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"Hark": article draft by Roosevelt Fitzgerald




1980 (year approximate) to 1995 (year approximate)


From the Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers (MS-01082) -- Drafts for the Las Vegas Sentinel Voice file. The author's memories of Natchez, Mississippi Christmas decades past.

Digital ID



man001043. Roosevelt Fitzgerald Professional Papers, 1890-1996. MS-01082. Special Collections and Archives, University Libraries, University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Las Vegas, Nevada.


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OCR transcription





Natchez, Mississippi was never a very large town and it is smaller today than it used to be because I'm no longer there. That's not to say that I wan an important cog in that community. Far from it. Rather, it is only a matter of numbers. There are many Natchezians who are no longer there and the absence of each of them makes the town smaller and less than it was before. Among those who are no longer there are those who have died and, more than that, there are those who've simply gone away.
There are many of mine and subsequent generations who've gone away. The reason for our departure is simple and the same; lack of opportunity. This encompassed many things not the least of which were economic, political, social and educational. All of these came into vivid focus as the civil rights movement evolved. For years we had lived in fear of living for fear that we would offend someone. The conditions which existed in the overall structure of the social order of that time and in that place was such that in order to have any opportunity at all one had to venture away from home. This essay will not address those conditions, however. It will explore efforts to circumvent the restrictions which were in place.
Natchez is located on the Mississippi River. The main transportation artery i§ Highway 61. As we all know, highways with odd numbers run north and south and that is exactly what Highway 61 did. Most of those who migrated followed the highway to the north and to places like Memphis, St. Louis and Chicago. Some went in the opposite direction to the Crescent City; New Orleans. Wherever they went Natchez remained home. It was where the core of the family remained. Parents, siblings, cousins and othersrelatives, teachers and other friends remained there. Those who went away would phone if there were phones, and or write and they maintained a contact with that level of their origins which, in many ways, is unmatched. I know that there
are enclaves of people here in this community from "down home" who maintain such contacts even today. I know that even though there are some who have lived here for thirty or forty or .fifty years or more they still refer to such places, back there, as home and that it is not at all unusual to hear someone ask; "Have you been home lately?" "Are you going home for Christmas?" Always such questions refer to such places as Natchez, Fordyce, Tallullah and other points south.
Years ago, when I was a child, as we entered the Christmas season there was always the anxiety pertaining to who would or would not come home for Christmas. Somehow, in our minds, those who were away, no matter where they were or what condition they might have been in, would find some way to get home for Christmas.
I didn't understand it at the time but there seems to have been a certain reciprocity in that attitude. Those who were away wanted to come home and they wanted to do so because they knew how home was and how it affected those who remained there. None of us had much but I recall the efforts made by our parents to provide the children the best Christmas possible. There is something of a corelation between the absence of wealth and the tendency to wish to adhere to the true meaning of Christmas. In our economic dire straits it was imperative that good will and peace on Earth and all that remain firmly attached to what Christmas was all about.
The school I attended also helped. It was a small Catholic school named Holy Family. We wore uniforms and there was never a problem about who was in or out of style. From the lower grades through high school, each student's name was placed on a piece of paper, in their homerooms, and each of us drew names out of the bag into which they had all been placed. The name drawn would be given a small Christmas present and in this way each of the children were assurred of getting at least one Christmas present.
I didn't mind it so much when I drew a boy's name! Boys always got the same things; socks, hankerchiefs, neckties or gloves or something like that. With girls it was different. With them there was the added problem of trying to impress them. Afterall, who cared what some guy thought of them but, well, with girls it was different. To get them something meant having to go into those parts of stores where real men didn't really want to go and, on top of that, having to examine all of that stuff with people giving you wierd looks was just too much for me to handle.
By the time I was in the fifth grade I had figured out a way to avoid all of that stress. When we drew names out of the bag we were supposed to put the slip of paper back if we drew our own name and draw another. What I would do is pretend that every girl's name that I drew was mine and keep putting them back until I came up with a boy's name. I like that necessity business. It really is the mother of invention.*
Something else that we did at school was make Christmas decorations. Some of our creations would be for the school, the convent, the rectory, the church and the other would be for home. We used a lot of poster boards, pine needles and branches,clothes hangers, real cotton that we made angel hair out of, aluminum foil from discarded cigarette packages that we used to make silver bells and whatnot, glue and glitter and just about anything else we could find that was pretty and red or green or silver.
I remember one year I brought a bunch of poster board home to make Christmas bells or cutouts of Santa or the elves and Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer and all the rest of those deer, a sleigh, wise men, the Christmas Star, a stable with a manger and all the creatures and a bunch more of Christmas time stuff. The teacher had let me bring all that home to do because she knew that I was a responsible young fellow and, on top of that,
I was always pretty good at '^cutting up." I never really understood what
al 1 she meant by that.
Each evening, for two or three weeks before Christmas and before we were scheduled to have the Christmas party on the last day of school before the holidays began, I would come home, do my chores, have supper with the family and then get started on cutting out all of the objects which I had to do for the festivities. It was on one such evening that I heard my grandfather make a mistake in something that he said to me. I had never heard him make a mistake before and the thought of correcting him had never occurred to me. However, he had taught me well and I did so without thinking.
He stood over me for the longest time watching me as I made bells and ■ angels. Finally he said: "Well boy, look like you got your work cut out for
you." Without pausing I replied; "No sir. I'm cutting my work out myself^