Saturday, February 23, 2013
the last book I ever read (King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution, excerpt one)
from King of the Court: Bill Russell and the Basketball Revolution by Aram Goudsouzian:
Education opened one path to marketable skills, critical-thinking abilities, and slipping the fetters of Jim Crow. But after World War One, local whites burned down the original black schoolhouse in West Monroe. Charlie Russell went to school in a church, funded by parents who paid a teacher one dollar a week. During the Depression, Governor Huey Long discoursed about educating Louisiana blacks, but parish school boards hoarded state funds for white schools. Bill attended school in a ramshackle barn propped up by poles.
The Russell family nevertheless implanted values of self-improvement, upward mobility, and independence. Neither middle-class hoity-toities nor dirt-shack poor—just “average-type people,” according to one cousin—they earned the esteem of Monroe’s black community. The Old Man, as Bill called his grandfather, was something of a community patriarch. Choosing jobs that preserved his independence, he worked as a farmhand, drayman, and trader. Mister Charlie, as Bill called his father, worked at the Brown Paper Mill Company. This large, imposing, gregarious man commanded respect. He built Bill’s sense of dignity. He said that it was fine to dig ditches, so long as you became the best ditchdigger in Louisiana. Bill had role models in his father, grandfather, and also his brother Chuck, who was two years older.
But no one shaped Bill’s early life more than his mother, Katie Russell. “When I think about my mother for any reason,” he recalled, “what first jumps to mind are memories of her telling me that she love me more than anyone in the world.” She doted on him, washed him in affection. She also told him that some people would always hate him for his black skin. Her integrity complemented her warmth—once, when Charlie got too drunk and rowdy, she bashed him with an iron pipe. Bill felt safe around her. Katie Russell embodied the resistance of black women in the Jim Crow South: women who endured the double prejudice of race and gender, who worked and raised children, who envisioned a better life for their families. Katie insisted that Mister Charlie open college funds when the boys were still babies. Charlie and Katie also resisted the custom of large families, so they could properly feed and educate their two sons.