Stories of Resistance

In the process of discovering information about Daisy, I found that a number of interesting  incidents in her life involved at least one of two key factors: poetry/storytelling, and resistance against existing power structures. I would like to tell three stories on this page. One that reveals Daisy’s family background that supported literacy and bravery; another that shows her own actions, using poetry to fight oppression as a child; and another to reveal an interesting incident that involved Daisy directly fighting unfair treatment from a white man.

 

The Power of Literacy

Daisy Turner was raised in a household that valued song, poetry, and stories of rebellion. Each night, in the kitchen of Journey’s End, Alec Turner would amuse his 13 children with songs and poems about his ancestor’s lives, and tales of the Civil War.  The Vermont Folklife Center published a children’s book titled Alec’s Primer, based on the following  story, which details how Alec put himself at great risk to learn to read:

Screen Shot 2014-04-21 at 4.44.35 PM (http://www.vermontfolklifecenter.org/childrens-books/alecs-primer/index.shtml)

 

The Doll

 In the book Racial Innocence: Performing American Childhood from Slavery to Civil Right,  Robin Bernstein tells the story of Daisy and the doll.  In 1891, When she was eight years old, Daisy’s school held a pageant that required each girl to dress as a doll. Essentially, Daisy’s outfit was to match the black doll in her arms, and reflected stereotypes of “pickaninny” black dolls, associated with violence and servitude. The specific doll that Daisy was assigned involved braided hair and a red dress … directly linking her to the historic role of the doll Topsy, a well-known doll character, who was a slave.

Topsy
(http://valmoncada.files.wordpress.com/2011/04/dolls.png
)

In 1895, Daisy told Bernstein that she remembered the first two lines of the poem that she had been told to read:

“My doll was born in Africa/ My doll was born in the sun”

Rather than read this grossly generalized poem, Daisy took the stage and improvised her own poem:

“You needn’t crowd my dolly out
Although she’s black as night
And if she is at the foot of this show
I think she’ll stand as good a chance
As the dollies that are white.

My daddy says that half the world
Is nearly dark as night.
And it’s no harm to take a chance
And stay right in the fight.

So stand up Dolly
And look straight
To the judges at the right.
And I’ll stand by your side
If I do look a fright.

This defiance of her teacher’s assignment showed that Daisy was unafraid of resistance, but especially that she had been equipped well to use poetry as a tool of resistance.
(Bernstein, 2011).

This story can be heard in Program 13 (Daisy’s Black Doll):
https://www.prx.org/pieces/16120-program-14-daisy-s-black-doll

 

The “Taking Him to Court” Story

One of the most important and curious events that occurred in Daisy’s life is a tale that I’m calling the “Taking Him to Court” story. Though the details of this story are slightly different in both tellings, they reveal a common consensus of Daisy’s tenacity and fearlessness, and also are a tribute to her tendency to speak out against injustice, just as she did when she was a child.  The two slightly different versions of this story exist The first version reads as follows:

“In 1923, when Turner was 40, she was engaged and living in Boston. She had planned to get married at Journey’s End, but her father fell ill that December. She went to see him, and he died shortly before Christmas. When Turner returned to Boston, she found out that her fiance had had an affair with another woman. She broke off the engagement, took him to court for breach of an agreement and won a $3,000 settlement” (L.A. Times).

The next version of the story states:

“…in 1927 [Daisy Turner] brought suite for breach of promise in the East Cambridge, Massachusetts Court House, a black woman against a white man, and won a $3750 settlement” (VA Folklife Center).

By far the most interesting part of this story is the fact that Daisy was not only a woman taking a man to court, but rather a black woman taking a white man to court. As you can imagine, at the time, this action was essentially unheard of. The audio below tells the story in full.