960 in Georgia. Schools in my hometown were not integrated until 1971. In 1972, I went into Foster Care. In Foster Care, I was at home with other children of many races. I did not give race much thought. Same was true after I went to live in an orphanage in 1974. By then, all of the schools in the area were integrated. Most neighborhoods were exclusive, and many still are in the Deep South. Things were very different in my grandparent’s time.
My grandparents lived on property that has been in my grandmother’s family since the land lottery of 1827. My greatest American ancestor, Thomas Holland, won this 500 acre lot and one other lot for his war service in the American Revolutionary War. It has been occupied by my grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins ever since that time. Though only one home survived the Civil War, the land did. My grandfather’s family’s Baptist Church stands on one end of the property and my grandmother’s family’s Methodist Church stands on the other end.
During my time growing up, throughout the time spent in Foster Care and the Orphanage, I was able to spend time with my many cousins and the hired help (mostly black) and their families on my grandparent’s farm. This was primarily weekends, holidays, and summers
As I matured, I spent six months in New York City, and a few years in Atlanta Georgia. City life was much different than time on the farm or in my small hometown.
The dedication and why it is meaningful to me:
I was not as deeply indoctrinated with racial opinions and bias as many others in my community growing up. My grandparents; however, were very deeply indoctrinated. While they were respectful in many ways, treated their hired help kindly, and paid them well. They still had their set ways of thinking and acting. Not having been very much influenced by the Civil Rights Movement, being way out in the country, they internalized the community around them, as most do.
When I was 19 years old, had a small child, and was already divorced, I spent some brief time in my grandparent’s home. A female friend from North Georgia had come down to visit.
We were gathered at the dining room table having the noontime meal (called dinner in the South, not lunch). The dog started barking and we heard a truck pull up into the driveway. My grandfather got up from the table to go see what the ruckus was all about. A few moments later, we heard him call out, “Mama, yo nigger is here to plow yo field!” very loudly. He slammed the front door.
My friend and I looked at each other with our mouths agape. Grandfather came back to the dining room and continued his meal, while Grandmother went to the bedroom to fetch her purse to pay the man. A black man, an African-American, on invitation, had come with his rototiller to prepare Grandmother’s garden.
I got up from the table and went out onto the front porch where the elderly black man stood with his hat in his hands on the front steps.
“Sir, I am so sorry for my Grandfather’s behavior,” I apologized.
“Whatever are you apologizing for?” he asked.
“Well, he called you a nigger and slammed the door in your face. That was rude and I am ashamed for him,” I went on.
“Little lady,” he said with a wide smile, “I ain’t never been nothin but a nigger. For all my long life, nothin but a nigger. Your Grandpappy, he ain’t never knowed me as nothin but a nigger, all his long life. But if your children can look at my grandchildren and not see color, well then, we has made some progress!”
His statement resonated with me for my whole lifetime. I raised my children to not see color. We sang “Everybody’s Beautiful” and “Jesus Loves the Little Children” before they were able to talk good. Their friends were always welcome in our home regardless of color or national origin. My two grandchildren are of mixed race, although they look nothing alike. I could not imagine not accepting their father as family.
We are, each of us angels with only one wing, and we can only fly by embracing one another.
~Luciano de Crescenzo
After I wrote “Red Clay and Roses”, which was highly influenced by my life experiences and those of my family, I had to come up with what I felt was a meaningful dedication. I did not feel the typical, “Thanks, to my supportive….,” would suffice. The book has a significant amount of racial tension in it. This African American man’s words came back to me. We have made progress, and for that I am grateful.
How do you decide what to write as a dedication in your books? What inspires you to be grateful? What progress do you see?