Check out this post with Kate Farrell and Story Power
ast Sunday, July 19, 2020, I was honored to perform as a storyteller on Sunday Night Stories with Six Feet Apart Productions, with author Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte, emceed by talented storyteller Sheila Arnold, on the theme “Stories in Black and White.”
Both Sheryl and I wrote about childhood experiences in the South during segregation, after workshopping them with one another, and reflecting on their meaning as white and Black children, respectively. We prepped online and by phone, since we knew we’d be interviewed during a Q&A segment and wanted to review our thoughts, and hope to inspire others to tell of similar experiences.
The storytelling segments were fantastic and included a video clip of Sheila Arnold and Sarah Brady enacting the historic event of Ruby Bridges, the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white, Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis, 1960. Sheila and Sarah made history come alive as they portrayed Ruby and her white teacher. They set the stage for the interaction of personal stories that both Sheryl and I experienced in the South.
Our stories were told through our eyes as children who both observed and tried to make sense of the Black and white world around us during Jim Crow, with its strange rules and restrictions along color lines.
DEAD CHICKENS AND MISS ANNE
In Sheryl’s charming, yet disturbing tale, “Dead Chickens and Miss Anne,” she told of a summer visit to her Great Aunt Mary in Northeast Texas, taking the train all the way from Oakland, CA—a trip of a few days, back in the 50s. Sheryl turned five years old on the train, and arrived in Texas ready to explore. She had many adventures on Aunt Mary’s country property, encounters with sandstorms, cows, and chickens.
The puzzling part of that summer vacation were the times Aunt Mary took Sheryl with her for “day work” at Miss Anne’s house. What Sheryl didn’t understand was why the Black women who drove their cars to work in the white ladies’ homes, parked their cars some distance away, and took the bus to their jobs. The revelation of that and why Aunt Mary gave away used clothing given to her by Miss Anne, after gratefully accepting it, made Sheryl realize that segregation was far reaching in its impacts on the daily lives of Black people as well as their constant requirement to adjust to have a viable existence.
SOUTHERN WOMEN’S EXCHANGE
My story took place a lifetime ago, back in Pass Christian, Mississippi, when I was eight years old, in 1949, “Southern Women’s Exchange.” That was the name of the consignment shop for homemade crafts my mother opened up on Front Street, the main road through town and Interstate Highway 10. It was exciting to live downtown and explore the shops and the movie theater right across the street. But we also saw signs around town that read, “White and Colored” for water fountains, entrances, even for children.
My mother’s store soon filled up with amazing items, including gorgeous Creole dolls. But when the church ladies talked my mother into creating a life-sized Southern Mammy to put on the front porch to attract the tourists who drove through town, my mother soon discovered that the Black people in town objected. Mother removed the mammy rather than create dissention that might have serious consequences for the Black minister who had brought the complaint to her door.
The shared storytelling segment created common ground for us to engage in a lively, revealing, and sometimes difficult discussion, led by Sheila Arnold who asked the hard questions. Through our exchange we learned the importance of mutually respectful relationships to create a safe space to share Black and white stories, to listen without judgement, to edit and revise. Our workshopping of the two stories, helped me to lessen the shame I felt about my family’s porch mammy, and learn to move past it, to learn the historical contex, and end the story with hope.
Sheryl and I discussed that observing segregation as children allowed us to discover it more neutrally, but that her experience was essentially different: She had to learn to modify and analyze situations correctly in order to survive and live within the rules, while I could simply observe them with little or no change in my life trajectory. Later, Sheila pointed out that racial segregation affects all children, both Black and white, that we need to sit in conversation with one another to share, bring awareness, and empathy. From those rich storytelling exchanges, can come social action.
Actually, I think we could have talked for hours. Sheila was such a skillful facilitator, open to ideas, and the co-producers of Six Feet Apart, Claire Hennessy and Regina Snoops, were supportive and encouraging.
But for the full effect, to hear the stories told live and enjoy our dynamic exchange during Q&A, tune in to the LiveStream on YouTube!
Six Feet Apart productions presents Sunday Night Stories, STORIES IN BLACK AND WHITE. Emcee: Sheila Arnold, Storytellers Kate Farrell and Sheryl J. Bize-Boutte
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.