Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored by Clifton L. Taulbert is an uncommonly sweet book about a bad time when the Jim Crow laws were in full force in rural Mississippi. In his book, Taulbert describes the hardships of growing up in the 1950s and early 1960s, when the blacks had pick cotton at low wages, use different water fountains, attend different schools, and step aside for whites on sidewalks. Ironically, the oppression bound the blacks together, and it is the closeness of the black community of Glen Allan that he celebrates with this memoir.
One of the topics that Taulbert handles particularly well is the importance of church to the blacks of the South. Many of his stories involve the Allan Chapel AME Church where an ordained circuit preacher came once a month. On other Sundays, members of the congregation lead the service, preached the sermon, and fixed community suppers. When they entered the church, the sharecroppers and maids became important deacons and ladies, admired for their faith and good work. The church was also a sanctuary. In one story, the author tells how the blacks masked a community meeting as a worship service so the local whites would not know that they were sending a delegate to an NAACP meeting in Washington, D.C.
The importance of warm family life also comes through in Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored, as the author tells of growing up with his grandparents. While fishing with his grandmother and her friends was terribly boring, and while his grandfather drove very slowly, they were affectionate and saw that he valued education. Taulbert graduated as valedictorian but then had to go wash dishes in St. Louis because there were no scholarships for blacks in Mississippi at the time. Eventually, he earned several advanced degrees.
Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored is a quick read that many readers will enjoy. Pu it in your Black History Month display.
Taulbert, Clifton L. Once Upon a Time When We Were Colored. Council Oaks Books, 1989. ISBN 093303119X