Beyond the Book: Background information when reading Red River

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Red River

by Lalita Tademy

Red River by Lalita Tademy X
Red River by Lalita Tademy
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  • First Published:
    Jan 2007, 432 pages
    Jan 2008, 420 pages

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Lalita Tademy was born in Berkeley, California, far from her parents' southern roots. Nonetheless, her parents made sure their household (Louisiana West) maintained a definite non-California edge, including a steady supply of grits, gumbo, cornbread, and collard greens, and a stream of other transplanted southerners eager to share their "back-home" stories.

Lalita decided early that independence and self-sufficiency trumped personal amusement, and set out with dogged determination and methodical resolve to fashion a career. Twenty years later she left the corporate world having achieved the position of VP and General Manager at Sun, a Fortune 500 high technology company in Silicon Valley in order to seek our her family's past.  Her obsession with finding each root, each branch, stripping the bark and turning over every hidden leaf and stem of her family tree consumed her, until she had accumulated such powerful stories there was no choice but to write about the amazing people with whom she had made acquaintance.

The result was Cane River, a novel based on the lives of four generations of colored Creole slave women in Louisiana, from whom she is descended. Oprah Winfrey made it her summer book pick in 2001. 

Reconstruction is the term used to describe the Civil War and post-war period between 1863 and 1877. During this period the southern states returned to the US fold and, due to the Emancipation Proclamation in early 1863 and the ratification of the 13th amendment in December 1865, slavery was ended and the former slaves became freedmen, and some African Americans in some parts of the South obtained the right to vote and to hold public office.

However, in 1877 a Democratic coalition known as "Redeemers" took control and instituted the "Jim Crow" laws. These varied by state but effectively required that public places, including public schools, trains and buses, have separate facilities for whites and blacks.  These laws remained essentially in place for a century (and in fact were enhanced with additional discriminatory laws in the late 19th century) until the Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in public accommodations, employment and labor unions. 

Did you know?
When Lalita Tademy's great, great grandfather Sam was freed he took the name Tademy. This was the closest Americanized version of his grandfather's last name, Tatamee. According to Tademy family history, his grandfather (Lalita's great, great, great, great grandfather) was a free man who traveled from Egypt to find work but was enslaved on arriving in America.

This article was originally published in January 2007, and has been updated for the January 2008 paperback release. Click here to go to this issue.

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