Friday, January 23, 2009

Between Us Baxters by Bethany Hegedus

On Tuesday I got to watch in awe and tears as the first African-American President was sworn into office. I can only hope our children understand what a great moment in our country's history this was.

In my parents' history, black children and white children could not go to school together.

When I was one-year-old, a lawyer was speared with a American flag during the violent bussing protests.

I don't remember this Pulitzer Prize photograph moment, but I know about it, and I hope the children I teach know that this history is not so long ago and far away.

It was in my lifetime, and in my hometown.

And it is not lost on me that in the very week when President Obama was sworn in and I read Between Us Baxters, a local disturbed madman killed two innocent people and was on a rampage to kill many more, all in the name to "save his race". Two steps forward, one step back.

In Between Us Baxters, Hegedus puts a twist on the tale of a Southern friendship between two girls, one black one white. One girl is poor, and her family is considered the trash of the town. The other is bright and has plans for going to college, and her family owns a prosperous store in town. Both girls are at the age where it is an unspoken rule in 1959 Jim Crow South that they should have "outgrown" such a friendship. But Polly is a poor white girl who has to wear friend Timber Ann's cast-offs, and she needs all the friends she can get. And Timber Ann is a good friend, and her Aunt Henri is a good friend to her mother, so while these friendships bring shame upon the Baxter family name in town, and scorn from Polly's grandmother and Aunt Clara, they are her and her mother's daily lifeline to keep moving and living.

But when fires start blazing through town, deliberately set to thriving African-American establishments, Polly and Timber Ann's friendship is tested beyond endurement. Families and lives are destroyed as the Civil Rights movement takes hold of this fiercely divided town that resists change at all costs.

As I have witnessed this week in Boston, stories like this need to be told, over and over again. History and hate will continue to cycle through the generations only until the message dissipates, and we can finally see our way through the smoke.

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