Seaton Place the Novel
From the dusty, back-breaking cotton and tobacco fields of Farmville, North Carolina to the industrial heart of the Nation’s Capital to faux-liberal Boston, Massachusetts and Chicago, Illinois, Seaton Place weaves a family saga of ancestors and progeny struggling and sometimes surviving in a new world. It was a world that made it clear, in 1941, that it was still just the Black body, as it always had been—neither hearts nor minds—that would be begrudgingly tolerated during and after World War II.
It was during the Great Northern Migration that Adele Belcher James unwittingly continued her family on a course that had been charted even before her birth in 1916 and would ripple across generations into a new millennia.
Adele, pretty, freckled enough to see the White in her family tree, long black hair, overflowing bosom and a desirable shade of yellow that kept the Black country farmers and sharecroppers of Farmville, North Carolina sniffing around. She was a party girl to rival any found in a big city. She was a regular at the country juke joints that dotted the dark pine-tree woods of Pitt County, North Carolina. She always smelled of pine sap and sex. Adele became an accidental participant of the Great Northern Migration, in 1941 when she stepped off the Trailways bus in Washington DC, 260 miles from home. Black and blue and all alone, she had just fled her four children all under eight years old and her husband, Charlie, who had hit her for the first and last time. It was the same night that Roosevelt told Americans about “a date which will live in infamy.” The hurried marriage of the girl from the wrong side of the tracks into the prosperous family of former slaves seven years earlier was a disaster.
On that runaway night, everything that ever made a difference in her life—clean underwear, comb, lipstick and perfume—she threw into her purse before she permanently escaped farm living and the daily drudgery of motherhood. Also buried in her purse was the promise of a new life contained in a small pine box that her great-grandmother, Nicey, a slave and master’s daughter, had stolen before the child was given as a wedding gift to her White sister. The box had been handed down from one generation of crazy Joyner women to the next. It was all Adele was left with after her momma started chasing demons. She may have escaped her own momma’s fate but, ultimately, she couldn’t and didn’t know how to save her children. Especially that one child—that one lie—that caused her life-long guilt and shame.
It wasn’t a book that I set out to write. But it was over twenty years of genealogy research and the bit by bit, uncovering of the life and times of my grandmother, Adele, that insisted that I tell her story and of a certain time in the Eckington community of the Nation’s Capital.