At our February 7 meeting, Curtis Estes presented a summary and discussion of his new book, The Bitter and the Sweet: The Saga of a Black Family in America.
Curtis is 87 years old and has spent about half his life in the Jim Crow South. His book is a compilation of memoirs and research done over a 20-year period into the history of his family and suppression of Blacks in the US going back before the Civil War.
His great-grandfather came over as a crew member on a slave ship in 1835 and fought under Sam Houston in Texas, after which he was given a land grant. One of his young slaves bore a child who became Curtis’s grandfather. This property remained in the family for many years.
Curtis’s presentation included stories of growing up based on an impressive memory, including some charming anecdotes, such as the time he helped gather wood for the fireplace in his little elementary school and how, when he was 17, he and a friend watched adults going into a jazz club, then scraped together enough to buy suits, and held their breath to see if they would be admitted.
Curtis also discussed blatant cases of discrimination he lived through. In his elementary school, which was segregated, the class was given random books cast off from White schools, many with pages torn and covers missing. When working in a hospital as a teenager transporting patients, he had to go back and forth bringing them from the Black section to the White section for surgery. After his army service in the 1950s he was expected to work in the Houston Army recruiting office, but when he walked in, he noticed it was entirely staffed by Whites. Not long afterwards he received his discharge papers in the mail.
He eventually moved to California, where he became a teacher and then a gardener.
One of the more poignant parts of the book describes “The Condition of the Slave Ships.”
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Steve Zolno is the author of the book The Future of Democracy and several related titles. He graduated from Shimer College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Social Sciences and holds a Master’s in Educational Psychology from Sonoma State University. He is a Management and Educational Consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area and has been conducting seminars on democracy since 2006.