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Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement
Jon Meacham
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The 13th Sign
Kristin O'Donnell Tubb

The Help

The Help - Kathryn Stockett I was very surprised by The Help, although I don’t know why. I had not heard a single disparaging comment about Kathryn Stockett’s first novel, and most folks I know had already read the book and loved it. I think my surprise was born from my own prejudice, in this case the empty useless idea that if it is popular it for some reason is vacant and shallow. Very early I on I realized that this might be a very uncomfortable read. Skeeter and her contemporaries are the age of my parents. Born in 1963 the eldest son of a small town banker, I was blessed in many respects that my mother had help and I had these ladies in my life. I don’t recall us using that term, help. Maid seemed to be the public description, but more often than not we simply referred to these women by their first name. Asalee was the first help I remember, and she was with us until I was about 9 or 10. She got on at one of the hosiery mills, and slowly moved out of our lives. Imogene quickly took her place, and remained with my mother until my parents moved to Knoxville in 1995. I hate the term “white guilt” because to me it minimizes the effects of 400 years of slavery and oppression, and sounds to my ear more suited for someone cheating on their diet. White shame carries more truth in my mind. I recall two instances from my childhood where I felt shame, though I could not identify it at the time. I was riding with my mother to pick-up Asalee, and as she came out of her front door I could see her children watching her leave to come to my house. I felt like a thief. I also remember being about six, and as Asalee stood ironing in the doorway at the top of the two steps that separated and elevated the kitchen above the den, her “show” was interrupted by a news report about race riots. I don’t recall the city. Seeing these images on the screen, I very quickly felt the need to tell Asalee that I loved even if she was black. The gravity and power of The Help resurrected these childhood memories in a very real and tangible way. This power is generated by because Ms. Stockett does not flinch in showing us the reality of the society in Jackson, Mississippi. I think this is especially important at the end of the story, because there was no real change in that society. Hilly is the best example because she is still lying, threatening, and working harder than ever to keep her boot firmly on the necks of those she feels are beneath her. Maids lose their jobs, violence is still a very real possibility, a marriage ends, and the horrible structure of racial prejudice remains firmly in place. However, there is incredible change in the lives of these women, and their relationship to one another. Fear and the contemptuous resentment that comes from not giving a damn about another human being is replaced with understanding, empathy, respect, and ultimately friendship.