Book by John Hodges, Reviewed by Michael K. Smith, Ph.D.
“Taken as a whole…these fragments are my best effort to lay bare the soul and emotions of a community coming to self-understanding, even as I take that journey along with them.” John Hodges grew up in the Mississippi Delta, in the town of Greenwood, Mississippi, in the 1940s and 1950s. Mississippi counties at that time had large proportions of African-Americans who suffered from high poverty levels and almost no political representation. “It is amazing, furthermore, that a place with such high illiteracy should also be the home of some of the greatest writers in the world.” The Mississippi Delta was home to writers like Richard Wright and William Faulkner and such blues artists as Robert Johnson and B. B. King. In Delta Fragments: The Recollections of a Sharecropper’s Son, Hodges shares his journey from the strife of civil rights struggles in the 1950s to his eventual position as a Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Tennessee.
Hodges did not know his father growing up, but his stepfather and mother wanted him to have an education. He attended a one-room schoolhouse for his early grades, often having to walk three miles to school. His stepfather unintentionally fanned his reading interests: “I remember the many newspapers you got from the white folks’ house which you used to plaster the bare wooden walls. Little did you know that those walls would help improve my reading skills.” His family thought he might become a preacher and Hodges did have great respect for the black church: “Indeed, it was the one institution that gave me the courage, motivation, and confidence to tackle any issue large or small.” Hodges, however, decided to participate in the growing civil rights movement and later to attend college.
His family thought he might become a preacher and Hodges did have great respect for the black church: “Indeed, it was the one institution that gave me the courage, motivation, and confidence to tackle any issue large or small.
While President of the Student Body of Greenwood High School, Hodges was arrested while helping to distribute pamphlets encouraging blacks to register to vote. In 1962, six Mississippi counties had 4% of blacks registered to vote and 72% of whites. There were many obstacles to black registration including a poll tax of two dollars (a large sum at the time) and a literacy test of 20 questions. Question 18 had applicants copy a section of the state constitution. Question 19 had them write a reasonable interpretation of this section. Question 20 had the applicant write “a statement setting forth your understanding of the duties and obligations of citizenship under a constitutional form of government.” The white registrar was able to subjectively judge the “correct” answer to these questions. Furthermore, names of blacks who tried to register were published in local newspapers, leading to harassment by whites in the community. Hodges was released but this experience led to more involvement with the civil rights movement in the 1960s.
The second half of Delta Fragments reflects on various issues such as the origin of the blues, the characteristics of folk sermons, and the reality of the color line in the South. (“In the Delta, as in other places in the South, the color line decreed that blacks use the back door.”) Hodges particularly criticizes the rise of private academies, mostly for whites, in the South and the lack of funding for public schools that are primarily African-American. “White and black parents who fail to allow their children to go to school together are ill-equipping them to become citizens in a world that is becoming increasingly global and diverse. In college and the workplace, they won’t be so isolated. Learning to appreciate and deal with difference is an important lesson in life that should be learned as early as possible.”
White and black parents who fail to allow their children to go to school together are ill-equipping them to become citizens in a world that is becoming increasingly global and diverse.
Hodges attended a reunion in Greenwood in 2011 for those who had left in the 1960s and 1970s. “The matter of where I’m from strikes at the very core of who I am as an individual and as a member of a particular community. Although education, family, work, and other circumstances have taken me to other places, I still see Greenwood and the Delta as home.” Delta Fragments is a rewarding read that shows how far Hodges has come, but yet how much home remains with him.
Amazon link to John’s book: Delta Fragments
Michael K. Smith, Ph.D., is owner of TESTPREP EXPERTS (www.testprepexperts.com ) which prepares students for standardized tests such as the ACT and SAT. He is also a consultant to Discovery Education Assessment. He can reached at email@example.com.