Mildred D. Taylor (Ethiopia 1965-67) was an early PCV to the town of Yirgalem in Southern Ethiopia. She was in the Fifth Group of Volunteers, having trained at Utah. As a former Volunteer she has had a remarkable career as a novelist, publishing nine novels, including the 1976 Roll of Thunder, Heart My Cry, published by Dial Press that won the 1977 Newberry Award.
This new novel, published last month, is entitled All The Days Past, All The Days To Come is a sweeping saga of the Mississippi Logan family that comes to a compelling conclusion.
It is the story of Cassie Logan who we first meet as a eight-year-old and she is a witness to the now-historic events of the century: the Great Migration north, relentless racism of postwar America, the rise of the Civil Rights Movements, and the often violent confrontations that brought about change.
The book is dedicated to her extended family. To her husband, for his love and support, to her father, the storyteller, her grandparents, her uncles who served in World War II, aunts, and all her aunts and cousins, and “To My Daughter, The Future.”
Here is what Milly (as we called her in Ethiopia) wrote. It sets the stage for her long and engrossing novel.
I was born in Mississippi.
When I was three weeks old, my father was involved in a racial incident and he made the abrupt decision to leave Mississippi. He left the same day. When I was three months old, he sent for my mother, my sister, and me, and we all went north. Many of my family followed, but each year we all returned to Mississippi, for that was where our roots were, where my grandparents and other family still lived. In Mississippi, I heard the ‘n’ word often spoken. I heard it spoken late one night when our family was traveling a rural road and my father was stopped by police and taken off to jail, leaving my mother, my sister, and me parked in our new car, frightened, staring out at the blackness of the night. I heard the ‘n’ word when I went with cousins to an ice cream parlor in Jackson, the capital of Mississippi, and we were told to go to the back of the building to be served. I heard the ‘n’ word when my sister and I wanted to try on clothes in a department store. I heard the ‘n’ word just in casual talk whenever white people were around.
But it was not only in Mississippi that I heard the ‘n’ word. I heard it in Toledo where I grew up. I heard it when I was fourteen years old and the first African American girl was elected queen of a Toledo high school and an effigy was hung on the school grounds.
All across America I heard the ‘n’ word: in Iowa when my family was refused lodging. In Wyoming when we were refused seating in a restaurant, but were allowed to buy food for takeout. I heard it as a young married when my husband I were stopped by police in Los Angeles. I heard the ‘n’ word throughout my childhood and as an adult. It is derogatory, it is demoralizing, it is foul, it is painful, and it is part of our American history.
In the United States from the days the first Africans were brought to this country in chains, the ‘n’ word was used. My great-grandparents who were born into slavery endured the ‘n’ word. They hated the ‘n’ word, but they endured it along with all else to which they were subjugated.
In 1976 when ROLL OF THUNDR, HEAR MY CRY was published, I said that I wanted to show Black heroes and heroines in my books, men and women who were missing from books I read as a child. I also said I wanted to write a truthful history of what life was like for Black people in America. That truth includes the ‘n’ word. It inflicts great pain, but it is a truth that needs to be told. I do not promote the word, but not to include it in my writing is to whitewash history, and that I will not do.
When stories were told around our family fireplace or on our Mississippi front porch, my father and the other storytellers always included the ‘n’ word when recounting the speech of a white person about whom they were speaking. Through their words I saw the characters vividly. I knew who they were. Now, just as the storytellers of old, I continue to relate the truth as I have done in all my writing. ALL THE DAYS PAST, ALL THE DAYS TO COME includes that same truth, the truth about America.
Mildred D. Taylor, 2019