September 22, 2014
In the movie, The Help, a women’s bridge party provides an appalling vignette of white middle class women’s treatment of their black “help” in Mississippi of the early 1960s. (The novel by Kathryn Stockett, was published in 2009).
I’ve always wanted to do a blog about that scene—certainly not to defend those bridge club women—but to say, “But that’s not the whole bridge club story in the South.” For what I’d learned reading social bridge history, clipping newspapers, over many years was that even during the darkest days of segregation, there was also a world of middle class black women’s bridge clubs.
I never wrote that blog because I realized while bridge history is important to me, the bridge game in The Help was only incidental to the story—a great plot device, given it was the 60s, for moving the story forward. Besides, I couldn’t come up with the words as to why I felt it was important people who saw The Help or read the book know that black women played bridge too!
Then recently I came across an article by Sandra Seaton, “How I Came to Write the Bridge Party”–in it she explains why those black women’s bridge clubs are important, expresses what I felt but didn’t have the words or experience to say. Her play, The Bridge Party, takes place in the 1940s in Tennessee—a bridge party inside a home, while violence builds on the streets outside over a lynching.
“Because racism was then legally entrenched and publicly justified, says Seaton, “It was a significant accomplishment to build a life with ceremonies and rituals affirming the integrity and importance of our own friendships and families . . . . all too often, sometimes with the best of intentions, black people are portrayed only in moments of crisis, as though they had no private lives, no past, no inner depth. . . . I wanted to both acknowledge the reality of violence, of lynching, and yet make it clear that the African American experience did not begin and end with acts of violence perpetrated by others . . . .”
Here’s another quote—if I ever re-write Bridge Table or What’s Trump Anyway? I’ll be sure to include it:
“Whenever I ask my creative writing students to recall a fragrance connected with some early memory, I give the example of the smell of spiced tea flavored with oranges and cloves, the drink served at the weekly meetings of my mother’s bridge club. . . . the aroma of food and drink mixed with . . . women’s colognes . . . to hear the quiet laughter. . . . I wasn’t allowed to eat the shrimp salad sandwiches . . . now at least I can write about them in my play.”
Read Sandra Seaton’s article at: http://www.sandraseaton.com/how-i-came-to-write-the-bridge-party/.