Saturday Morning Excerpt: Satchel

Don’t expect me to post a black book excerpt every Saturday, even if it does sound like a good idea. *wink* Here’s a look at Larry Tye’s New York Times Best Seller Satchel: The Life and Times of an American Legend (published in June 2009):

Chapter One – Coming Alive

“I was no different from any other kid, only in Mobile I was a nigger kid.”

Satchel Paige entered the world as Leroy Robert Page. He was delivered at home into the hands of a midwife, which was more help than most poor families could afford in 1906 in Mobile, Alabama. His mother, Lula, was a washerwoman who already spent her nights worrying how to feed and sustain the four daughters and two sons who had come before. Five more would follow. Leroy’s father, John, alternated between the luxuriant lilies in the gardens he tended uptown and the corner stoops on which he liked to loiter, rarely making time to care for his expanding brood. With skin the shade of chestnut and a birthplace in the heartland of the former Confederacy, the newborn’s prospects looked woeful. They were about to get worse.

The hurricane that battered Mobile Bay just two months after Leroy’s birth started with two days of torrential rains carried in on the back of a driving northeast wind. By the next morning ten-foot-high surges had dispatched oyster and fishing vessels to the bottom of the sea. Tornado-like squalls ripped from their roots southern pines, blew tin roofs off Greek Revival homes, and made it look as if birds were flying backward. At historic Christ Church only the choir loft was left standing. The lucky escaped by fleeing to third-floor attics or climbing tall trees; 150 others were consigned to watery graves. One area hit especially hard was the Negro slum known as Down the Bay, where the Pages lived.

Their home was a four-room shack called a shotgun, because a shot fired through the front door would exit straight out the back. That is the path storm waters took when they burst through Down the Bay’s alleys on the way to more fashionable quarters. Rental units like the Pages’ were ramshackle and fragile, with no flood walls to protect them from the nearby sea and no electricity to ease their recovery. The Page cottage remained standing but the thin mattresses the children shared and their few furnishings needed airing out. That cleanup would have to wait: Lula’s white employers insisted she be at their homes early the next morning to mop up the storm damage. The kids would wait, too, the way they did every day when Mama headed to work, with the older ones watching over baby Leroy and the rest of the young ones. (Read more)

Happy reading, y’all.


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