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“All the Days Past, All the Days to Come”…the End of the Saga Started in “Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry”

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Why I Read All the Days Past, All the Days to Come

 

I’ve been interested in reading this book, which is the final volume in The Logan Family saga since I FINALLY read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry a few months ago for and article on Family Reads.  I’m sorry to say that I had never read “Roll of Thunder”, and I liked it a lot. 

 

This book got my attention because it follows Cassie’s life into adulthood, when I would have thought that are of her childhood experiences would have shaped her in an interesting way.

 

The Logan Family Saga is loosely based on the experiences of Taylor and her family.  The fictionalized Logan family, however, is unusual in their community as they are one of the few Black landowners and also one of the few small farmers.  Most of their neighbors are either large (white) landowners or sharecroppers, who are both White and Black.

 

How the Logans manage to live in that environment, while holding on to their land, not getting themselves jailed or killed, and finally, are able to support themselves and get their children educated is quite a story.

 

I was confused about this final volume because even though it is catalogued and listed as a “teen” book, it is much longer than the earlier books.  Quite honestly, it looks like an adult book, and the story is about an adult. 

 

So I had high hopes that this would be a good “bridge” book for adults who like a slightly faster read.

 

The plot promised to follow Cassie into law school and then into the Civil Rights struggle, so I was excited to see what role Cassie ultimately plays.


Cars often figure heavily in Taylor’s books…at least in part because cars represented a kind of freedom from the hassle of travel in the Jim Crow south, I’ve seen from her books.

This photo represents how I imagine a young Cassie.

An African American woman posed next to car on Mulford Street, Homewood (Pittsburgh, PA), c. 1937

Photo Credit: Teenie Harris Archive, 1920-1970 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA

Charles “Teenie” Harris photographed the events and daily life in Pittsburgh’s African American community between 1936 and 1975 for the Pittsburgh Courier, one of the nation’s most influential Black newspapers. A retrospective exhibition, Teenie Harris, Photographer: An American Story,is on view at Carnegie Museum of Art October 29, 2011, through April 7, 2012.

 

Why You Should, or Sadly, Should Not, Read All the Days Past, All the Days to Come

 

To be honest, I am sad to say that I think this book fails as a novel.  It feels unfinished.  The characters are all flat AND static, meaning that they always feel sort of two dimensional and do not change or evolve.

 

Also, there are A LOT of characters…the setting of the story changes as Cassie moves from state to state and chracters enter and disappear without warning.

 

In several instances, the narrative arch that she sets up falls flat, or Taylor skips over the climax entirely.  An example of this tendency is Cassie’s loss of her husband.  After a long plot involving a prior girlfriend and a lost pregnancy, () dies unexpectedly while the couple are out on a boat with some friends.  And after Cassie, inexplicably, as a nonswimmer, jumps in the water after her husband goes missing, the action suddenly cuts away, and we find that Cassie is on the move again.

 

Taylor seems to move Cassie from place to place in order to illustrate certain issues about racial equality (or lack thereof), but Cassie’s moves don’t mean anything in terms of the narrative.

 

When Cassie FINALLY, as promised, goes to law school, Taylor goes to great pains to describe the process of applying (in which of course, EVERYONE wants Cassie), sends her off to an all-white school in Boston, and then jumps ahead five years to show Cassie already working as a lawyer.

 

Then, when she finally goes South to work for the Civil Rights effort, it’s to teach the Mississippi Constitution to locals to help them pass the poll test.  There’s nothing wrong with this, but a reoccurring subplot in half of the book is about how Cassie doesn’t want to teach, even though she is trained to, but she never uses her legal training to really assist with the cause…and in fact, when things start to get intense, she leaves and goes back to Boston, where she admittedly works in a White law firm as a “token”. 

 

So I’m sorry to say, and sad to admit, that this book is a very weak final volume to a fascinating story. 

 


This living room might represent the type of home Cassie’s brothers might have enjoyed by 1960. Cassie prefers her apartment in a vintage building.

Seattle Municipal Archives

Family in living room, 1960

Engineering Department Photographic Negatives (Record Series 2613-07),

What makes this book worth reading, if at all?

 

The story does shed light on what it was like to live in the US as a Black person outside of the South.  In some ways, life is harder to Cassie, especially when she makes her way to parts of the country where she doesn’t know anyone.  In the South, as she remarks, all of the rules are clear, but in other parts of the country she has to sort things out for herself…and she can be refused service anytime, anywhere, without explanation. 

 

Cassie deals with it by sometimes fighting, sometimes moving on, and most often, relying on networking through friends and associates. 

 

She also sheds some light on the way that her family made their way, most compellingly by living together in fairly large groups.  According to Cassie, everyone got along perfectly all the time, which I know can’t be true…but she does show the model that worked to help people get their start.  I have to admit, at the same time, I wondered why the neighbors didn’t complain about so many people living in a house meant for a family.  She talks about White flight in the neighborhoods where her family lives, but she doesn’t discuss what the White neighbors thought of home on their street being turned into a boarding house and having people sleeping in every room. 

The important thing about this story, to me, is that the Logan family, as shown in this series, are people who, despite obstacles, generally make it. If you are a middle class American, especially, you will be able to identify with the Logans work ethic, their commitment to clinging to their land, and their emphasis on education, among other things.

Depiction of African Americans, especially historical depictions, focus way too much on the negative, while meanwhile, there was always a Black middle class and elite in the U.S. who were working hard to make their way, just like White Americans.

The more I think about it, the more I think that the Jim Crow laws were devised by the establishment long ago to keep the middle and lower classes fighting among ourselves while the elite raked in the money and the power.

You tend to hate an enemy you don’t know. Keeping us from knowing each other, I’m sure, was the point the whole time.

 Again, getting back to the problem with this book: Taylor’s purpose is not clear, Cassie’s motivations are not clear, and the story is too broad.

If anything, stick with the first few chapters for the unique portrait Taylor paints.

 

Scenes from American life you haven’t seen, 1940-1960


Photo Credit: Teenie Harris Archive 1920-1970 © Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, PA. flickr

One of the strangest things about All the Days Past is Taylor’s lack of physical characterization. On the rare occasion when any body part, for example, is even mentioned, it’s kind of jarring. It’s as though all the characters in the book exist without bodies.

I always try to find pictures that reflect the descriptions in the book. I really struggled with this one because I was determined not to show pictures of protests even though they do figure heavily in the story. You can look those up yourself quite easily, if you haven’t seen them.

Instead, here are some photos of everyday life and scenes that relate to the novel.


In ATDP, ATDTC 2 of Cassie’s brothers fight in World War 2 even though Cassie mentions that the family saw it as a “white man’s war”.

This image shows African American soldiers during the Korean War.

Men of the 24th Infantry Regiment move up to the firing line in Korea. US Army Signal Corps. July 18, 1950.


These pilots are famous for the role they played in World War 2. Their jobs were dangerous, but clearly not without glamour.

GPA Photo Archive/flickr

Black History Month

African Americans during World War II.

Members of the 332nd Fighter Group (the Tuskegee Airmen) attending a briefing in Ramitelli, Italy, March 1945.

Photo credit: Toni Frissell Collection, Library of Congress


World War 2 provided opportunities for Cassie and her sisters in law along with many other American women, White and Black.

In this photo, Juanita E. Gray is learning to operate a lathe under the instruction of Cecil M. Coles, foreman, at the Washington, D.C. National Youth Administration War Production and Training Center circa 1942.

Washington Area Spark/flickr. Click image for a detailed description of the photo.


Juanita E. Gray is shown at work in the Washington Navy Yard circa 1942.

Gray was initially hired as a helper at about $23 per week, but by the time the photo was taken was earning $45 per week in a more skilled position. Before starting at the Navy Yard, she was a domestic worker.

Washington Spark, 1942.


Saint Louis University Pius Memorial Library, 1951/flickr

Some of the earliest African American students at SLU line up at a station in the West Pine Gym to register for classes, as part of freshman week activities (September 1951). Source: Saint Louis University Libraries Special Collections, [ PHO 01 – Boleslaus Lukaszewski (Father Luke) Photographs], [Original number PHO 1.1.31].


A classroom like this, except for the crowding, would well exceed the quality of the classrooms in almost any public school in the 1950’s.

State Archives of North Carolina/flickr, 1953

PhC_188_56

Color film strip depicting various photos of scenes and statistics from c.1949-1950’s Duplin County Schools, PhC.188. From Photograph Collections, State Archives of North Carolina, Raleigh, NC.


Church figures heavily in the entire Logan saga.

Circa 1950’s Atomichotlinks/flickr


The African American community in the U.S. has always had a active community and social life that the Logan family would have been a part of.

picnooga/flickr

Coca Cola Bottling Banquet 1954


SNCC Freedom Singers

bswise/flickr

Click on the image for a detailed explanation of this singing group’s role in the success of the Civil Rights movement, in which Cassie participates.


The lunch counter sit-ins were famous even though lunch counters themselves are only rarely, if ever, found in American stores now. I remember them from the 1970’s. Of course, fast food was only beginning in the 1950’s, and they didn’t have drive throughs, so this is where you went to get a quick lunch, a drink, or a snack.

What I didn’t realize until reading Taylor’s work is how annoying (and demeaning) it was for African Americans that they could not eat at these places…they either had to go to the back door (where the trash is, gross) to purchase food or bring their own, which they frequently did. Could you imagine having to pack your food whenever you went out?

I imagined they had their own places, but I didn’t stop to think that rents are high in a downtown area.

Black people could shop in the store, but not sit down to eat.

Sit-in at Woolworth’s lunch counter, Tallahassee, Alabama

Photo credit: State Library and Archives via Flickr

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