Oprah brought Lalita Tademy’s Cane River to my attention. Lalita Tademy brought Red River to my attention. It has been several years since I read Cane River, the story of Lalita’s mother’s family. It was Ms Tademy’s talent of story telling as much as it was the history of her people that captured my interest and imagination. Her first book moved me. It was an experience similar to the one I had when I read Ernest Gaines’ The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman or Alex Haley’s Roots.  The story of Elizabeth and Suzette, who were born into slavery yet persevered with much strength and grace, was inspiring.

Red River is the story of Lalita’s father’s family, the Tademy’s. Like all tales of slavery and Reconstruction, it can be hard to read in places. The somewhat neglected story of the Colfax Massacre of 1873 was one such place in the book. It was difficult to keep reading when I could see the poor tired black men who were in the courthouse when it was set ablaze by the white supremacist. I could feel their panic and anxiety as they tore white shirts stained with fresh blood to wave out the windows in surrender. It was these white “flags” they were waving when the first few exited the courthouse and were promptly shot down. The others behind them literally tore up floor boards in the supply room of the courthouse and hid in the damp dark moldy crawlspace with cobwebs cloaking their eyes while spiders and other bugs crawled over them. Seven men fearing for their lives packed themselves in like sardines only to be found by the blood-thirsty White League and KKK who drug them out to be shot. What a horrible and horrifying story. I felt like driving the 165 miles north and taking down the plaque myself that still stands 134 years later; the plaque that states, “On this site occurred the Colfax Riot in which three white men and 150 Negroes were slain. This event on April 13, 1873 marked the end of carpetbag misrule in the South”. Is it any wonder that Lalita’s Aunt Ellen did not want to talk about it. None of the people of Colfax that Lalita queried would say much. They are still afraid 134 years later. As Lalita Tademy notes, it was not a “riot”; it was a massacre. All Lalita’s  Aunt Ellen would say after multiple attempts to get her input was “There used to be a lot of McCullens  around here but not anymore.” and “Our people were there, some got out, and some didn’t.” Chilling, bone chilling.

At the end of the book there is a section of the Author’s Notes. I appreciated this information and it added to the experience for me. To have these notes and to learn the parts of the book that were certain to have occurred. 1) Sam Tademy and his son Jackson were very much respected by the community. They were outstanding men of their times and they did more than their fair share to improve the lives of their people. Sam reclaimed his African name of Tademy after the Civil War and passed that down to his heirs with much pride. 2) Sam and Jackson founded the first colored school in Colfax, Louisiana.  3) Noby Smith was a sick baby and he was indeed left in the back of a wagon to die. Mr. Hansom Brisco and his wife rescued him and gave him a second chance to grow and live and contribute. Noby did grow and live and contribute. Then one day at the gravel pit he could not contain his anger at being mistreated and disrespected and he was beaten by a white man to within an inch of his life. Once again Noby was rescued, this time by family and friends who helped him flee to Ardmore, Oklahoma where Noby lived the remainder of his life.

Lalita Tademy’s second novel is a powerful book. It is a story that should have been told and I’m glad she told it. Thank you Ms Tademy!

Sources: http://www.bordersmedia.com/tademy/default.asp
J. Hernandez blogs at http://www.jensview.com Interested readers can email her at jensvufrombr@cox.net

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