Remembering the Struggles of the Elders: A Review of A Gift from Greensboro

Sometime in the 1970s, an African-American boy and his white friend ride their 10-speed bikes to the Woolworth’s in their North Carolina town.

we knew every corner of that department store

from the bird droppings in the basement

to the scent of musty popcorn.

We dared lunch counters innocently

we laughed in the face of history

Even so, the nameless Black narrator of Quraysh Ali Lansana’s moving poem knows that he and his best friend can only have fun together at the department store because of the struggles of the elders who defied Jim Crow to sit at the whites-only lunch counter there in the early 1960s. At lunchtime, they — a Black child and a White child — eat together at the same table, “where freedom’s students wore ketchup and abuse.”

But all things change, and after the turn of the century the Woolworth’s goes out of business, victim of a shifting economy. The narrator’s friend sends him a mug from the store, an artifact of a friendship long ago that was only possible because of the Civil Rights movement and its activists’ sacrifice a little more than a decade earlier.

Skip Hill’s mixed media drawings contrast intimate portraits of a friendship in black-and-white with vibrant color spreads that illustrate the history of the department store, from its heyday as a community meeting spot in the 1970s to its abandonment in recent years. Both the poem and the illustrations convey with gentleness and subtlety the truth that everything we enjoy today comes from the work of our elders, and it is our job to remember and to carry their work forward. An afterword explores what is true and what is invented in this semi-autobiographical poem, along with information about the International Civil Rights Center and Museum, which today occupies the space of the former Woolworth’s in Greensboro, North Carolina.

This brief but powerful book, by the young small press Penny Candy Books, is truly a gift – a gorgeous poem and a story for readers young and old to ponder.

2 comments for “Remembering the Struggles of the Elders: A Review of A Gift from Greensboro

  1. January 12, 2018 at 10:25 am

    Excellent review, Lyn. You have given me a gift. I ordered it. Cannot wait to talk to you about it after I finally have it in my hands. My eyes need such a story.

    • lynmillerlachmann
      January 12, 2018 at 2:07 pm

      Looking forward to it! Thank you for commenting!

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