Renowned scholar, writer, performer, teacher and master storyteller

1012 Natchez excerpt

Dr. Njoki McElroy


1951: I have been living in Chicago for five and a half years. Now, I’m seeking refuge.


The Santa Fe train glided into the Gainesville, Texas,

station and huffed to a stop. I was traveling from Chicago with my three little sons—David (six months), Phillip (two years), and Ronald (four). We had ridden most of the

day before and all the night confined in the For Colored Only car. The porter was now on the platform helping me down the iron steps and into the warm embrace of Mother,

Dad, and an entourage of family friends. In the middle of January, the strong Texas sun embraced us, too. A fire had wiped us out on a sub-zero-degree night in Chicago, and I was seeking temporary refuge with my folks in Texas. My sons and I would spend some of our time in Dallas at my parents’ home, but most of the time at “Granpa” Jeff and “Granma” Julia Washington’s house in Sherman.



Mother and Dad met us at the station dressed to the nines. Freckle-faced, with reddish-brown coloring and thick hair, Mother was decked out in a beautiful outfit with matching pumps and a stylish coat draped around her shoulders. Dad was resplendent in a tailor-made suit, with a wool fedora and Stacey Adams shoes. His suits hung just right on his tall, slender physique. It was a time when black folks believed in representing the race by stepping out in their finest, in spite of Jim Crow laws and deprivation. “Oh, my poor, precious babies,” Mother cried as she smothered the boys and me with hugs and kisses. “You have been through such a terrible time.” Always keenly aware of personal appearances, Mother gazed at me and said, “Just look at our sweet baby, been through a fire, riding on a Jim Crow train since yesterday, and steps off the train looking like Miss Ann.”


Tears welled in Mother’s eyes. She had a way of shifting in a finger snap from jubilation to tears or vice versa. “I don’t understand why anyone would want to live in such a cold, dreary place like Chicago.” Mother picked up baby David and cooed, “Oh, poor little fellow, you don’t want to live up north in cold Chicago, do you?” As we entered Sherman, Mother asked Dad to pull over so she could greet old friends. Mother loved dramatic moments and wanted to share our fire story with everyone. “Why, there’s ole lying Lingo’s house,” Mother cracked as she changed into her more comical mode. “Hey, there’s high-pocket Hannah!” Mother didn’t realize it, but she was very adept at the black folk tradition of name-calling.


Dad, who was reserved and had a stern demeanor, just looked at Mother, but I had to stifle my chuckles because Sister Hannah’s butt did sit high up her backside. “Look, there’s bird leg Bertha Lee!” Mother was downright unmerciful when she spotted a woman with skinny legs.


Switching her attention back to me, Mother warned, “How sad you have to break up your little family. It’s not a good idea to leave a handsome husband like Clennie (her nickname for my husband Mac) alone by himself in Chicago.”“Oh, Mother,” I said, “he won’t be alone. He’ll be with Mabel and Roland (Mac’s mother and stepfather) until he can find housing for us.”


Granma Julia would later reveal a devastating family secret. I would then understand Mother’s concern. By the time we reached 1012 Natchez, Mother had made sure that the news would spread like wildfire—everyone in the county would know that the grand daughter of Brother and Sister Washington had experienced a fire in Chicago and returned home to Texas.


Excerpted from 1012 Natchez by Njoki McElroy PhD. All rights preserved.


Chapter 1

My parents said deep roots make strong trees . . . Negroes did things in the North that they would never think of doing in the South.


Racism. Segregation. Survival. Growing up in the 1930s and ’40s in Dallas, Texas, Njoki McElroy overcame the odds to rise to the top academically, spiritually, and emotionally. At sixteen, she left a sheltered childhood for a protected existence at Xavier University in New Orleans. So much protection left her unprepared to later confront the vice and discrimination of Chicago. She embraced her challenges with grace, however, finding love, enjoying family, and earning a post-graduate degree. Njoki’s memoir is a moving reflection of perseverance, family devotion, and cultural and historical ties that will make you pause to appreciate your own family roots and cherish your own personal freedoms.

A Memoir of  Grace, Hardship,  and Love

A Personal Struggle for Equality

From Back Cover:

A personal experience of the Great Migration