Archive for August 23rd, 2011


Before DNA testing and black pride, the South, not Africa, used to be the Old Country for African Americans. As W. Fitzhugh Brundage observed in The Southern Past: A Clash of Race and Memory, because there were few physical memorials to the black past, this history was preserved in stories, which resulted in a feeling akin to ownership, if not of the land, then of place. That was in itself still a relatively new experience for me, not being afraid of being in a black place, not bracing myself for the anti-Tom vibe or the anti-queer vibe, which were often pretty much the same thing. Black New Orleans during Katrina V was extraordinarily friendly. Every single black person I passed on the street greeted me. Every one.

I bought a bag of fried chicken and some white bread at a cramped soul-food counter on Claiborne Avenue and sat to eat on a piece of concrete under the expressway. Not far away, black people were relaxing on lawn chairs beside their trucks, coolers at their feet. A vendor hawked fresh fruit to traffic paused at the lights. I thought of how my sisters and my parents would be astonished to see me, of all self-conscious black people, gnawing chicken in a public street. They would have laughed and teased me. I began to cry, it was a meal straight out of the distant down-home past, and I missed my family so much all of a sudden.

Congo Square, that meeting place of slavery and music, where Gottschalk came to get ideas, was still boarded up, locked away, but I went to hear the young brass bands in the neighborhood bars whenever I was asked. I danced in second lines; I danced in the streets, something I’d never been moved to do before.

—Darryl Pinckney, “Deep In The Bowl,” September 2011 Harper’s


When I Worked

August 2011
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