Tuesday, September 30, 2014

James Meredith and Ole Miss

Why Ole Miss, why not Tennessee, Florida, or another SEC team? This is the question I thought about when reading about Gil and Cal in Gaines' A Gathering of Old Men (1983). Of course, you have the longstanding rivalry between the teams, dating back to 1894. The most famous game between the two occurred on Halloween night in 1959 when #1 LSU squared off against #3 Ole Miss in Baton Rouge. That game produced one of the most famous plays in LSU football history, Billy Cannon's 89 yd punt return that gave the Tigers the lead. (The video of Cannon's return is above.)

Three years after this game, in 1962, James Meredith became the first African American to integrate the University of Mississippi. To put this in context, Brown v. Board occurred in 1954, the Little Rock Nine integrated Little Rock High School in 1957, and Ruby Bridges integrated the New Orleans Public Schools in 1960. As a side note, months after the Brown v. Board decision Southwest Louisiana Institute (now UL Lafayette) became the first all-white university in the Deep South to integrate by allowing African Americans to register for classes.

What does all of this information have to do with Gaines? Why is Ole Miss important in A Gathering of Old Men? In the original draft, entitled A Revenge of Old Men, LSU plays Arkansas instead of Ole Miss. However, in the published novel, the Tigers are preparing to take on the Rebels. This cannot be a coincidence, and it goes deeper than just the on-the-field rivalry between the teams. Over the years, Gaines has spoken about the inspiration that Meredith provided. In a speech housed in the archives, Gaines speaks on Meredith:
All summer long I thought I would go to Mexico. But something happened at the University of Mississippi in September of ‘62 that changed my mind. I kept thinking and thinking about this brave, very brave man [Jim Meredith]. And I told myself then that in order for me to ever write that book [The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman] I would have to take the same chances in Louisiana that Jim Meredith was taking in going to Mississippi (ca. 1969). 
Ole Miss, then, becomes more than just LSU's rival in A Gathering of Old Men, it becomes a reference to the tumultuous events that centered around Meredith's integration of the university. Meredith's enrollment at Ole Miss sparked numerous responses, including a riot the day before his first scheduled class. During the riot, two were killed and numerous people were wounded. For a great documentary on Meredith and the 1962 Ole Miss football, which went undefeated, watch ESPN's 30 for 30 Ghosts of Ole Miss. The video is below.

Gil and Cal, working together as "Salt and Pepper" in the LSU backfield, represent what can be accomplished when individuals do decide to cooperate, work together, and respect one another. Their mere presence, which will be discussed in more detail in the next post, provides hope for the future as Russ intones in the novel. What do you think about this? As always, leave your comments below.

Tomorrow night the film version of A Gathering of Old Men will be shown at the Lafayette Public Library's South Regional Branch. Make plans to join us there.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Banned Books Week and Ernest J. Gaines

Since this week is Banned Books Week, I thought it would be good to briefly discuss an instance where administrators removed Gaines' books from a school. In 1995, administrators removed copies of Gaines' The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman from the seventh-grade shelves in Conroe, TX. They removed the book because of racial epithets in the novel, specifically the use of the word "nigger." A group of about eight people pushed for the book to be removed from Travis Junior High because they "felt the descriptions of blacks and the use of a specific racial epithet [nigger] embarrassed black students in class." What makes this incident even more interesting is the fact that the leader of the group did not have a child at Travis Junior High; his nephew attended the school.

What prompted the removal and examination of Gaines' novel from the school? It turns out that the racial epithet was the main impetus; however, there is more to the story. The makeup of Travis Junior High in 1995 was 10% African American, 17% Latino, 72% white, and 1% other. In class, a teacher asked her students to read passages from the novel aloud. During these readings, the word appeared and caused some of the African American students to become embarrassed. Thinking about 12-13 year old children in this situation, it should come as no surprise that this would occur. As Donna Britt put it when covering the incident and speaking about herself at that age, "I was once a self-conscious seventh-grader in mostly white classes. I remember feeling on display, certain I was being studied by white classmates - whom I studied right back." Being asked to read passages that contain the word may not have been the best decision; however, did that warrant the removal of the book? 

Later, in the same article,  Britt thinks about what her mother would've said to her if she went home after school and informed about reading passages with the racial epithet aloud in class. She asked her mother, and her mother replied, saying, "I would have explained to you the history of that word and that ignorant people . . . made it very derogatory. . . . I'd have explained that many things in literature are derogatory. But Miss Jane Pittman's is a powerful story - in the end, that word wouldn't matter. . . . I can understand how people don't want to hear that word - I don't. . . . But it's the story of a woman who overcame. And anyway, (kids) run around calling each other that and pay no attention to it."

In another article, the anonymous author simply states, "This novel has been removed while a school district committee assesses the novel's appropriateness. Perhaps the committee will see what the handful of complaining parents has failed to see. That is, the novel is a valuable contribution to American literature. It tells a uniquely American story, one that seventh graders should be exposed to and expected to study." What this article fails to mention, though, is the reason why some asked for the novel to be removed. The author goes on to say, "Of course 'nigger' is an offensive word. But hiding from it and ignoring the time in which it was so commonly used is a disservice to young people. The term is as much part of our collective history as lynchings, the Klan, civil rights, and Dr. Martin Luther King. Shielding young people from the lessons of history only dooms them to ignorance and to repeating mistakes of the past." 

What does all of this mean? Should the Conroe Independent School District have removed the book and investigated its content? Should they have reacted so quickly when, as Britt argues, the incident could have been circumvented by not having students read passages aloud from the novel that contain the racial epithet? These are questions that should be discussed. I agree with both Britt and the anonymous author who argue, I would say, two separate points,but they both come to an agreement that the book is important because of the story it tells. The incident also provides us with an opportunity to discuss the way we teach and approach the subject of race in the classroom, specifically the junior high or high school classroom. Should we shield students from such language? Should we shield them from images that many of us find disturbing? Should they be allowed to read Morrison's The Bluest Eye even though it contains sexually graphic images of incest? Should young students be allowed to read Alexie's The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian? I would argue yes. We can, of course, continue this conversation below.  

I would like to end with something Sherman Alexie said about his book being challenged. In his 2011 article "Why the Best Kids Books Are Written in Blood," from the Washington Post, Alexie writes,
When some cultural critics fret about the “ever-more-appalling” YA books, they aren’t trying to protect African-American teens forced to walk through metal detectors on their way into school. Or Mexican-American teens enduring the culturally schizophrenic life of being American citizens and the children of illegal immigrants. Or Native American teens growing up on Third World reservations. Or poor white kids trying to survive the meth-hazed trailer parks. They aren’t trying to protect the poor from poverty. Or victims from rapists.
For the Donna Britt and Sherman Alexie articles I provide links above. For the other articles, they came from the Ernest J. Gaines Center's archives. There is not information for bibliographic citations, so I am just leaving the quotes above as is.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Film Version of "A Lesson before Dying"

Last week, to kick off the celebration of the 50th anniversary of Ernest Gaines' first novel publication, Catherine Carmier, Dr. Matthew Teutsch and the Ernest J. Gaines Center's graduate assistant Jennifer Morrison appeared on KRVS's Apres Midi and WRKF's The Jim Engster Show. Follow the links above to listen to those interviews.

Last Wednesday, the center kicked off it's events with the film showing of The Sky is Gray at Lafayette Public Library's South Regional Branch. Tomorrow night (September 24), there will be a film screening and discussion of the film version of Gaines' 1993 classic A Lesson before Dying. The film earned two Emmy's in 1999 for Outstanding Made-for-Television Movie and for Outstanding Writing for a Mini-Series or Movie. Around the same time as the film's premier, playwright Romulus Linney, in 2000, premiered the stage adaptation of A Lesson before Dying at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. A video of him discussing the adaptation is below.

A Lesson before Dying, as has been discussed on this blog previously, is an important book. It was chosen, in 1997, to be part of Oprah Winfrey's Book Club, and it won the National Book Critic's Circle Award in 1993.

Make plans to join us to celebrate the 15th anniversary of this monumental film. Details of the upcoming events can be found on last Tuesday's blog post.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"You a man, James"

Final page of
"The Big Gray Sky"
"'You not a bum,' she says. 'You a man'" (117). These words conclude the second short story in Gaines' Bloodline. As Octavia and James get ready to leave Bayonne for their return trip home, and as the air becomes chilly, with sleet falling and the wind howling, James turns his collar up to try to maintain some warmth. However, his mother quickly tells him to turn the collar down because, as she says, "You a man," not a bum. In the early drafts of the story, this final line does not appear. Instead, Octavia only says, "You not a bum." What does the addition of "You a man" add to our understanding of "The Sky is Gray"? Does it add anything? Would the story have the same impact if those words never made it into the final version?

I would argue that those three words," You a man," serve as the focal point of the story. Throughout, Octavia strives to teach James how to become a man, what he needs to do to survive. At the outset, James flashes back to a time when he struggled to kill two small birds that he and his brother caught. He didn't want anything to do with killing them, even if it means that the family will have food. Octavia berated him and hit him while his Aunt pleaded for Octavia to "[e]xplain to him. Just don't beat him. Explain to him" (90). Eventually, James understands why he must kill the birds. Even though he isn't much older than eight, James sees that the others are proud of him for killing, cleaning, and cooking the birds. He must learn how to do these things now because if he doesn't he may not survive if his mother goes away like his father did.

After the lesson with the birds, James begins to act more like a man. While his teeth continually hurt him throughout the story, he bears the pain for his mother. He wants to prove he is a man, or at least in the process of becoming one. While waiting on the bus to take him and his mother to Bayonne, James ruminates on what constitutes a man. The passage is worth quoting at length:
I look at my mama and I love my mama. She's wearing that black coat and that black hat and she's looking sad. I love my mama and I want to put my arm round her and tell her. But I'm not supposed to do that. She say that's weakness and that's crybaby stuff, and she don't want no crybaby round her.She don't want you to be scared, either. 'Cause Ty's scared of ghosts and she's always whipping him. I'm scared of the dark, too, but I make 'tend I ain't. I make 'tend I ain't 'cause I'm the oldest, and I got to set a good sample for the rest. I can't ever be scared and I can't ever cry. And that's why I never said nothing 'bout my teeth. It's been hurting me close to a month now, but I never said it. I didn't say it 'cause I didn't want act like a crybaby, and 'cause I know we didn't have enough money to go have it pulled. But, Lord, it been hurting me. And look like it wouldn't start till at night when you was trying to get yourself little sleep. Then soon 's you shut your eyes--ummm-ummm, Lord, look like it go right down to your heartstring. (84)   
James' desire to show he is a man stems partly from the fact that he has to display his manhood in order to help those who cares about to survive if anything happens to the adults. Octavia spends the entirety of the story teaching the eight-year-old James how to navigate a racist society and how to survive in a cruel landscape. During their time in Bayonne, Octavia provides James with mini-lessons on how to navigate the area, telling him to keep his eyes forward. At one point, James even thinks about the lessons he may be missing in school, remembering when he learned about Poe's "Annabel Lee."

In the comments below, tell me what you think about the last line of the story. Does the power of that line change if you take out "You a man"? Also, two of the original titles of the story were "A Little Southern Town" and "The Big Gray Sky." Would the story be any different one of these was the title?

Gaines, Ernest J. "The Sky is Gray." Bloodline. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 1976. 83-117. Print.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Make Plans to Join Us in Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of Catherine Carmier

This fall, the Ernest J. Gaines Center, in conjunction with the Lafayette Public Library and the Louisiana Book Festival, will commemorate the 50th anniversary of Gaines' first novel publication Catherine Carmier. To celebrate, events will be held from September 17-November 21 in various locations from Lafayette to Baton Rouge. All events at the South Regional Library and the Jeffery Renard Allen reading will be at 6:30.  

The celebration will begin with a film series at the South Regional Library in Lafayette. Every Wednesday night between September 17 and October 8 there will be screenings of the four film adaptations of Gaines' work. The series begins tomorrow night with the short documentary An Obsession of Mine (video below is the introduction to the documentary) and The Sky is Gray

On October 9, Dr. Reggie Young and Dr. Marcia Gaudet will be part of the Center for Louisiana Studies' Bayou State Book Talk series. They will discuss their book This Louisiana Thing that Drives Me: The Legacy of Ernest J. Gaines.  

On October 15, the center will  host a reading by 2009 Ernest J. Gaines Award for Literary Excellence winner Jeffery Renard Allen. Numerous reviewers have praised Allen's new book, Song of the Shank, including the New York Times

On October 22, Dr. Matthew Teutsch will lead a discussion on Gaines' work and specifically on The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman at the South regional Library. 

On November 1, Dr. Keith Clark will lead a discussion with Ernest Gaines at the Louisiana Book Festival. He is the author of Black Manhood in James Baldwin, Ernest J. Gaines, and August Wilson.
 Make sure to get there early because the space always fills up quickly when Gaines appears at the book festival.  

On November 2, Gaines will be reading on the campus of UL Lafayette. The reading will take place in Moody 103 at 4:00. 

On November 21, the center will host Dr. John Lowe for the Second Annual Gaines Scholar Lecture. Dr. Lowe will discuss Catherine Carmier, pulling from the drafts and other materials housed within the Gaines Center's archives. He has written extensively on Gaines, and his Conversations with Ernest Gaines collects interviews with Gaines from the early 1970s through 1995. The lecture will be at 1:00. 

From September 22-December 1, patrons to the Louisiana State Library in Baton Rouge can see items from the archives that highlight Gaines' accomplishments and the numerous anniversaries
 this year. From October 9-November 9, items from the archives will be on display at the South Regional Library. 

Thursday, September 11, 2014

"Save me, Joe Louis!"

Recalling an execution he read about in Florida, Grant Wiggins thought about the "boy" being dragged to the electric chair. The boys continually screamed, "Please, Joe Louis, help me. Please help me. Help me" (91). Louis never came, and the boy, jolted by the electric current, died. In his 1964 book Why We Can't Wait, Martin Luther King Jr. related the same story, albeit with the gas chamber instead of the electric chair:
More than twenty-five years ago, one of the southern states adopted a new method of capital punishment. Poison gas supplanted the gallows. In its earliest stages, a microphone was placed inside the sealed death chamber so that scientific observers might hear the words of the dying prisoner to judge how the human reacted in this novel situation.
The first victim was a young Negro. As the pellet dropped into the container, and the gas curled upward, through the microphone came these words: "Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis. Save me, Joe Louis..." (129)
Continuing, King states that the boy's helplessness led him to look for someone who cared and he called out to Joe Louis, "[n]ot God, not government, not charitably minded white men, but a Negro who was the world's most expert fighter, in this last extremity, was the last hope" (129). This event, however, never actually happened.

In a November 7, 2005 article entiled "Save me, Joe Louis!" for the Los Angeles Times, David Margolick talks about the true story behind this apocryphal anecdote. It turns out that story originated with an article in The Daily Worker that recorded the execution of Allen Foster, a 19 year old North Carolinian charged with the rape of a white woman in 1936.While chained to the chair in the gas chamber, wearing boxing shorts and shivering with cold, Foster did not call out, "Save me, Joe Louis!" Instead, he spoke of sparring with Louis in Birmingham, AL before Louis became famous. Margolick, in Beyond Glory: Joe Louis and Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink, mentions that no record indicates that Louis visited Birmingham when Foster claimed that he did and that Foster's mom said her son was "half crazy."    

What does all of this say about the construct of myths and their importance? Obviously Joe Louis held a place in the African American consciousness as I've talked about before. Could that be the reason why The Daily Worker chose to have Foster call out to Louis before his execution? Why does Gaines include a form of this story in A Lesson before Dying? Is it because the community saw Louis as a hero and vicariously defeated oppression when he won? All of these are questions worth thinking about and exploring. As usual, post comments below.

Gaines, Ernest J. A Lesson before Dying. New York:Vintage Books, 1993. Print.
King Jr, Martin Luther. Why We Can't Wait. Boston: Beacon Press, 2010. Print.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Claude McKay, Banana Bottom, and Ernest Gaines

It's well known that African American writers did not influence Ernest J. Gaines during his formative years as a writer. Instead, authors such as Hemingway, Faulkner, Tolstoy, Turgenev, and Joyce did.  In 1975, Gaines did say, however, "Probably the only Black writer who has influenced my work in Zora Neale Hurston" (Carter 85). Gaines does not mention a specific text by Hurston, in the 1975 interview or in later interviews. So, I cannot say with certainty what Hurston text influenced him. It must be remembered that Hurston's work fell out of favor during her lifetime and it wasn't until the early 1970s that Alice Walker and others resurrected her. What fascinates me is the fact that Hurston served as an influence. This can be seen, of course, in Gaines' use of dialect. However, I am not interested in Hurston for this post. Instead,  I am interested in Claude McKay.

Both McKay and Hurston were major figures during the Harlem Renaissance. McKay, a Jamaican born author, wrote the famous poem "If We Must Die" in response to the Red Summer of 1919. He also wrote Home to Harlem (1928), a picaresque novel that sees Jake, an African American soldier who deserts the Army during World War I, finding his way in the world, both abroad and in the United States. Gary Holcomb directly links McKay's novel with Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises (1926), arguing that the novel, instead of being a work that would cause DuBois to take a bath after reading it, is "a rewriting of the white author's art for black transnational purpose" (136). After writing Home to Harlem and Banjo (1929), both of which deal with the big city in the United States, McKay wrote Banana Bottom (1933), a novel that focuses on Bita Plant and her life and that of the community in Jamaica  around the turn of the twentieth century.

Reading Banana Bottom, I could not help but think about Gaines and what may have been different if he read a work like this during his formative years. Just as Toomer could have affected Gaines' style indirectly through Hemingway, McKay's possibly did as well through Hurston. John Lowe points out the similarities between McKay's novel and Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937) which she wrote while in the Caribbean. That discussion, however, is for another day. Here, I do not want to speculate on what would have happened if Gaines read McKay's novel early on, but I do want to point out the similarities between Banana Bottom and Gaines' work. As discussed in earlier blog posts, Gaines sought out books about peasants and peasantry when he entered the library in 1948. He found those books, but he didn't find "his" people in those books. Instead, he found European peasants and American whites. That is partly what inspired him to write.

McKay's novel deals with the peasantry in Jamaica, and it also contains the person who leaves, becomes educated, and returns to the community. Bita, after being "raped" at age twelve, gets supported by the local missionaries and sent to school in England. There, she becomes "educated" and returns to Jamaica, and Banana Bottom, about seven years later. The novel partly focuses on her navigating the "civilized" world of the white Europeans and the "native" world of her own community in Banana Bottom. In this way, Bita can be seen in relation to characters like Jackson and Grant in Gaines' works.

Apart from the central narrative of the novel that focuses on Bita, descriptions of the peasantry and more specifically conflicts between the local community and immigrants from India and China along with a migration of workers away from Jamaica to Panama for better opportunities appear. After the hurricane near the end of the novel, some of the Negro workers who had a large pay day clearing debris and wreckage took their money to Panama to make more working on the canal. Along with some of the workers leaving, the community "redoubled and grew in bitterness against the immigration of Chinese and the importation of Indian coolie labor" (294). This is only one example of the conflicting groups in the novel. The immigrants do not appear as characters like the Cajuns do in Gaines; however, they are present and take labor and wages away from the "Negro" workers.       

This is just a brief discussion of McKay's novel and some similarities to Gaines' work. For a longer discussion, make sure you leave a comment below.

Carter, Tom. "Ernest Gaines." Conversations With Ernest Gaines. Ed. John Lowe. Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1995. 80-85. Print.
Holcomb, Gary. "Hemingway and McKay, Race and Nation." Hemingway and the Black Renaissance. Eds. Gary Edward Holcomb and Charles Scruggs. Columbus: The Ohio State University Press, 2012. 133-150. Print.
McKay, Claude. Banana Bottom. New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc., 1961. Print.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Response to The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

The Ernest J. Gaines Center's archives contain numerous letters of praise for the The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971). Authors and activists such as James Baldwin, Alice Walker, Jesse Jackson, James Allen McPherson, and John A. Williams. Baldwin wrote to Gaines saying, "I think you are an extraordinary artist indeed and Jane Pittman is a most moving, most beautiful, most truthful book." James Allen McPherson claims that Gaines' novel fulfilled Richard Wright's 1945 prophecy. Wright stated, "There is a great novel yet to be written about the Negro in the South; just a simple, straight, easy, great novel telling how they live and how they die; what they see and how they feel each day; what they do in the winter, spring, summer, and fall. Just a novel telling of the quiet ritual of their lives. Such a book is really needed." McPherson says The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman is this book because it presents a rich folk character in the oral tradition with a respect for ancestors and their wisdom. Carrying the thought of ancestors further, Alice Walker wrote, "My reaction to Mr. Gaines's work is unusually emotional. For example, it has become quite ordinary for me, in the middle of reading one of his extraordinary paragraphs, to suddenly stop and thank our ancestors, Mr. Gaines's and mine, that Mr. Gaines exists."

All of the laudatory comments above referred to the novel. These do not include the multitudes of reviews, letters, and other items housed within the archives relate to the film version. While many praise the film, some have comments that congratulate Gaines on the film but point out its differences from the novel. Overall, though, these letters express the overall importance of the film in 1974. I discussed this briefly in a previous post, but I will let the letters and reviews speak for themselves here. Bill Decker, an agent at the Dial Press who published the novel, wrote to Gaines and says that he and his wife thoroughly enjoyed the film and expected it, based on advanced reviews, to be as good as the book. However, he laments "that  millions of people who saw the film will never really get to know Miss Jane, your Miss Jane." Even with this caveat, Decker concluded the letter stating that "it is going to do a lot of good." What that good is, Decker did not say, but it could be assumed that he is referring to race relations. Donna Schrader, another employee at the Dial Press, wrote that she spoke with an African American mother of three after the film's debut. The mother said her children, even the seven year old, watched the entire movie. She went on to describe seeing the Adam Clayton Powell exhibit at the Adam Clayton Powell Memorial Library  and overhearing visitors say, "Wait till the children see this. Wait till the children see this." To Schrader, that is the same thought she had after seeing the film. The following generations need to understand what came before, the struggles and the joys, and this is partly what Gaines' novel and the film version provided, a history that did not appear in the textbooks students read in schools but one that focused on "his people." 

The film, which won nine Emmys, showed that the nation was prepared for stories on television that centered around African American characters. It also, as mentioned in the previous post, made some realize the long enduring oppression that African Americans have experienced in this country. While a work of art can't undo 400 years of racism, it can highlight the problems and cause some to reevaluate their previous thoughts in regards to race. Gaines even says as much in a newspaper article about his visits to the set during filming. Gaines describes speaking with "an elderly white man" at lunch. The man knew the area, and looking around at the tables, he noticed the people eating. After introducing Gaines to his son, who worked on the film, the man simply said, "This is going to be a great picture. . . . I know it. Just look at what's happening here. Look at the people sitting and eating together, working together, talking. You think this could have happened 25 years ago? No, things changed." Gaines ends the article there, voicing the change that can occur through art. Forty years after the film, there are still problems, but works like The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman can, and have, in some small way, provide individuals with the information needed to reevaluate their positions in relation to those problems, hopefully causing people to look for solutions instead of perpetuating the problems.  

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Facts about the Film Version of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman

One glance through the Ernest J. Gaines Center's archives reveals the overwhelming popularity and influence of the film version of The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1974). Scattered throughout the collection are film reviews, letters congratulating Gaines on the film, call sheets, promotional materials, and other items. In this post, I would just like to highlight a couple of items from the collection to show the film's impact in 1974.

In a short documentary on the 30th anniversary of the film, the director John Korty says that after the film debuted white callers inundated radio talk shows saying, "I didn't realize. . . " in regards to the struggles that African Americans went through. Likewise, Odetta, who portrayed Big Laura, essentially voiced why Gaines decided to start writing. She says, "The book is telling me other than what I seen in movies." The film's impact could clearly be seen during the 1974 Emmy Awards where it was nominated for 12 awards and won 9 of them, including the Best Actress award fro Cicely Tyson's portrayal of Miss Jane.

To become Miss Jane, Tyson had to arrive on set at least 4 hours before her scheduled shoot time because it took 4 to 4 1/2 hours to apply the makeup that would transform her into a 110 year old woman. After shooting, Tyson would then have to endure another 2 1/2 hours of makeup removal. The picture above shows the transformation  from a 40 year old woman to a 110 year old. Along with putting on and taking off the makeup, Tyson also studied her role diligently. Korty mentions that she would visit old folk's homes and visit elderly African American women, talking with them and recording their speech. On set, as the older Miss Jane, she would act 110, having people assist her instead of walking normally. All of this led to a performance that brought Miss Jane to life.
While Tyson's preparation breathed life into Miss Jane, there were some notable difference between the film and the novel. One of these was discussed earlier. Another key difference is the ending. The book concludes with Miss Jane heading to Bayonne after Jimmy's death. In contrast, the film concludes with Miss Jane walking to the "Whites's Only" drinking fountain. This scene, as powerful as it is, does not occur in the book. Even when the film debuted in 1974, the scene's impact was almost instantaneous. Arthur Unger, writing in The Christian Science Monitor, called the final moments of the film perhaps "the most effective nine minutes [he has] ever seen in fictional film." Even the title of Unger's article shows the impact of the final scene: "110-year walk to a fountain." What makes this ending so much stronger than the one found in the novel, or does it?  In the novel, Jimmy and the other activists chose a young woman to drink from the "White's Only" fountain. They chose an Hebert girl, a mulatto, "to show the world what the South would do to a nigger-not even half nigger in the girl's case-just because she wanted a drink of water" (246). What are your memories of the film? Which ending do you prefer? As usual, let's discuss this in the comments below. 

Gaines, Ernest J. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.  New York: Bantam Books, 1972. Print.
Unger, Arthur. "110-year walk to a fountain." The Christian Science Moniter. [Boston, MA] 30 Jan. 1974: F6. Print.