Monday, September 24, 2007

Registering to Vote

On page 220 of "From the Mississippi Delta" by Endesha Ida Mae Holland, there is a line that reads "Booker Wright, who had worked for years in a white-owned cafe, went to the courthouse to register to vote one morning, only to find his job gone that afternoon."

This is the first time that I have heard this version of the story. I have been told that he said something in the media that sparked a change of views within the black community. I just looked over my notes from my conversation with Senator Jordan, he mentioned something about Booker being involved in the "voter's league". Was it when he was registering to vote that he made the remarks that so enraged his employers at Lusco's? Or did he get fired for registering to vote? According to Holland, this occurred in 1963.

I found three references to Booker's Cafe in Holland's book, in each reference she is recalling a time when she visited the cafe. In one instance she refers to it in a way that implies she frequented his cafe a lot.

The plot thickens.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Holland in Greenwood

Endesha Holland's book is coming up with some very interesting facts about life in Greenwood. She is an excellent writer. She talks about visiting Booker's Place and describes McLauren Street in great detail. She also mentions several people who were well known in the community. I am compiling a list of people who may have known Booker Wright.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Endesha Ida Mae Holland

I was following the trail of a playwright and professor at USC named Endesha Ida Mae Holland. She grew up in Greenwood and lived there during the time when my grandfather owned Booker's Place. She wrote a play called "From the Mississippi Delta" that was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize.  Maybe I'm naive, but I was convinced that since the town was so small that she would know something about my grandfather. I just found out that she died, ironically, within a few days of Coretta Scott King in 2006.

However, this led me back to a source that I discovered during my summer class, Veteran's of the Civil Rights Movement, This may a good source for people who were politcally active in Greenwood during the time when Booker was there.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

What Is The Plan?

More than anything I want to know. I want the whole story. Not just the civil rights story, but all of it. My mother mentioned that Booker was an orphan and that he spent his life wondering who his real mother was. How does she know, what did he do that revealed how important this was to him? How interesting to have so much in life except the knowledge of where you came from. I would like to explore how this idea played out in Booker’s life.

Booker never learned to read or write, yet he was one of the most successful black businessmen in his town. Was this luck? Was owning a business a dream that he had for years or did he seize a last minute opportunity? What drove him? For many years he worked two jobs, did he get a lot of sleep? Was he sloppy on the job because he was tired?

It seems like Booker was an accidental activist who, in the end, embraced this role. Why? What prompted his actions during the interview he had on the national news? Did he ever waiver in his convictions? Was he conflicted? These questions and thoughts are just the tip of the iceberg. I sense the making of a wonderful story and I want to know the whole of it.

I guess this is the research aspect: learning and getting a glimpse of a day in his life, piecing together the puzzle so that I can best recreate the man in my own mind, half a century later. The next question is, what will I do with what I learn?

Saturday, September 1, 2007

What I've Learned Since

During my family history class, my instructor encouraged me to find secondary sources outside of my family who may be able to provide a different point of view. She actually searched on her own for information about Booker's Place to help me get started.

I received her email in the morning and began searching on my own to learn more about my grandfather, Booker Wright. By that afternoon I'd set up an appointment to speak with a Mississippi State Senator who believes that Booker was the catalyst of the civil rights movement in Greenwood. I also spoke with a writer and researcher who was not only familiar with Booker, but was amazed to learn that he had children and grandchildren.

This researcher told me that my grandfather appeared in a national news program in which he was asked to describe what life for blacks was like.  I got the impression that people were expecting Booker Wright to say that life for blacks in the South was fine.  Instead he said some strong words to indicate that life for blacks was not good and that things desperately needed to change.

That was a whirlwind day.

I hope, when all is said and done, to be able to share with others his whole story. I know that he never knew who his mother was and that he spent a lot of money trying to find her. Since he had become successful, many women were coming forth claiming to be his mother. He finally found a woman in Chicago who he believed to be the one. He sent of her and her whole family. There was a large picnic in Greenwood to honor and celebrate her. To this day, no one else in the family believes that was Booker's mother.

He never learned to read or write. Apparently, he was left on the doorstep of the Wright's, who would eventually raise him. They did not want him, so they did not invest in him. He was never taught to read.

Change of View

Originally Posted at on July 18, 2007 at 2:19pm

Looking back, I realize that I was expecting Vera to reveal some shameful tales about my family. In the end, the opposite happened. It turns out that my grandfather took a hard stance on civil rights and maintained a close relationship with his children even though he divorced their mother. In turn, my grandmother seemed to know that her children were destined for a life beyond their beautiful small town and she made sure that they had the skills to go wherever life would take them by expecting her daughters to excel in school and insisting that they spoke proper English.

The other thing that struck me is the radical change in the world that Vera has lived through. For starters, her own father could not read or write, yet today, she is an English teacher. She was taught to never look a Caucasian person in the face, let alone call them by their first name, now she works side by side with them.

The thing that saddened me was the mistrust that my aunt feels towards Caucasians in general.

For years I have believed that my own mother had a problem with racism. My father played professional football, that was my family’s ticket out of Greenwood. So, I grew up in an elite all Caucasian neighborhood in San Diego, Ca. My mother regularly taught me that I could not trust Caucasian people, that they would always tolerate me but never accept me. I thought she was insane because, in my world, everyone was Caucasian. Who was I supposed to trust? This type of thinking was the beginning of a separation between my mother and I that may have started as early as the year I entered the fourth grade.

This division continued as I grew older. I remember having a problem with a co-worker on my first real office job, I was about 21 at the time. I called my mom for advice. Initially it sounded as if her advice would be quite useful to me. Then the conversation turned down a different path. I can still recall the sick feeling in the pit of my stomach when my mother said, “and you tell them that you are the only one being treated this way and you are also the only black person in the company…” I knew then that her advice would not be useful for me because we saw the world differently. I grew up wondering why my mother seemed to turn every problem into an issue of race. Now I know why. For the better part of her life, many of her everyday problems actually were issues of race.

The other day on MSNBC I read an article about a university chairman who, in a heated discussion about adding diversity to the school’s board, referred to African-Americans as “niggers”.

It occurred to me that during the civil rights movement there were people who fought vehemently against integration and rights for African-Americans.  A number of those people must still be alive and may even be in positions of power. However, there are also just as many Caucasians, and certainly many more, who see African-Americans as equals. There are those like my mother and aunt who may never be able to fully trust Caucasians, and others like me who may never fully understand their lack of trust. Whether talking about a university chairman or my aunt who teaches in a small southern town, the mark of the civil rights movement will always be with those who lived through it, no matter which side of the aisle they were on.

What I Learned About Booker from Vera

This is what I learned from my aunt about Booker. This is from my wiki located at

Following a Dream

I asked Vera to describe her father. It was clear that he is still very close to her heart.

Mac “Booker” Wright could not read or write. "He worked for many, many years at Lusco’s, a white’s only restaurant. Finally, in his 50’s he opened ‘Booker’s Place’" a restaurant or cafe as they were called. According to Vera, blacks were not eligible for small business loans during that time, so Mac saved whatever he could from his tips and his salary at Lusco’s in order to fund his dream.

“He was very proud, he had worked for whites his whole life and (when he opened the cafe) he felt like he was his own man,” at this point Vera paused. After several moments she said, “He had the most beautiful smile, Kat and I get our smiles from him.”

The Murder of Mac "Booker" Wright

During the time that Booker worked at Lusco’s he became friends with white doctors, lawyers, and dentists – people of prominence in Greenwood. Many of these people chose to frequent Booker’s Place even though it was on a street called McLauren which was not in the best part of town.

One day in 1973, Booker’s dentist, a caucasian man, and his wife were eating in the cafe. A black man named Blackie began taunting and teasing the couple. “Daddy said ‘Blackie, leave my cafe’”. Blackie went over the dentist and his wife and he pushed their plates off of the table. "Now, Daddy was a big man, he was 6’4, 220 or 250 pounds,” so he simply picked Blackie up and threw him out. Booker was standing at the register when Blackie came back with a sawed off shotgun and blew the door off. Some of the pellets hit Booker. “Daddy ran out the door behind this guy”, he reached the corner before collapsing. Booker lived three days in the hospital before he died.

Blackie was caught and arrested, he is still in prison to this very day. Vera went on to say that “Daddy believed in racial equality”, everybody had a right to eat in his cafe.

“When Daddy died I felt like I had lost a part of my world. We were very close. I was out of college and working. We had a more adult relationship. I could talk to him about anything and he could really make me laugh, he was a lot of fun. He always told me, 'Darling, if anything ever happens to me I just want you to know that I have lived my life'”. Vera pauses and repeats slowly in a lower voice, “I have lived my life.”

ENH 394 - What Brought Me Here

Originally Posted: 7/2/07 at 10:04 pm

Everyone in my family knows that I love to write. On my mom's side of the family there are some incredibly humorous and uplifting stories from the last several decades.  So, they have been telling me to write about the family for years, but I just didn't have a hook. That is until I read the "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass".

I'd read slave literature before, but I was astounded by the details of horrific treatment of women and degrading treatment of men. It occurred to me (as I am sure many more scholarly people have already theorized) that some of the problems we're seeing today in black society may be the product of the slave movement.

Let's be clear.  If someone won't pay their bills, struggles with alcoholism and continually commits petty crimes we can't blame that on events that occurred well over 100 years ago. However, I think it's interesting to explore the question of how many generations it will take to overcome slavery. If men were systematically degraded, stripped of their honor and the right of caring for their own children, looking the other way when their wives were raped, what gifts did they have to give to their sons when they finally were set free.

We know from historical accounts that many emancipated slaves actually felt more humiliated by the disgust that was shown to them as they attempted to live side by side with whites.

So, since I am a fiction writer, my hope is to produce a work of fiction that closely parallels the events of my family and a family like mine that lived during slave times. I hope that this class will help me to get my feet wet as I look out into an ocean of possibilities for this piece.

How do I define family? Oddly enough, I really think of family as being the people who I am related to either by marriage or blood. I have friends that are closer to me than my sister and even my own mother. But I don't think that family is about closeness. I think of it as being about the connections we have with people even when those connections seem to have waned.

Family is about sharing a history with people who we do not get to choose. Family is about laughing, hurting, and hiding. I like the fact that we don't really get to choose our families with the exception maybe of choosing our spouses. I think that the complication that this can bring can also lead to a lot of learning and self evaluation that may not come out of relationships that are too easily constructed.

A Record of the Journey

I am researching my family history. My focus is primarily on my grandfather, a man named Mack "Booker" Wright. I'm creating this blog on the first day of September in 2007. I started my work in July during a class called "Writing Your Family History" at ASU. Here is the gist of what I know so far:

My grandfather owned a restaurant called "Booker's Place" in Greenwood, Mississippi. According to my father, Booker's Place was the place to be on any given Saturday night. While there were some other spots for blacks to hang out, none were as safe or as nice as Booker's Place.

Booker earned the money to open his restaurant by working for years at Lusco's, a prohibition era restaurant that is still in business today.

This is what I've learned so far about his civil rights activities:

As the civil rights movement began to slowly take shape throughout the nation, a national news crew went to Greenwood to interview some of the blacks and whites there to get an idea of how they were feeling about race relations. Since Booker had a comfortable job at Lusco's and was friends with several prominent whites, many believed that he would give a favorable account of how things were going for blacks in the Delta. He did not. While I am not sure exactly what he said, it is clear that he communicated that blacks were being treated unfairly and that it was time for a change. This cost him his job at Lusco's.

Booker was later murdered by a black man who was angry because Booker allowed whites to eat in his restaurant. This man felt that Booker's Place should be for blacks only. But Booker believed in equality for everyone. This belief cost him his life.

My hope is to learn as much as I can about my grandfather, his personal life and the legacy that he left in Greenwood, Mississippi.

One of the aspects of the Family History class was utilizing a blog to track our progress and post assignmens. I loved it because, as most blogs are, it was a living record of where I was in my mind and my life when I first learned about my grandfather. That blog is supported by ASU. I am not sure if, when I am finished at ASU, they will still support the blog. To make sure that I can always have a record of these days I am creating another blog. The next several posts are copied from the original ASU blog and an ASU wiki. Some of them may seem less relevent out of the context of the class, nevertheless, they are a record of the journey.