For Me…It’s `All About Daisy’ Week

Daisy - Between a Rock and a Hard PlaceThree gold stars for Arkansas on this Daisy Bates Holiday, as we recognize the life and contributions of one of America’s and Arkansas’ premier civil rights leaders. The Daisy Bates Holiday symbolizes a different side to our state, and places Arkansas in a very unique and special category. What’s more…it gives me one more reason to proudly call Arkansas home.

There is no question that Daisy Lee Gatson Bates is deserving of such an honor. Because of that, I continue this week sharing her life story,  her  contributions and her challenges with audiences throughout the state.

Our citizens must be reminded…but, more importantly, our children must know that there was a woman who dared to believe, dared fight, dared challenge the status quo, to ensure that all children receive a fair and equal opportunity to learn, to thrive, to live the American dream.

I am so honored to call Daisy a friend, a mentor, and guide. What a rich life story; what sacrifices for change.  Our youth must never forget that there was such a woman who dared fight for their rights; dared fight to balance the scales of justice – for our children, for us all.

Sundays with TJ

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Sundays with TJ is my father’s story. I am the self-appointed vessel and orchestrator who commingles his stories and my memories…and, memories from 15 siblings, to tell his life story. I chose this role some 50 years ago on Varner Road. He, my father, was the storyteller and I the rememberer of his words. Even his unspoken meanings.

I sat then, at the foot of my father’s chair as he smoked his Pall Mall cigarettes, set his eyes on days long past and regaled us with his strange and amazing yesterdays.  Sometimes he weaved in others’ tales – Harry’s, his mother Cynthia and, certainly his beloved Papa. There were shadows of the many men and women, too, he met during his years of travels. << Read more… >>

Happy 99th Birthday, Daisy…

Daisy Lee Gatson Bates

 

What do you offer a woman who has seen it all, done it all, risked it all, including her life…and, that of her husband, for that elusive thing called justice?

What do you promise a woman who came into the world because of broken promises;  grew up on unfulfilled promises …yet, chose to fight for all Americans, especially the children…based on promises made so long ago?

Daisy is 99 years old this year. November 11, 1913, to be exact. My small token of love and celebration to her, is to use every ounce of the gifts God endowed me with, to continue her noble fight for the things she held dearest: justice, equality, freedom to be who we choose to be.

Don’t we all owe her that much? Certainly, we owe it to our children and to our future… to  continue to fight for the best America, the best world, the best you and me  we can possibly be.

At 99, this beautiful size-five giant remains my inspiration of what can be…if, only we make it so.

 

Telling Daddy’s Stories…

I’ve always had a short answer for those who ask how and when I began writing. ` I was born to write.’  The truth, however, is that I fell in love with stories well before I figured out that writing would be the vehicle I’d use to share my stories.  The two don’t always go together, you know.  I have met many story tellers who are not writers, but they can step onstage and mesmerize you with their stories – the sad ones, the happy ones, the scary or dramatic ones.  I could never in a million years find the nerves to stand before a crowd with the expectations of serenading them with my voice alone.  Thankfully, no one expects it.  A brief reading will do for me, thank you.

I was very young, not much more than a toddler when my father passed the craft of storytelling on to me.  I remember the magical evenings when Dad would pull up a chair next to the living room heater, and begin to spin his tales.  I can still hear his strong, gravelly voice, and see the twinkle in his eyes as he told his circle of children about a younger T.J. Kearney who loved adventure more than anything in life.

I was absolutely consumed by those stories, and green with envy because I knew no girl would ever be able to jump onto a moving train, walk miles from one city to another; or stand around a fire at night with just a barrel of burning paper to keep them warm.   I imagined my father; a young man full of energy and inquisitiveness going places I knew I’d never be able to go. By the time I was seven years old, my hands were itching to document some of the stories my Dad shared, and even to create some of my own. Back then, the only way I could write a story was to close my eyes and hear Daddy’s voice telling it; then, hold my no. 2 pencil tight in my hands as I scribbled out a story about the man and the train ride.

I never thought of it as writing back then, but story telling; about sharing, not just putting words on paper; but making readers see what I saw or what I imagined.  When I was a little older I even set some of my stories into plays, and forced my younger siblings to act out the story.  I laugh now when I think that I elected myself writer, producer and director of those masterpieces!

My love for writing is incomparable to anything else I’ve done in life, and now that I’ve made it my life…there is nothing that could tear me away. I have Dad to thank for that, his life, his stories…his sharing his stories so many years ago.

______

Janis F. Kearney is founding publisher of Writing our World Publishing, LLC, and author of five books, including Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir,, Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, her most recent book; and, her next book, due out fall 2013: Sundays with TJ: 100 Years of Memories on Varner Road, which chronicles the amazing life and experiences of 107-year old TJ Kearney, of Gould, Arkansas.  More about the author and her books, can be found at www.writingourworldpress.com; on her Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SundaysWithTJ . Or, you can also follow her on twitter: @kearney99496735

Happy Birthday Daisy, Arkansas’ Size-Five Giant!!

It’s November 11, 2012. I have been working very hard for the last six months to complete a book on my mentor and friend Daisy Gatson Bates.  Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place, is a book that celebrates Daisy’s life, and educates those in the world who
know little about her.

Unfortunately, I have been so intent on completing this book that I almost let her birthday pass without acknowledgement. Daisy would not be amused. She would be 98 years old.  She passed into the otherworld on November 4, 1999. She was 84, just days from turning 85.

Daisy told my father once that her very favorite dessert was caramel cake. That, after my father told her that caramel cake was what he loved to cook more than any other.  If she were alive today, I would bake a caramel cake and place one candle on top, and sing “Happy Birthday” as I placed it before her. All, to see Daisy’s eyes twinkle with glee, and the million-dollar smile that dazzled so many for 84 years.

The Huttig, Arkansas orphan surely never dreamed her life would take the turn it did, or that she would one day be dubbed a world-renowned leader, thanks to her heroic role in
the 1957 Central High Crisis.  What a heavy burden for the tiny woman with the electric smile, and an aura that lit up any room she graced.  Both sophisticated and naïve, Daisy Bates was more astute than intellectual… an astute life observer, a woman with cat-like instincts. Growing up motherless in the lumber mill town of Huttig, her instincts would have surely served her well.

A child orphan raised in a boarding house surely never imagined her star would rise so high, or that the lime lights would for a time enshroud her. What is for certain is that once Daisy found herself inside that bubble…she knew how to make the most of it.   Her excellent timing would also serve her well throughout life.

On this November 11, 2012, I am reminded that knowing Daisy is one of the
blessings of a lifetime – this woman who had a special place in her heart for
the children of the world; this woman, who dared to change the world, and
succeeded in helping change the landscape of civil rights in America.  Happy Birthday my friend;` my mentor. Thank you for daring.
Former journalist, and author Janis F. Kearney’s new book debuts January 2013. Daisy: Between a Rock and a Hard Place transforms civil rights legend Daisy Gatson Bates’ life from black and white, to living color.  The author “fills in” places left un-filled, and colors incidents and experiences, to bring Daisy Bates to life. Kearney plums the mysterious murder of Bates’ mother, and the orphan’s childhood; the young woman’s prophetic decision to share a traveling salesman’s life; her non-traditional role as co-publisher of an award winning newspaper; her leadership role at a time, and place where women rarely led, and her most prominent role as the face and voice of the 1957 Central High School Integration Crisis.  For more information
about the author’s other books, go to
www.writingourworldpress.com

I Am Gould

It’s a small dot `just thirty minutes south of Pine Bluff, and about an hour from the Louisiana line.’ There were always corny jokes like that. Or another one I heard over the years, `if you dare blink your eyes you’ll find yourself in the next town, or maybe inside Cummins Prison farm.’ This was how my hometown was described back in the day…the good old days, before the political wrangling and violence began.

Back then, I snickered right along with others at the self-deprecating jokes, even after I realized we were really only trying to beat outsiders to the punch of laughing at our small town. Petticoat Junction, Arkansas, some called it. Back then, we didn’t self-analyze about why it was we’d denigrate the town’s rich history, and good people. Sometimes, if the jokes became more than I could stomach, I’d half-heartedly redeem myself with some weak retort, like: “You may be right, but, it’s my Petticoat Junction…and, always will be.”

Most recently, though, my heart has gone back and forth between that childish pride and an adult disgrace as I’ve watched my little town bare its tattered underwear for the world to see. My weak refrain of yesterday hasn’t disappeared. In fact, today it is a purposeful, thoughtful position; a genuine, and unconditional pride in my past and the place I call home. Gould remains my little town. It is who I am, my place of birth, my childhood, my coming of age through the 50s and 60s; that place where years of living and sharing, engraved something deep and permanent inside my heart. A love that I’ve never been able to recreate in other cities …even the most exciting and exotic ones I called home for a while.

The truth is, I’ve spent much more time in the small town of Gould as an adult than I ever did growing up. I’m not counting the hours I toiled under the eagle eyes of my teachers at Fields Elementary and Gould High school, or the more enjoyable times on the football field, or gym floors cheering the Gould High Panthers on. The balance of my childhood, though, was spent out on Varner Road – five miles outside the city proper. There, I learned the real life lessons – just how long cotton rows can be; just how unwieldy my dreams could get, and how scary Revelations was when the pastor preached on Sunday evenings. Gould, and Varner Road taught me the values that remain with me today- that hard work, family, education and faith are the foundations for life. And, that you never turn your back on the person or the place that helped make you.

Certainly, mine and my siblings’ childhoods were different from most of the “town” kids. But, surely, ours were not the only parents to instill the invaluable life lessons. Gould was home to all of us, even if we dreamed of being somewhere else when we became adults. I vividly recall that a number of my classmates spent summers “away;” in Chicago, Detroit, even California and St. Louis! Their return from their travels in September was almost as exciting for me as my leaving the cotton fields and returning to school.

I lived vicariously through those lucky students’ summer experiences, excitedly listening as they shared those awesome experiences with the unlucky ones like me. I’d later notice that it was these very same summer travelers who bragged to visitors that they weren’t really born in Gould; that they were actually from Chicago or St. Louis, or Milwaukee. They weren’t country, like the rest of us.

The insinuation, of course, was that small, rural towns were naturally backward, even embarrassing; and that cities like Chicago and Milwaukee were not only bigger, but better.
Even then, my pride in my small town of Gould remained intact. In spite of how exciting my classmates’ travels were, what I treasured most was my feeling of security in this small world of mine, and the people who made Gould what it was to me. 

Now, even as I cringe at the television pundits, the newspaper articles and radio jokes in response to the bad politics playing out in my home town; I am no less proud of the Gould that helped shape me, helped propel me to the place and person I am today. Even, my anger and incredulity at the sad undertakings won’t make me disown, or turn my back, or change what I feel for my town.

I am not an apologist for the city of Gould. I do not apologize for its past, or excuse the more recent political shenanigans, or shameless violence. And, as one who has proudly cast my lot as a native of the small town…the face it has shown the world these last few months is almost enough to make me want to hide my head in shame, almost…but my past, and my memories won’t allow it.

I am Gould. The small town runs deep in my veins and in my heart, and was part of the endless dreams of my childhood, and who I was all those years before I left for college and found my niche in life. And, because of this…because of that history, and that knowledge, no five or ten, or 15 people in my hometown can change what I know, what I hold dear…that place in my heart.

It is the memory of the people of Gould, those who shared my experiences, and helped shape my destiny that hold fast. The recent death of two educational icons, who gave so much to the families and the children of Gould, reminds me as much as anything, of what Gould was for youngsters like me. A.C. Johnson and his beautiful wife, Frances, came to Gould as strangers, in the 50’s; but left some decade later as much a part of the fabric of the town as any of us born there. Like so many others, they brought with them a pure heart and good intentions, seeing something worth staying for. And, in return, they made a world of difference in the city’s landscape. It is that history that tell me that Gould must survive this bad turn.

I am Gould…and, no small-town political warfare can erase what I remember about my home. Memories of parents like TJ and Ethel Kearney who toiled and sacrificed to make their 19 children productive human beings; of Rosie Jones, that wonderful young teacher who enhanced my already budding love of reading and books; of Pat Craig, the kind instructor at the “white school” who believed that the color of mine and my sister’s skin weren’t natural deterrents to our learning; or Melvin Caldwell, who nurtured my love of history that began at my father’s knee; or Pat Failla, whose humor and intellect stretched my mind as he taught the elements of science and chemistry…and, how life was different, and the same, on the other side of the tracks. But, this list is only a fraction of the people who touched our lives, and reshaped our futures and made Gould what it is to people like me. These people, and my memories of those times, allow me to love Gould, unconditionally… even with these most painful recent events.

And, lest we forget… we must not forget that history is an unyielding teacher. That part of our lives we fail to address and resolve, in time, returns to haunt us; always finding a way to rear its ugly head. Gould, like so many other small rural towns, is a victim of its history and past; a product of centuries of missed opportunities. A town stifled by what should have been, and by its refusal to change when change was inevitable.

Now, today, it is a town yearning to grow out of its past, wrestling with the insidious scars left decades before – racism and oppression and hopelessness that infiltrated so many other small southern towns, propelling the great migration, bringing the era of King Cotton to an end, hurrying the demise of communities, commerce, and quality education. What city can prosper and grow without these basic values?

While our pasts do not oblige us to forget the meaning of democracy or disregard the law, the unadulterated truth is that Gould is much, much more than what the world witnessed these last months. As a daughter of the Arkansas Delta, and of the town whose image has suffered, I implore those looking in from the outside to remember: Gould is made up of real people, real families, and a rich history mixed with both good and bad that predates the recent news stories. It is a town with promise and possibility, and one that –with any luck, and lots of hard work–will see itself out of this recent shameful period. I believe in that possibility because I am a product of its past.

I am Gould, still proud, and ever hopeful.

                                                        _____

Janis F. Kearney is a native of Gould, Arkansas. She is founder and publisher of Writing our World Publishing, an Arkansas-based micropublishing company, and author of five books, including Cotton Field of Dreams: A Memoir, an historical perspective of Gould, and a narrative on hers and her family’s extraordinary lives as cotton sharecroppers. The author and publisher purchased the Arkansas State Press Newspaper from Daisy Gatson Bates, in 1988. She also served as Personal Diarist to President William Jefferson Clinton from 1995-2001.