By: Irene Steele
Reviewed by: Foster Dickson
Blacksmith Books, 2007
Irene Steele’s debut novel, Some Glad Morning, tells the tale of Mildred Johnson, a young African American woman living in Chicago with her Aunt Rose. Mildred is the reluctant good girl who facetious refers to herself as “Unstained Mildred Johnson,” a stark contrast to the woman that her aunt tells her she was named for: Mildred Walker.
The novel revolves around two plots: a 1980s love affair between Mildred Johnson and a dread-locked street scholar named O’Kanta during the city’s mayoral election, and a background story of civil rights-era Tennessee, the land and time from which Aunt Rose emerged. In the main plot, protagonist Mildred Johnson has gotten involved in the campaign of black mayoral candidate Raymond Williams at the urging of her socially conscious aunt, a factor that leads her to the Center for Black Awareness, run by O’Kanta in the basement of a shady little store. While Mildred Johnson and her sharp-tongued Aunt Rose try to convert voters, O’Kanta is steadily making the moves on Mildred, even bringing in his older friend Chapman to woo Aunt Rose.
The back-story of the feisty aunt and her slow-and-steady niece is rooted in the 1950s South. In the troublesome days of the burgeoning civil rights movement, a protest gone wrong in small-town Tennessee has brought the unlikely pair together, like phoenixes that rise out of the fiery ashes of the war between whites and blacks. Rose’s friend, Mildred Walker, is a spirited woman whose husband, L.C. Walker, is a driving force in the local black community. One night, when L.C. goes to talk sense into a group of drunken men intent on a destructive protest, trouble finds them all. Rose and baby Mildred—who is actually Mildred Walker’s daughter, Rosemary—flee the scene for higher ground up North.
One part love story and one part fictionalized history lesson, Some Glad Morning is a mixture of successes and failures. Where the novel is reasonably well written, the dialogue is tedious in places and minor editorial errors pepper the text. Where it does tell a story of very typical events from the mid-century South, its portrayal relies on some old cardboard stereotypes, like the swaggering white Southern sheriff, and some more modern ones, like the street urchin with a heart of gold and the city that will never elect black officials. Though Some Glad Morning tells an enjoyable story of personal triumph and budding romance, the social justice backdrop is not a strength of this novel.
Foster Dickson is a writer, teacher, and editor who lives in Montgomery.