The Time and Place That Gave Me Life is a coming-of-age memoir that confronts race and gender issues in middle America during the pre-Civil Rights era. Janet Cheatham Bell’s riveting memoir recounts her experiences as an African American girl in Indianapolis from the late 1930s to the mid-1960s.
In taut chapters, Bell introduces the reader to a life often defined by race and racial discrimination. She begins with her birth and describes her first job as a maid in a wealthy white household and her humiliating experiences at a “white” high school. She also relates her encounters with racism in college at Indiana University. As well, she forthrightly discusses her personal struggles with her parents, in school, and in her marriage.
As background for her story, she briefly examines the history of African Americans in Indiana, and tangentially, in America. Her story begins with her parents, who, like so many others, fled the South after World War I for what they hoped would be a better life up north.
While she was growing up, rigid racial separation was the norm in Indiana; however, Bell describes the loving, secure, and joyful space her parents created for their family. Bell also details the pain, confusion, and struggle of living with the oppressive specter of belonging to a group that was despised by those in power. As a young woman trying to survive personal crises, Bell watches the courage and tenacity of other young people participating in the nonviolent direct action movement in an effort to create better conditions in the South. At that point she resolves to make changes in her own life.
The strength and appeal of Bell’s memoir lies in her direct, personal tone and her deft use of anecdotes. “I think of myself as ordinary,” writes Bell, “but the lives of ordinary people are not identical, and the details of those lives are worth knowing.
ACCLAIM FOR THIS MEMOIR INCLUDE:
“This is more than a memoir. Janet Cheatham Bell has seasoned her personal story with some little-known history of African Americans in Indiana.” Julian Bond, former Professor, Department of History, University of Virginia
“Janet Cheatham Bell’s beautifully written memoir is both a tender meditation on her close-knit midwestern black family and a searing indictment of the mid-twentieth-century racism that circumscribed their lives. …This coming-of-age tale has universal appeal and should be required reading for all Indiana high school students.” A’Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground: The Life and Times of Madam C.J. Walker
“The Time and Place That Gave Me Life…renders a great service. Bell helps us hope in the ideals of freedom, democracy, progress, self preservation, and determination.” Valerie Grim, Chair, African American and African Diaspora Studies, Indiana University