I’ve been collecting things that belonged to my blood. At first passively – sure, Papa, I will take my great-grandfather’s collection of pipes if you don’t want them. No, Papa, don’t toss Meemaw’s kettle – I’ll find a place for it. Fine. But now passivity is interest. Interest as in curiosity. Curiosity as in fascination.
There are whole eras, here, living inside these old things.
Please take Peepaw’s vinyl out of the garage. Give them to me. I want your Grandma’s mahogany wardrobe. No, I don’t care that it’s broken. The brooches. The sets of gloves with the slender fingers. The flip-top ash tray and cigarette case. Pile it in the Jeep. Unload it in the alley. I’ll make a space for it. I’ll use it. I want it. These are things that belonged to my kin and are more mine than anything I could ever buy for myself.
I can take ownership of at least seven decades of history with all the teeter-totter towers of things that belonged to my ancestors. Amazing. I’m now a packrat of people.
But my people played Rosemary Clooney and smoked good tobacco in a Louisville very much different from mine. We wouldn’t know or recognize each other; our shared connection is limited to pipes and costume jewelry. They lived a story in a Louisville divided - lived in eras often marked for charged race relations. My Papa can tell parts of this: Louisville in 50s, the separate water fountains, schools. There are pictures. The transformation between our worlds is striking, but the long story here – long, twisting ropes of story marched over all those other decades and into mine – is still evolving.
Focusing on the 2007 Supreme Court case that officially ended desegregation in schools – a case originally filed on our own home turf in Louisville – journalist and Kentucky native Sarah Garland has plenty of this history to unwind here. Touting her new book, Divided We Fail: The Story of an African American Community That Ended the Era of School Desegregation, Garland examines our understanding of race relations through the ages, recounting the personal experiences of families who fought both for and against desegregation and reframing our understanding of education, race and equality.
Currently a staff writer at the Hechinger Report, Garland has contributed work to numerous publications, including the New York Times, Washington Post, Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune, American Prospect, New York Sun, Newsweek, Washington Monthly, Newsday, New York, and Marie Claire (just to, you know, name a couple). A recipient of the 2009 Spender Fellowship in Education Reporting, Garland will bring both her knowledge and her book to Carmichael’s this Friday, February 15th, to discuss desegregation and the role of schools in racial equality. Join her starting at 7pm for a special and personal look at racial history and its modern evolution.
Listen: you cannot collect history without first collecting its people. You cannot tell any story without first knowing its characters. Here’s one of mine, from one era:
Benjamin Harrison Mackintosh III had really fantastic big ears. Very dark hair. A long face. He was dapper. There was a cravat involved at least once. And I know because now I have his picture in my living room. He’s not looking at the camera because he is too suave for that. Because he is a man that owned at least a dozen pipes. They’re in my kitchen. He married my great-grandmother in 1916. And I know that because I have their marriage license framed above my second floor landing. I found all this in my Papa’s basement. History in the crawl space right next to the Christmas tree and stuff. I was fascinated. And now I can tell you. Because that’s how stories are made.
And marriage licenses in 1916 looked like fine embroidery, in case you were wondering. No perforated edges. No lopsided gold stickers. It was really something worth framing.
Carmichael’s Bookstore has two area locations: 1295 Bardstown Road and 2720 Frankfort Avenue. For more information, visit the event page  or call the Frankfort Avenue store at (502) 896-6950.
Image: Courtesy of Carmichael’s Bookstore website www.carmichaelsbookstore.com