Sunday, November 4, 2018

Review of "Working Cotton," by Sherley Anne Williams

Review of
Working Cotton, by Sherley Anne Williams ISBN 0152000046

Five out of five stars
 When I was young, the phrase “the cotton picker” was used as a derogatory term that could be used in polite society. It was of course a reference to poor blacks that did the hard work of manually picking the cotton from the mature plants in the fields. This book tells the story of a black family where all members are bussed to the fields before dawn so that they can start picking at first light and continue until there is no longer enough light. The father, mother and all children work in the fields and the story is told from the perspective of a girl old enough to pick, but not old enough to have her own sack.
 Their wages are determined by how much their sacks weigh, so the most significant caption is the one where the father’s sack is being weighed, even with the minimal use of visual features, the way his hands are jammed in his pants demonstrates how critical the moment is. The daily bread for the family is literally at stake.
 The format is a watercolor-style minimalist image taking up both pages with a short caption of text. The text is written in the language of the people being depicted, some example phrases are, “It be cold, cold, cold” and “Daddy picking the row side of Ruise and Jesmarie; they picking the row side of us.”  
 This book is a history lesson of how it was for many black families for approximately a century after emancipation. Although they were legally free people, economically they were not. While the families remained intact, everyone worked in the fields, for every pound of cotton was needed in order for them to survive.

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