That Mean Old Yesterday

That Mean Old Yesterday

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by Stacey Patton

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That Mean Old Yesterday is an astonishing coming-of-age memoir by a young woman who survived the foster care system to become an award-winning journalist.

No one would ever imagine that the vibrant, smart, and attractive Stacey Patton had a childhood from hell. Once a foster child who found a home, she was supposed to be among the lucky.


That Mean Old Yesterday is an astonishing coming-of-age memoir by a young woman who survived the foster care system to become an award-winning journalist.

No one would ever imagine that the vibrant, smart, and attractive Stacey Patton had a childhood from hell. Once a foster child who found a home, she was supposed to be among the lucky. On a rainy night in November 1999, a shoeless Stacey, promising student at NYU, headed down a New Jersey street toward her adoptive parents' house. She carried a gun in her pocket, and she kept repeating to herself that she would pull the trigger. She wanted to kill them. Or so she thought.

This is a story of how a typical American family can be undermined by its own effort to be perfect on the surface. After all, with God-fearing, house-proud, and hardworking adoptive parents, Stacey appeared to beat the odds. But her mother was tyrannical, and her father, either so in love with or in fear of his wife, turned a blind eye to the abuse she heaped on their love-starved little girl.

In That Mean Old Yesterday, a little girl rises above the tyranny of an overzealous mother by channeling her intellectual energy into schoolwork. Wise beyond her years, she can see that her chances for survival are advanced through her struggle to get into an elite boarding school. She uses all she has, a brilliant mind, to link her experience to the legacy of American slavery and to successfully frame her understanding of why her good adoptive parents did terrible things to her by realizing that they had terrible things done to them.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Journalist Patton (African American & U.S. history, Montclair State Univ.) serves up a riveting tale of anguish and ultimate triumph in this victim's account of a torturous childhood that is a testimony to the power of perseverance. In painstaking detail, she describes her fate and the brutality of those who perpetrated unspeakable cruelty against her. Her powerful story is, however, persistently haunted by an imposed analysis it could have done without. True, the sad tale of an abused child helpless before her adoptive parents and a system that failed her is a compelling one. But Patton evokes a parallel narrative in her explication of her experience: that of African American slavery and its legacy. It is an unfortunate parallel, constantly present, explaining away every incomprehensible deed and human frailty. The story is nonetheless touching and instructive; the style, penetrating and effective enough to warrant adult readers' time and attention. The language is shocking at times, though the shock is always intended. Recommended for large public libraries.
—Edward K. Owusu-Ansah

Kirkus Reviews
Patton's inspiring memoir of survival in an abusive adoptive family offers a well-informed and startling take on violence and racism in America. At five years old, the author was adopted by a New Jersey couple who by all outward appearances were model middle-class African Americans. But the facade dropped the moment they reached their gleaming house with manicured lawn and shade trees. Patton was the prisoner of a passive father and bitter adoptive mother whose frustration at her infertility was loosed on her adoptive daughter in violent beatings and emotional abuse. From ages five to 13, the author was the victim of terrifying assaults, including beatings with an extension cord, by a woman determined to keep the child under manipulative control. Upon entering school, Patton was shocked to discover that such violence was condoned by the community, whose deeply held Pentecostal beliefs reinforced the philosophy, "spare the rod, spoil the child." Merging her personal experiences with a provocative examination of African-American history, the author credibly argues that violence is a continuing legacy of slavery. She makes many plausible connections among the corporeal punishment of children, low self-esteem, fervent religiosity and fathers too weak to assert themselves after centuries of having their paternity denied. Patton charts her nascent awareness that the abuse she experienced was plainly not right, even though her adoptive mother's family and friends condoned it. She ran away and was eventually placed in a group home. Despite the outrageous negligence of her guardians, who did their best to discourage her, she won a full scholarship to an elite private boarding high school. Personaldiscovery combines with knowledgeable historical argument to create a document at once carefully reasoned and powerfully emotional, striking in its endeavor to relate a unique individual experience to broader communal ills. .

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Atria Books
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Some black children living on antebellum plantations often had no idea they were slaves. During their early years, they played not only with other slave children but also white children. They wandered freely and explored the plantations. Sometimes masters, especially if they were the biological fathers of slave children, took young slaves horseback riding, cuddled them, and rewarded them with gifts and other special treatment.

But most slave children did not have such an idyllic beginning. Children were the most vulnerable in the slave community, which was characteristically fraught with violence. White youth, at the urging of adults, often abused their black playmates. Older black children meted out cruelty on the smaller ones. Slave children played games like hide-the-switch. One child would hide a willow switch, and the others would search for it. The lucky one to find it got to whip other children at will, mimicking the behaviors they saw whites mete out to their parents and black parents dish out onto black children.

In addition to many forms of verbal, physical, and psychological abuse, slave children faced the threat of being sold at any time. Children often didn't know their biological parents and could be detached at any time from people who were familiar to them because they or those people were sold and shipped off to other plantations. The births of black children helped replenish a cheap labor force and perpetuate the system. During slavery, black children had economic value even before they were born. As property, they could be used not only for their labor but also as collateral for mortgages, to buy land, and to pay other types of debts. Their bondage also helped define what it meant to be white and free.

Slave children died in droves because they were not properly cared for. Old women, slightly older siblings, or inexperienced mothers had the impossible task of taking care of a large number of children in the plantation nursery. Like adult slaves, children were fed improperly and suffered many illnesses. Despite all this jeopardy, family, such as it was in plantation society, was an important survival mechanism for slave children. Family served as a comfort and layer of protection, as well as a buffer between the humanity of youngsters and the evils of the peculiar institution.

Copyright © 2007 by Stacey Patton

Meet the Author

Stacey Patton is currently a graduate student pursuing her PhD in history at Rutgers University. She is also a professor at Montclair State University. She has written for The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, New York Newsday, and Scholastic magazine and is the recipient of numerous journalism awards and academic honors. She resides in New York. To learn more about Stacey Patton visit

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That Mean Old Yesterday 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 5 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Loved her book. I like how she compares slavery to the abuse she went through. Love the way she writes and openly talks about her abuse. She writes in such a way that you feel like you know her personally. When she was sad i felt sad for her and cried and when she was happy i was smiling for her while reading. Her book is beyond inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Stacy Patton speaks truthfully and crates a dynamic parallel between Black history and socialized acceptance of abuse. Her strenght is truely inspiring.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A must read! I couldn't put it down! One of the best books I have ever read. She is an inspiration that she could have made it through the hell her adoptive mother did!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago