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1 Beaverton Literature- A to Z

This title in other editions

Your Blues Ain't Like Mine


Your Blues Ain't Like Mine Cover



Author Q & A

My Blues, Your Blues, We All Got Blues

By Janine Yvette Gardner

The realities of racism effect each individual living in America in a

different way. Whether the person realizes it or not, racism plays a part

in how people view each other, how they treat each other, and how they

live amongst each other.

Although the civil rights era seems a distant memory to those of us

who were born years after it took place, the historical event of the Emmett

Till murder and trial still represents many social issues that continue

to occur within the United States of America. A young black boy

plays a childish game that involves speaking to a white woman and receives

the ultimate punishment for stepping outside of and threaten-ing

an accustomed way of life. The symbolism of this case is reflective

of the role men and women, both black and white, willingly or unwillingly

play on the stage of the American South circa 1955 and hence

present American society as a whole. The boundary lines that distinguish

a black man from a white man, the inability to choose what you

say and to whom you say it, puts unjust limitations on manhood. The

racist attempts to justify and protect white womanhood and simultaneously

remove any identification of black womanhood proved to be a

major factor in the institutionalization of Jim Crow laws, segregation,

and racist theories. At the age of fourteen, Emmett Till decided to

take control of his manhood by refusing to consent to the laws of the

land that prohibited black men from having any interaction with white

women. By taking control of his manhood, Emmett sacrifices his own

life. Although his killers were found not guilty within the court of law,

all of us are guilty of harboring feelings that are influenced by racial

prejudice. Whether we choose to act on those feelings or choose to rectify

them progresses the kind of world we live in. All of us have personal

pain to share. Arguably, some experiences garner more hurt than

others do, but the common thread is that pain is pain. Human beings

have to learn from each other's experiences in order to create an environment

that is fair to live in for everyone. We can at least make strides

in the creation of this kind of society. There is a lot of work involved,

and it is authors like Bebe Moore Campbell that remind us of what

happens when we don't get involved. A critically acclaimed writer,

Campbell's works span several years of social injustice and unrest.

<i>Your Blues Ain't Like Mine</i> comes out of a place that was very significant

to Campbell. Only five years old when the Emmett Till case took

place, Campbell creates a fictionalized account of the murder, trial,

and what happens to all the parties involved after it was all said and

done. The underlying theme of this story is that each character, no

matter how evil or good, has had his share of hurt and is allowed a certain

amount of compassion and love. After all, we all have had our

share of blues.

A Conversation with Bebe Moore Campbell

Janine Yvette Gardner: The tragic fate of Armstrong Todd reads

identical to that of Emmett Till. Was that moment in America's history

the influence for this novel? If so, why?

Bebe Moore Campbell: Absolutely. It was an event that haunted me. I

was five when it happened. It was a historical event that was close to

my own time. It haunted the entire black community. It was really one

of the first publicized lynchings. Usually lynchings were clandestine

affairs, very secretive. No one ever came forward. Here you had the

killers after the trial confess to the murders. The fact that the boy was

so young and the courage of his mother in making sure this wasn't

some anonymous crime that no one ever heard about made it unique

in black history. I think it catapulted us into the Civil Rights Era, because

I don't think that it was a coincidence that, let's see that was in

August, and then by December Rosa Parks was refusing to give up her

seat on the bus.

Q: Lily Cox appears to be a one-dimensional character on the surface;

a white female who is subservient to her husband and is content with

being that. Yet, there is some complexity to her. What message are

you trying to convey to readers about white females in the segregated

South and the role they played (conscious or not) in the institutionalization

of racism in America?

A: Well, usually what happened in the American South is that the subjugation

of white women and harsh activist racism went hand in hand.

White women were the excuse in many instances for the acting out of

racism's harshest punishment to preserve and protect white womanhood.

Black men were lynched, and so many of the times they were

lynched is directly because they were accused of raping white women

or indirectly because they challenged white authority in a way that

would move them closer to being a sexual threat to white men. [For example]

opening up a store that competed with a white man that put

them in a position to earn more, which put them in a position to be

more attractive to white females.

Q: So what role then would we as African American women play

in that?

A: Well, we were raped, of course, with impunity throughout slavery

and the post-Emancipation Proclamation Era. Until the Civil Rights

acts of 1964, it was always open season on black women. Our honor

was not taken seriously, which put black men in a position of always

feeling ashamed that they couldn't defend us unless they were

willing to pay with their lives. We were the loose and easy targets of

racialized sexualization, while white women were put on a pedastal,

which made the comparison more stark and made white women more


Q: So many characters make up this beautiful story. Which character

did you enjoy getting to know the most and why?

A: Probably Lily. Lily is the one I expected least to empathize with. I

saw the real life husband and wife. The wife was responsible for accusing

Emmett Till. Her name was Carolyn Bryant. I saw footage of the

trial of J.W. Milam and Mr. Bryant; they were half-brothers and they

were the men who killed Emmett Till. The part I saw was when they

were found innocent, and when the judge made the pronouncement

they (Carolyn and Roy Bryant) kissed. It was an erotic kiss to me.

What I thought was that this was a woman who was proud, saying to

the world "I got a man who will kill for me." I wondered what was beneath

the surface with her. What makes any woman need to say to the

world "I got a man who will kill for me"? So when you go down a little

deeper you see the molestation, a childhood that is deprived of anything

. . . there have been more Miss Americas (or at least that use to

be the case) from the state of Mississippi than any other state. They

have really raised their women to be beautiful ornaments for a very

long time. Here is a woman (Lily) who is damaged at an early age and

then is brought up in this society where women are second-class citizens,

these butterflies in a cage. So that was Lily. Then she runs into

this black woman, Ida, who has a personal sense of independence, personal

sense of soul, and she envies that because she realizes right away

that she doesn't have it.

Q: As an African American female, I often slip into the mindset that

our problems, our blues, are a lot harder than those of white females.

The title Your Blues Ain't Like Mine suggest that someone feels

his or her life is harder than someone else's. Whose "blues" is the title

referring to?

A: I meant for the title to be ironic because I feel sometimes our blues

are equally as hard as the other person's. I certainly feel that our

blues are intertwined. In other words, Lily's blues of being a subjugated,

molested white baby girl directly feed into Armstrong Todd's

blues of being this murdered black boy which feeds into his mother's

blues which feeds into Clayton Pinochet's blues of being a helpless

white male. So it goes back and forth.

Q: I have noticed that you have used an event in American history

that is the product of racial tension as the backdrop for at least two

of your books (Your Blues Ain't Like Mine, Brothers and Sisters).

What did the writing of this book teach you about yourself

and did it effect or change your perspective on race in America?

A: I think it taught me that my capacity to be generous to characters

on a page is only an introduction to my capacity for healing and forgiveness

in real life. And I still, as a human being, have a lot of work to

do in that area.

Q: At the end of the novel, the younger generation is seeking wisdom

from the older generation. Family has always been important to the

African American community. Despite the chains of slavery and the

institutionalization of racism, we somehow find a way to persevere by

using our sorrow as an inspirational tool to keep moving forward.

Why end the book this way?

A: Well, I wanted to end it with the realization that there is hard work

that still has to be done. The hard work of Wydell going on a twelve-step

program to shake his addiction. The hard work of his son W. T.

moving away from delinquency and becoming a responsible adult.

The responsibility of helping that young man shape his life was

Wydell's; the responsibility of putting the family back together [was

Wydell's]. So there is still a lot of work to be done. A lot of hope that

it could be done, because the tools were in place. W. T. poses the

question to his father, Wydell, "What did you useta sing?" Well if

singing a song was what got you right and got you through then do

that. "That" being symbolical of more than music but of religion,

belief in a greater power, all those things. Do those things that will

make you whole. Attempt to do those things that will make you


Janine Yvette Gardner is an editorial assistant for Black Expressions

Book Club and an associate editor for Black Issues Book Review


Product Details

Campbell, Bebe Moore
Ballantine Books
New York :
Large type books
Race relations
African Americans
Mississippi Fiction.
Edition Number:
Reissue ed.
Edition Description:
Trade paper
Publication Date:
August 1993
Grade Level:
8.27x5.50x.79 in. .65 lbs.

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Your Blues Ain't Like Mine Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$2.25 In Stock
Product details 352 pages Ballantine Books - English 9780345383952 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Intriguing....[Campbell] writes with simple eloquence about small-town life in the South, right after the start of the great social upheaval of the civil rights movement....Campbell has a strong creative voice."
"Review" by , "Written in poetic prose, filled with masterfully drawn and sympathetic characters that a less able hand might have rendered in stereotypes, this first novel blends the irony of Flannery O'Connor's fiction and the poignance of Harper Lee's."
"Review" by , "This would be just another unmemorable first novel were it not for its crass exploitation of one of America's foremost victims of racism. [Emmett] Till, and the Movement, deserve better."
"Review" by , "Powerful....She bares the skin and holds in her chest the heart of each her characters, one after another, regardless of the characters' race or sex, need for pity, grief, punishment or peace."
"Review" by , "This is not for everyone because of the sexual explicitness and the intricate weavings of the social strata. But YAs who were moved by Mildred Taylor's books and Alice Walker's The Color Purple will be ready for and appreciate Campbell."
"Synopsis" by , The bestselling first novel by acclaimed author Campbell is now in a new edition for reading groups. Chicago-born Armstrong Todd is 15, black, and not used to the segregated ways of the Deep South when his mother sends him to spend a pivotal summer with relatives in her native rural Mississippi.
"Synopsis" by , Set in the recent American past, this is a timeless tale of racism, murder, and redemption. A black Chicago-born teen goes Deep South for the summer and is murdered for saying the wrong thing to a white woman. Repercussions are felt by everyone involved, both black and white, for generations.
"Synopsis" by , "Intriguing...A thoughtful, intelligent work...The novel traces the yeasr from he '50s to the ate '80s, from Eisenhower to George Bush....She writes with simple eloquence about small-town life in the South, right after the start of the great social upheaval of he civil rights movement....Campbell has a strong creative voice."


Chicago-born Amrstrong Tood is fifteen, black, and unused to the ways of the segregated Deep South, when his mother sends him to spend the summer with relatives in rural Mississippi. For speaking a few innocuous words in French to a white woman, Armstrong is killed. And the precariously balanced world and its determined people--white and black--are changed, then and forever, by the horror of poverty, the legacy of justice, and the singular gift of love's power to heal.

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