Monthly Archives: July 2015

Reflections on Greenville, Texas- Part 2: “The Blackest Land and the Whitest People”

My earlier piece on Greenville, Texas (“The Blackest Land and the Whitest People”) attracted a surprising number of hits. Since writing it I attended my wife’s 50th high school reunion and learned additional information.GreenvilleSign-1

Among the nostalgic celebrants from Greenville High, Class of 1965 was a single African-American and his wife. Thomas, who now lives in Brooklyn and has been successful in his career, was greeted warmly and was obviously well-liked by his classmates. I had a brief visit with Thomas and learned his intriguing story.

He shared many years ago when he left home to register for high school, his parents assumed he would attend the all-black Carver High School. Instead and without their knowledge he made a bee line for Greenville High. Thomas was, if not the first African-American, among the very first to integrate the school.

Thomas had delivered prescriptions for the local pharmacy and, in the process, had become friendly with people of all races in Greenville. He had developed a comfort level with all types of people.

From my brief interaction with Thomas, I feltĀ  a better person could not have existed to break down the color barrier. He was affable, intelligent, and while an athlete, hardly the star of any of Greenville High’s sports teams. He was, in my estimation, the perfect “Jackie Robinson” for Greenville High.

He recalls no negative feelings from students or staff at Greenville High. While bowled over by his choice of school, his parents were not concerned enough to force him to change his mind or his registration.

While racism remained rampant in the south in the early 1960s, the young people in Greenville proved far more welcoming than perhaps the older generation would have been.

In such matters, leaving integration matters up to the younger generation seems to have worked better than attempting to change the minds of the entire populace. Just my thought and would love to hear yours.

Oh, and for what it is worth, the white classmates fifty years later still think “whitest people” refers to virtue and honesty and carries with it no racial overtones. If only the former Governor of Texas, John Connally, and legions of others around the U.S.A. saw it the same way.

Tay Hohoff- Editor of “To Kill A Mockingbird”

Yesterday the novel “Go Set A Watchman” by Harper Lee was published. With itsĀ  publicity came to light that an invisible hand existed for her previous, Pulitzer prize winning novel, “To Kill A Mockingbird.” This skillful hand was that of her editor, Tay Hohoff, who at the time worked at Lippincott.

As the story goes Hohoff perceived impressive talent in the young Harper Lee but the manuscript she offered was a mess. It consisted of a series of anecdotes that lacked coherence and failed to uplift the reader.

Over the next two and a half years, Harper Lee, who to her credit was dogged enough to persist in her writing effort, wisely followed her editor’s counsel and repeatedly rewrote her manuscript. Her industry ultimately gave rise to her masterpiece, “To Kill A Mockingbird.”

The book this week by Harper Lee was written earlier than Mockingbird and is reported to lack the uplifting moral courage shown by Atticus Finch in Mockingbird, instead depicting the aging Atticus as a typical southern white male bigot of the 1950s. What a shift from the wise and courageous Atticus Finch we loved in Mockingbird and portrayed by Gregory Peck in the movie version.

“Go Set A Watchman” was written prior to “To Kill A Mockingbird” and lacked the skillful editing by Tay Hohoff. Could there be a clearer example of an editor’s impact? For my money I would rather re-read Mockingbird.

I am sure other examples exist of unsung editors who took incompletely developed manuscripts and fashioned them into meaningful and successful pieces of literature.

In my own situation with my book, “Carrying the Black Bag” (Texas Tech University Press due out November 15), I have gained a huge amount of respect for my editor, Joanna Conrad.

For example my “problem child” of a chapter did not fit the mold of the others in that the ill person was not personally known to me. Nevertheless, Adolf Hitler had Parkinson’s disease and, in my opinion, the disease affected his cognitive ability and impacted his conduct of World War II.

My premise is that his concern over his life-shortening Parkinson’s disease and heart disease prompted him prematurely to invade the Soviet Union. Also his cognitive dysfunction due to advanced PD delayed the counterattack by the German forces at the Battle of Normandy, establishing a second front.

Joanna liked the information in the Hitler chapter but not its academic tone. She skillfully guided me to weave the information into the book in a similar fashion to the other patient stories. Like Harper Lee before Mockingbird was published, I too am an unpublished popular author with little choice but comply with my editor but, like Lee, also I also listened carefully to my wise editor’s advice. This I believe is good advice for novice writers.

Here I am sure any comparison between Harper Lee’s masterpiece and my humble effort stops. Nevertheless, I am no less appreciative of Joanna Conrad than Harper Lee was of Tay Hohoff.