Excerpt from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Moonrise Over New Jessup

by Jamila Minnicks

Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks X
Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2023, 336 pages

    Nov 28, 2023, 352 pages


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My eyes traveled from the café to the paved sidewalk to the row of brick-front shops lining the wide avenue. The sun gleamed from the white tile at the bus depot, and a polished chrome dog leapt over the door. But a couple folks—one, like me, and the other, nothing like me—looked around, unsure of what we were seeing. When the man seated next to me returned smelling of cigarettes and shoe polish, he urged me off the bus with a dime from his own pocket.

"Miss, our next stop ain't for quite a while, and this here is a good place to stretch your legs. Why don't you go on inside and get yourself a Coca-Cola before we pull off again?"

Before stepping foot to pavement, I hovered in the doorway of the bus. To the left and right, the avenue, the sidewalk, the storefronts, extended to the horizon in either direction. But reaching the front door of the depot, the Colored entrance was nowhere in sight. To my right, a shoeshine man chewed a toothpick while studying the shoe, and the polish, in his hands from every angle. Behind me, from the bus window, the man urged me through the door; only, the last thing I needed was to be arrested for going through the front just to buy a Coke.

"Help you, miss?" asked the shoeshine man. Until the words eased from his mouth, he'd done his level best to ignore me. With the weather-beaten hand-me-downs on my feet, it was no wonder why.

"I'm looking for the Colored entrance, please," I said to the pavement, not wanting to be pegged ignorant of city ways and where they hid the Negro doorways.

"You won't find one of them here," he said. "Just walk in."

"I'd prefer the Colored entrance. Please," I insisted. He seemed an unusual man, perhaps a prankster of some sort, with the long limbs, triangular head, and bulging eyes of a chameleon. Just the sort to make trouble for folks and dart away.

"We ain't got one of them because ain't nothing but Negroes in this town, is what I'm telling you. Look around and see if you see any whitefolks other than these sorry few from the buses." He smirked and returned his attention to the shoe in his hand, satisfied he knew the lay of the land.

A dark brown man sold bus tickets and answered questions inside while two soldiers in Army-issue khaki rushed past me: one, with the deep mulberry skin of the ready harvest, and the other, my same sun-gold cinnamon with dark freckles on his cheeks who placed a hand to his peaked cap. A light-skinned woman with a wild mane of bottle-red hair rushed into a yellow cab driven by a portly man of pecan complexion. He sped past an ebony police officer in white gloves holding palms up, meaning "stop." A deep bronze man across the street wore paint-covered bib overalls, smoking a cigarette next to another bib-overalled man—cocoa-brown. And the family by the drink machine? The mama, she was high yellow, but her husband was a rich, deep brown to match some good, peaty soil. One child favored him, one her, and one fell to a brown somewhere in the middle. And that was just within those few feet of me at the depot. Up and down the avenue, Negroes of every shade came together like the dusk in a fall forest.

I should've been glad, relieved, to find such a sight on my journey. But my knees gave out and I sank onto the bench next to the shoeshine man. I buried my face in my hands and sobbed.

"Ain't our folks' usual reaction when they first arrive in New Jessup," he said, patting my shoulder with the light taps of a man unaccustomed to comforting people. I stopped crying in time to wave the bus off, too exhausted to shed another drop.

"Is there a church house nearby?" I asked.

"Pastor and Mrs. Brown'll take right good care of you up at Morning Star Baptist," he said, and with walking directions, he sent me on my way. But after I took a couple steps up the sidewalk, he called out. When I turned, he spoke to the stain on my dress and the marks on my arm that weariness had me forgetting to hide. "But miss, if you looking for whitefolks, and I don't imagine that you would be, but say you are? Well, you'd have to get all the way to the other side of the woods to find a single one."

Excerpted from Moonrise Over New Jessup by Jamila Minnicks . Copyright © 2023 by Jamila Minnicks . Excerpted by permission of Algonquin Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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