At the Elbow of My Elders: One Family's Journey Toward Civil Rights

Overview

While America is familiar with the modern civil rights movement begun in the 1950s, little has been published about black families throughout the country who had been fighting segregation in their local communities for decades. Their everyday battles (both individual and institutional) built the foundation for the more publicized crusade to follow.

           In this memoir, Gail Milissa Grant draws back the curtain on those times and presents touching vignettes ...

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Overview

While America is familiar with the modern civil rights movement begun in the 1950s, little has been published about black families throughout the country who had been fighting segregation in their local communities for decades. Their everyday battles (both individual and institutional) built the foundation for the more publicized crusade to follow.

           In this memoir, Gail Milissa Grant draws back the curtain on those times and presents touching vignettes of a life most Americans know nothing about. She recounts the battles fought by her father, David M. Grant, a lawyer and civil rights activist in St. Louis, and describes the challenges she faced in navigating her way through institutions marked by racial prejudice. The book also illuminates the culture of middle-class black families in those difficult times. Grant details how her family built a prosperous life through the operation of a funeral home, the practice of chiropody (podiatry), and work on the railroad and on pleasure boats that plied the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.  
 
            During the 1950s the Grant family home on the south side of St. Louis provided a refuge for many celebrated African American entertainers and political leaders who were refused accommodations by the major hotels. The Grant home was notable because it was located in a predominantly white neighborhood.St. Louis was still in the grips of Jim Crow laws, which divided blacks from whites—in schooling, housing, and mostpublic facilities. The black community chafed under these conditions, but it also built its own institutions while fighting against the restrictions that barred blacks from full participation in society.It is the tension between what they could and could not do for themselves that energizes this memoir.
 
            The Grant family is emblematic of many black middle-class and blue-collar people who, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, went to school, paid their dues, and forced America to face its prejudices. Through one act of courage after another, they set in motion a social movement without end.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
In this well-written family memoir, former U.S. foreign service officer Grant presents an African-American family history that forgoes the epic sweep of the Civil Rights story to illuminate the difficult everyday life of a middle class black family in the first half of the 20th century. Focusing on the lives of her parents and grandparents, Grant's St. Louis story captures the strong voices of her family and the ambivalent tenor of their times. The facets of institutional racism are many and not always expected; Grant's father, a lawyer and an early activist, found himself in jail more than once: "the police had been told, 'Just call him boy and he'll give you grounds to lock him up' which they did, and I gave them reason." Grant's mother claims she never felt racism during her "cocoonlike upbringing," and remarks that on Chicago's south side, "It was actually quite a lot of fun being segregated.... There was music everywhere and there were so many swank clubs." Grant also shares tales of her own upbringing in a mostly white neighborhood, her pioneering grandmother-the first African-American embalmer-and a few marquee names like Cab Calloway and Josephine Baker. Covering an underreported facet of the 20th century American experience with detail and devotion, this insightful read should hold meaning for many. 60 color illus.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781883982669
  • Publisher: Missouri History Museum Press
  • Publication date: 9/28/2008
  • Pages: 272
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Gail Milissa Grant was a foreign service officer with the U.S. Information Agency for more than twenty years, managing international cultural and educational exchange programs overseas. A former Assistant Professor of Art and Architectural History at Howard University, she is now a writer and public speaker based in Rome.

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Table of Contents

1 The Mammoth Teardrop: Life in South St. Louis during the 1950s 1

2 But Why Do I Have to Ride a Streetcar to School?: Turn-of-the-Century St. Louis 11

3 Heart to Hart and Stem to Stern 31

4 Upstairs/Downstairs: Recollections of an Embalmer's Daughter 45

5 Chicago's South Side: The Promised Land - Almost 69

6 Riding a Different Kind of Current: Political Activism in the 1930s and 1940s 79

7 The First March on Washington: So Successful That It Didn't Happen 113

8 What a Fabulous Party!: Entertainment in Jim Crow's Shadow 131

9 The Hub: The Peoples Finance Building 149

10 Hi-De-Ho: Famous Faces from Faraway Places 165

11 Moving Waaaaaaaay Down South 181

12 What a Pair! 203

13 Bringing It All Home 229

Addendum: Credo of the American Negro Citizen A.D. 1942, by David M. Grant 241

Bibliography 245

Index 249

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