NPR's Backseat Book Club
4:55 pm
Thu July 11, 2013

Lessons In Bigotry And Bravery: A Girl Grows Up In 'Glory Be'

In July, NPR's Backseat Book Club traveled to Hanging Moss, Miss., where Gloriana June Hemphill, better known as Glory, is just an ordinary little girl. But this is no ordinary summer — it's 1964 and the town has shut down the so-called "community" swimming pool to avoid integration.

Glory's dad is a preacher, her mom has died, and her big sister is about to enter high school. The family's maid, Emma, is Glory's caretaker and confidante — and the only black person Glory knows well. In this town, black and white populations are separated in almost all aspects of life.

Another big change for Glory is a new friend she makes at the local library. Laura is different from the other white girls Glory knows in Mississippi. "Laura is a Yankee," author Augusta Scattergood tells NPR's Michele Norris. "When you grew up in the South ... for someone to come all the way from Ohio like Laura and her mother did, that was really an event in this little town."


Interview Highlights

On why Glory is so brave

"I think I made Glory very brave because so many of the kids that I knew when I was in sixth grade really would not have been like Glory. So I wanted her to be the exceptional child in that time period. I wanted her to do something that not many kids would do, and I think between her father and the librarian, Miss Bloom, encouraging her, Glory really sort of learned a lot and began to stand up. I think that's why she turned out to be a whole lot braver than I or any of my friends ever were."

On the author's personal experience with segregation

"We were so separate, and the black people that I knew were mostly people who either worked for my family or, you know, we still saw them working in the cotton fields ... when I was a child and that really was most of my interaction with black people until I went to college."

On the memory of her library being integrated

"I was working in a library in ... Sunflower County, Miss., during my college years, and I do remember that it was in the early '60s and they did open the library to everybody. I don't think we had a big celebration like Miss Bloom did, but it was definitely a milestone."

On not speaking up when she was a kid

"My other friends I spoke to while I was writing this book, many of us grew up in exactly the same situations and sometimes we wonder, had we really known what was going on, would we have done anything different or was it just the times? And little girls were supposed to be — especially if their daddy was a preacher — they were supposed to be sort of seen and not heard."

On today's young readers and their understanding of race

"I did worry as I wrote, the young readers who are reading it, sometimes they really have no idea what the world was like. That to me is really wonderful in some ways. When I speak to groups and I look out and there are faces of all colors and kinds looking up at me. And I tell them, when I went to school, I would never have had a friend who was anything except just like me. And they look around and they say, 'You mean we wouldn't have been friends?' It's really hard for them to understand. So I think there's a fine line between not wanting to make the story what it really wasn't, but yet, give kids an idea of what it was like and how different it is — and that maybe somebody just like them could do something about the world as it is now."

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Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

I'm Audie Cornish.

And it's time now for NPR's Backseat Book Club, where we get kids and adults to read a book along with us. This month, NPR's Michele Norris introduces us to author Augusta Scattergood and her novel "Glory Be."

MICHELE NORRIS, BYLINE: We want you to meet Gloriana June Hemphill, better known as Glory. Glory's just an ordinary little girl born in Hanging Moss, Mississippi.

(LAUGHTER)

NORRIS: But this is no ordinary summer. It's 1964 and her town has shut down the so-called community swimming pool to avoid integration. Glory's world up until then was small and safe and clearly divided with blacks and whites separated in almost all things.

Her dad is a preacher. His name is Brother Joe. Her mom has passed away. And Emma, the maid, serves as caretaker and confidante in chief for Glory. She is the only black person Glory knows well.

One of the other big changes in Glory's life is a new girl she meets at the local library. Laura is also white, and she sure is different. Author Augusta Scattergood explains.

AUGUSTA SCATTERGOOD: Laura is a Yankee, which a lot of people now don't even really understand what that is. But when you grew up in the South, somebody new coming to town usually meant it was a relative, a grandmother or a friend who was a - maybe a cousin or something. For someone to come all the way from Ohio, like Laura and her mother did, that was really an event in this little town.

NORRIS: An even that signaled even more big changes. Laura has caused a stir by staying on the black side of town. Laura's mother is working to help build a freedom clinic to provide health care for Negroes. Author Augusta Scattergood, like her fictional character, Glory, was a white child who grew up in small-town Mississippi. But Glory is a firecracker, and she's plenty mad that the town has closed her pool. Glory writes a blistering letter to the editor of her town newspaper.

COFIELD COLLINS: Dear editor: I love our community pool. My birthday party has been there every single summer since forever, but my forever is now over. You know what? Maybe I'm the fool and blind, or should I say I was a fool who used to be blind. I was dumb enough to fall for the ugly lies. I was blind to hatred that stings more like a bucket full of the pool's strongest chlorine. Gloriana June Hemphill, age 11.

NORRIS: That was actually Cofield Collins, a student in Mississippi reading from the book "Glory Be." We turn to the Emily J. Pointer Library in Como, Mississippi, to get questions from young readers there. Here's Cofield again.

COLLINS: My name is Cofield Collins. I'm 11, and I'm in the sixth grade. How is Glory so brave even if grownups around her are not?

SCATTERGOOD: That is a great question. And I think I made Glory very brave because so many of the kids that I knew when I was in sixth grade, really, would not have been like Glory. So I wanted her to be the exceptional child in that time period. I wanted her to do something that not many kids would do. And I think between her father and the librarian, Miss Bloom, encouraging her, Glory really sort of learned a lot and began to stand up, and I think that's why she turned out to be a whole lot braver than I or any of my friends ever were.

NORRIS: What do you remember of segregation, growing up in your community? How often did you actually encounter black people in the town that you lived in?

SCATTERGOOD: Well, that's something that's kind of hard for people to understand because we were so separate. And the black people that I knew were mostly people who either worked for my family or, you know, we still saw them working in the cotton fields, really, when I was a child. And that really was most of my interaction with black people until I went to college.

NORRIS: Augusta, we're going to hear from another student right now. Let's listen.

KEVIN MISHI CHESTNUT: Hi. My name is Kevin Mishi Chestnut(ph), and I'm in fourth grade, and I'm 9 years old. My question is: Do you remember the first day all people, including blacks, could use your library?

SCATTERGOOD: I think I probably do remember that, and I think that must have been a little bit like the way I wrote it in the book. I was working in a library in, actually, Sunflower County, Mississippi, during my college years. And I do remember that it was in the early '60s, and they did open the library to everybody. I don't think we had a big celebration like Miss Bloom did. But it was definitely a milestone.

NORRIS: You know, sometimes when you experience something that doesn't feel right, in the moment you can't figure out what to say or do. But hours later or sometimes years later, you're standing in the shower and you're thinking, I should have said this. I should have done this. Does this book represent, in some ways, that for you?

SCATTERGOOD: Well, I think you've maybe hit the nail on the head, Michele. I, certainly, in retrospect - and it's not just the - my other friends that I spoke to while I was writing this book, many of us grew up in exactly the same situation. And sometimes we wonder, you know, had we really known what was going on, would we have done anything differently? Or was it just the times and little girls were supposed to be - especially if their daddy was a preacher - they were supposed to be sort of seen and not really heard.

NORRIS: This is tough stuff.

SCATTERGOOD: It is. And I, you know, I did worry as I wrote. The young readers who were reading it, sometimes they really have no idea what the world was like. That, to me, is really wonderful in some ways. When I speak to groups and I look out and there are faces of all colors and kinds looking up at me, and I tell them when I went to school, I would never have had a friend who was anything except just like me. And they look around and they say, well, you mean, we wouldn't have been friends? It's really hard for them to understand.

So I think there's a fine line between not wanting to make the story what it really wasn't but yet give kids an idea of what it was like and how different it is and that maybe somebody just like them could do something about the world as it is now.

NORRIS: That's Mississippi author Augusta Scattergood talking about her book "Glory Be." Thanks to all those book-loving kids in Como, Mississippi, where librarian Alice Pierotti is hosting a listening party today. We hope those kids have fun. Our next book is certainly worthy of a celebration. It's called "Dork Diaries: Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life" from the oh-so fabulous Rachel Renee Russell. Happy reading. I'm Michele Norris, NPR News.

CORNISH: Be sure to email us and your questions to backseatbookclub@npr.org or tweet them to @nprbackseat. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.