The Plaid Cloth Literary Society hosted the African American Read-In at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History yesterday afternoon. The one-hour event was the third read-in locally, but internationally, it has been held for the past 24 years.
The African American Read-In is hosted during the month of February, which is black history month, in order to celebrate African American literacy, authors and poets.
The Plaid Cloth Literary Society is a book club that meets on the second Wednesday of every month in conference room on the second floor of the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History.
Anyone is welcome to join the book club, which was described by one of the members as a group of ladies who “have fun and laugh a lot….and sometimes cry” while discussing the books.
After a greeting of “Good afternoon ladies and gentleman, we are so glad to see you,” from Plaid Cloth Literary Society member Emma Jean Tucker, she described the read-in as a way to “encourage people to read works written by African American authors all year long, not just during black history month.”
The attendees included members of the public as well as members of the Plaid Cloth Literary Society, who provided refreshments for the event. Those who did not bring a poem or story to read were welcomed to browse the books placed in the middle of the table. Several attendees wrote down names of the authors and books to add to their reading list.
The wide variety of books available included novels, non-fiction, inspirational books, books of poetry, and even children’s books.
When the read-in officially started, six people had signed up to read, but as the afternoon progressed, several others joined in and some of those who read decided to share another selection.
Many participants told stories about their selections, or explained why they chose certain passages.
The first reader brought a poem written by her former school preacher, explaining that he was always called “preacher” when he was out in public, because the white people from her Mississippi town assumed he was a preacher because they had never seen a black man dressed up in a suit and tie. The poem was written by the principal after he grew frustrated with the assumptions of the community.
A poem by Langston Hughes was read by Tucker, who met Hughes in 1963 at Liberty University in Pennsylvania.
Other works shared by the participants included “Healing” by Jonathan Odell, an excerpt from “Beloved” by Toni Morrison, a passage from “Acts of Faith” by Iyanla Vanzant, “Sympathy” which is a poem by Paul L. Dunbar, a poem by Gwyndelon Brooks entitled “Kitchenette Building” and a portion of a book called “Dear Mr. Rosenwald” which is about the Rosenwald Schools for black children.
The “Dear Mr. Rosenwald” book prompted a history discussion about the Rosenwald schools in the area, which the former owner of Sears helped to build because he realized that many schools for black children were seriously lacking in resources and were not fit for children to attend. It was mentioned by one attendee that North Carolina had more than 700 Rosenwald schools, more than any other state in the South. Locally, the Ararat Colored School (all schools for black children had to have the title “colored”) stood in the space where the Jones Family Resource Center auditorium is located today.
Lucy Taylor said she had to change schools after the Ararat School burned down; she was moved to a school in the Sandy Level community, on West Virginia Street, which was then known as Needmore Street.
The school called the Walnut Cove Colored School in Stokes County is one of the few still standing today, and it is now used as a senior citizens’ community center and received a National Preservation Honor Award for the efforts to preserve the building.
Taylor told the group that when she was young, her family did not have a lot of books, but she remembered her aunts and other family members memorizing poems and reciting them during jubilee time, usually after cornshuckings.
She remembered a few lines from one of her favorites and she recited them for the group: “jump back, honey, jump back” and to the delight of Taylor, Marie Nicholson knew which poem the line came from, a piece entitled “A Negro Love Song” and Nicholson proceeded to read it for everyone.
At the end of the hour, an impromptu performance of “Still I Rise,” a poem by Maya Angelou, was given by Marie Nicholson, at the request of LaDonna McCarther, a literary society member who wanted to close the read-in with the famous poem.
Nicholson’s voice filled the room, leaving those in attendance noticeably touched as the event came to a close: “Leaving behind nights of terror and fear/I rise/Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear/I rise/Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave/I am the dream and the hope of the slave/I rise/I rise/I rise.”
Reach Jessica Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 719-1933.