Kate Farrell, author of Story Power, has announced that she will be teaching a five week course on the topic of “Stories for Social Justice”. Learn all about the class here!
This October 12th, I’ll begin teaching a 5-week online class with Story Circle Network. We’ll explore racial bias in our lives through the process of journaling and writing personal narrative. Now in the face of the social justice movement confronting racism, we are all being challenged to tell new, inclusive stories. As writers, we can bear witness to the past and create new narratives by becoming storytellers to our own lives.
We will use weekly prompts to uncover bias and prejudice in our own experiences, past or present, by writing about what happened as a truthful observer. You will receive detailed feedback, allowing you to explore the layers of meaning in your journal entry or narrative.
For more information and to enroll in the class, click HERE!
As a storyteller, I wanted to tell the hidden stories of my childhood in the segregated South during Jim Crow—untold for the shame and discomfort they might cause. Yet these very stories can lay bare the cultural nature of bias, how it became an institution. By revealing the true stories of racism, we can begin to unravel its hold on us. We can see these incidents with a new meaning and understanding.
So, by journaling, free writing, and contacting family members, I focused on a blatant, public display of racial stereotyping that was kept hidden for decades. Seeking feedback and editing from both Black and white writers and storytellers, I crafted this personal narrative. In doing so, many emotions arose: shame, anger, and the urge to learn more about the history of this particular town: its native peoples, the colonial period, and its recent disasters. Telling this story enriched me with a deeper appreciation of our shared history, how it touches all of our lives.
Example Prompt: When did you bear witness to discrimination or racial bias?
Pass Christian, Mississippi, 1949-50
It was the second year my family lived in Pass Christian, Mississippi, a quaint township set along the coastal beaches of the Gulf of Mexico, once a French colony, and a refuge for the French pirates, brothers Jean and Pierre Lafitte, who smuggled their stolen treasures ashore for the French Crown. That year, 1949, we moved from a house on the backroad to the middle of town, to make my mother’s dream come true: to trade in other goods, crafts homemade by Southern women.
Our new rental house sat on the main road running straight through town, on Front Street, but it was also Interstate Highway 10, connecting New Orleans to Mobile, Alabama, and points West and East. Even though the town of Pass Christian was humble in its modest storefronts, the resort homes on the coast highway were owned by wealthy folks from New Orleans, splendid, white, antebellum mansions, plantation style, with balconies and screened verandas facing the Gulf to catch the sea breeze.
Downtown was an exciting place for us kids to explore, with stores and a movie theater across the street and more shops around the block. But there were signs that we could not ignore. When we visited the dry goods store, we saw two water fountains side-by-side with signs for White and Colored. When we went to the movies for a Saturday matinee, we entered by the front door and sat downstairs, while the colored children had a separate door and sat in the balcony. Our Catholic church in the center of town was all white and so was our Catholic school. We saw Black people shopping, but we lived separate lives.
Soon, my mother’s store in the front parlor was full of amazing items, to be seen but not touched, sold on consignment. I marveled at the many treasures: the hand painted buttons with tiny flowers, patchwork quilts, frilly aprons, pralines, and most precious of all, the Creole dolls. These dolls were tall; wore long, brightly colored, flouncy skirts, and head scarves wrapped high on their heads, their creamy, brown skin set off by golden hoop earrings. They were hawkers with river cane baskets who called out their wares. My mother said they were folk art.
Some of the church ladies urged my mother to create the final touch, something that would bring in the tourists as they drove through town. They started with the stand of an old floor lamp with a heavy, wrought iron base. They added a wire frame for a life-sized body and head, and wound rolls of cotton batting around and around to build a solid, packed shape. For days they worked, sewing and fitting a red and white, floor length, gingham dress, a white bib apron, a face of black fabric, and hair covered with a bandana that tied in front. Slowly, she became a Southern Mammy with her right arm extended in greeting and a place within her hand for a white handkerchief to wave in the wind.
When the mammy figure was finished, we were able to wheel her outside to the front porch, holding a freshly laundered handkerchief each day to show the store was open. It was a place of pride for my mother and her friends, a sign that the business would attract customers and succeed.
One day, when my mother was putting a load of laundry in the washer and I was watching my toddler brother, the bell on the front door jangled.
“Oh, it’s probably just someone wanting to look.” She sighed and kept on working. “Go see who it is, Katie.”
“Momma, you’d better come,” I said, returning from the door. “There’s a Negro man standing on the porch, says he wants to talk to you.”
“Very well, just watch your brother.”
I was curious and told my brother we had to be very quiet as we slipped into the hallway near the front door to eavesdrop.
“Mrs. Fisher, ma’am, I don’t want to trouble you, but I’m here from my church with a request. I’m the minister and my people asked me to talk to you about an important matter.”
“Yes, of course, what it is?” My mother asked, standing out on the porch with him.
“Well, you see, it’s the mammy you have here,” he said, pointing to the figure right next to him. “We feel that the mammy doll is disrespectful to our people, that we aim higher than to be seen as a servant from another time, long past.”
“Oh no, no, no!” My mother exclaimed, quite taken back. “We all love the mammy! She’s part of the heritage of the South, beloved by everyone.”
“It’s all how you look at it,” the minister said. “Think about it, that I came for my church people, and that’s how we feel. We don’t like it.”
“Thank you for letting me know.” Mother politely said good-bye and closed the door, looking upset and confused.
Barely had the door closed than the bell rang again. It was the man who ran the shoe store across the street, Mr. Bohn.
“Miz Fisher, was that Negro man bothering you?” he asked.
“Not at all,” Mother answered, her chin high.
“Never you mind. I’ll make sure he doesn’t bother you again.” Mr. Bohn turned on his heel.
Mother closed the door firmly and saw me standing in the hallway. She was fearful and began to wring her hands. “I don’t know, Katie. I just don’t know.”
A few days later, the mammy disappeared while I was at school. Mother said she’d spoken to the priest, and her church friends, who agreed the best thing to do was find another home for the life-sized mammy. Our porch mammy was gone, but the beautiful Creole dolls were still on display inside the store. I wondered if selling them was disrespectful, too.
The next summer, 1950, the United States Congress voted to close the Merchant Marine Base, where my daddy worked. If the vote went that way, the townspeople were told to listen for the bell. We were in the house, and heard it coming, a bell mounted in the back of a pickup truck, racing through town, clanging louder and louder, and we rushed outside.
“Oh no! No! They’ve closed the base.” My mother cried out. Her dream had ended.
When the bell’s ringing faded down the highway, I knew we’d soon be packing up and leaving town.
These days, nothing is left of the old town of Pass Christian. The antebellum mansions and the pirate house from centuries ago were flattened or washed out to sea by hurricanes Camille and Katrina.
Now that the coastal land is laid bare, may its history be revealed: Of the Choctaw people and their sacred mounds; of the Black settlers and their dairy farms—Black Freeman who owned the land; of the mixed blood people—Choctaw, French, Spanish, African. Now may their stories be told.
I was later honored to tell this story on a virtual live show with Six Feet Apart Productions: Sunday Night Stories, the theme, “Stories in Black and White.”
Secrets to Creating, Crafting, and Telling Memorable Stories
Stories are everywhere. The art of storytelling has been around as long as humans have. And in today’s noisy, techy, automated world, storytelling is not only prevalent—it’s vital. Whether you’re interested in enlivening conversation, building your business brand, sharing family wisdom, or performing on stage, Story Power will show you how to make use of a good story.