By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader
Retired school teacher Erin Goseer Mitchell, 81, has written her second book of memoirs, which explores her migration from Georgia to Chicago, as a young educator and newlywed.
Excerpts from the book jacket: “With perceptive insight, Erin Goseer Mitchell continues to define race, class and family struggle. Informal, yet passionate, her writing remains thought provoking and inspiring. From her Introduction: One Saturday in July 2014, I attended a writers’ workshop at National Louis University. One of the requirements for attending the workshop was to submit and present a page of work in progress. Rick Kogan, a senior editor at the Chicago Tribune, was the facilitator of the session. When my turn came, I read a page from an account about my first year in Chicago after I left Fitzgerald, Georgia. The group found it compelling. Kogan was very encouraging and told me that he wanted more, that this was a part of Chicago history that he had never heard. With his comments and the prodding I had gotten from my readers, I began the arduous and often painful process of writing about my life in Chicago. The reminiscences that comprise this book are a result of that effort.”
Mitchell’s book provides delightful and painful insight into her life in Chicago, as she and her husband first settled on the South Side, as he was finishing law school and she was beginning her teaching career in the city in the mid-50’s. She first worked at a school in Garfield Park, traveling from the South Side on the bus. Finally, she was able to get a position at a school closer to her home. She worked in the education field for 38 years before retiring.
I asked Mitchell a few questions about the reasons for her second book and what she hopes to convey about conditions in Chicago at that time, many decades ago.
“Writing and publishing the second book seemed to have validated me as a serious writer. This seems to be only coming from people who didn’t know about me and my first book,” Mitchell said. “My readers encouraged me to tell more. I resisted for a long time by telling them I didn’t have anything else to say. They insisted. I gave in and began writing again. I’m getting very positive feedback and thanks from them. My life continues to be enriched by my readers through their phone calls, kind notes and invitations to participate in book events.”
She spoke to what she felt was uncertainty after her retirement. “When I retired from a 38-year career as an educator, I had no idea or intention that I would become a writer. This had never been one of my dreams. For the first six months of my retirement I sat around mornings, drank tea, watched TV and looked out my front windows. I tried to do my long list or “round-to-it’s,” organize photos, clean closets, etc. That was no fun. I joined a line dance group and enjoyed this activity, but I began to feel restless and unchallenged.”
Mitchell said she felt that she needed to write this book, detailing events in the Deep South, to educate her two daughters and three grandsons. She talks about coming to Chicago in 1956, which was the year that I was born. Mitchell, along with her husband, experienced much discrimination in Chicago, as he worked on his law degree at the University of Chicago and they looked for adequate housing that wasn’t readily offered to Black students.
“From Colored to Black: A Bittersweet Journey” includes essays titled “Newlyweds Transplanted in Chicago,” “A Young Teacher,” “Vestiges of Jim Crow,” “Forestville Elementary,” “Chicago Memories” and “Long Overdue,” among many more. Mitchell talks of her being honored in 2014 with a reading at a library where she couldn’t even obtain a library card in Fitzgerald, Georgia. She speaks of the pains and joys and aspirations and achievements of a young couple in love—a young couple who were married for more than 30 years, before her husband passed away. She speaks fondly of a garden that he tended and of the brilliant way she saved money for a down payment on the house where this garden thrived.
This book, to me, is one of history and of a continuing memoir for Mitchell, after her first book, which was titled “Born Colored: Life Before Bloody Sunday.”
But, being a hopeless romantic, I also enjoyed the love story of two people determined, against the odds, to prosper and grow together, raising a family in a Chicago that in many instances hasn’t changed much since that time. To find out more about “From Colored to Black,” visit http://eringoseermitch- ell.com/. To see Mitchell in person, she will read from her book on the following dates:
St. Thomas Episcopal Church, 3801 S. Wabash Ave., Saturday, February 18, from Noon until 2 p.m.
Avalon Park Public Library, 8148 S. Stony Island Ave., Tuesday, February 21, from 7 p.m. until 8:30 p.m.
Jeffery Manor Public Library, 2401 E. 100th St., Saturday, March 4, from 1 p.m. until 3:30 p.m.
Afriware Books, 1701 S. 1st Ave., Suite 503, Maywood, IL, Saturday, March 11, from 3 until 4:30 p.m.