Chapters 1-4

The 1955 murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till galvanized the Civil Rights Movement. In this novel, award-winning author Chris Crowe explores the murder and its aftermath through the perspective of a fictional teenage narrator.
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definitions & notes only words
  1. tolerate
    put up with something or somebody unpleasant
    “Hiram,” he’d say, straightening up tall like a preacher, “the world’s got plenty enough hate without you adding to it. I will not tolerate such language—or even such thinking—in my home or in my family!”
  2. sermon
    a moralistic rebuke
    He’d go on with his sermon for too long, five minutes or more, preaching about the evils of hate and reminding me how hate had hurt folks back in our old home, the Mississippi Delta.
  3. crusader
    someone who is a diligent and ardent advocate of a cause
    I can’t tell you which was worse, the sermons or the soap, but I will tell you this: I hated Dad when he acted like that, like some kind of born-again crusader out to protect everybody’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
  4. prejudice
    a partiality preventing objective consideration of an issue
    Dad came home from the war, took one look at how tight I was with Grampa, another look at the South he hated, and used the GI Bill to go up to Ole Miss to get a master’s degree in English so he could land a college teaching job out west, far away from Grampa, from Mississippi, from racism and prejudice, from hate.
  5. intend
    design or destine
    “Well, sure, you’re good with your hands, Hiram, but there’s lots more that you can do. These folks, they’re doing what the good Lord intended them to do; that don’t mean you can’t do it too, but you got more in you, boy. You’re meant to be the boss, not the worker.”
  6. methodical
    characterized by orderliness
    I looked out over the field at the black men, the backs of their shirts stained with sweat, bent over their hoes chopping weeds among the cotton plants. They worked methodically, quickly, almost like machines.
  7. precious
    held in great esteem for admirable qualities
    Our way of life is precious. It’s the way I live, the way my daddy lived, my granddaddy, and his daddy before him. It’s going to be the way you live too, if I have anything to say about it.
  8. politics
    the activities involved in managing a state or a government
    “Now, Earl, you remember our rule: No talking politics at the supper table.”
  9. frustration
    a feeling of annoyance at being hindered or criticized
    “Fine, Florence. I’ll just hold all this frustration and nonsense in until tomorrow morning, but don’t you go blaming me if I pop open and spray you all like a hot can of beer.”
  10. dilapidated
    in a state of decay, ruin, or deterioration
    R.C. Rydell lived way down River Road, along the Yazoo, in a dilapidated old house that he claimed had been in Greenwood since before the Civil War.
  11. polite
    showing regard for others in manners, speech, behavior, etc.
    “Gramma says it’s not our business what they do long as they don’t bother us. She told me I had to be neighborly and polite and stay out of their way.”
  12. skittish
    unpredictably excitable, especially of horses
    She always seemed skittish, kind of like a cat that’s been kicked around too many times.
  13. flail
    thrash about
    That old cane pole didn’t slow R.C. down at all; he seemed to snag fish at will. Every time he hooked one, he’d laugh and jerk it out of the river onto the shore where he’d let it flap and flail on the ground.
  14. thrash
    move or stir about violently
    “Hoo-boy, this one’s a little fighter!” R.C. stood out of the fish’s way as it thrashed on the ground.
  15. stun
    make senseless or dizzy by or as if by a blow
    When it quit flipping around, he stunned it and held it up.
  16. puncture
    pierce with a pointed object; make a hole into
    He pressed the nail gently against the fish’s eye. The fish jerked when the nail touched it, but R.C. held it firm. Gradually he pressed harder and harder with the nail until it punctured the eye and clear fluid trickled out.
  17. flinch
    draw back, as with fear or pain
    He kept poking that fish until it flinched and snapped its stingers into R.C.’s hand.
  18. jab
    poke or thrust abruptly
    He picked up the fish line nail, bent over the fish, and jabbed the nail into its side. Blood oozed out. R.C. jabbed it again and again until it was pockmarked with bloody holes.
  19. mourn
    express grief after the death of a loved one
    I wrapped my arms around Grampa’s neck and hugged him while we cried together, mourning the loss of a wife and grandmother and friend, wondering how we could possibly survive without her.
  20. condolence
    an expression of sympathy with another's grief
    Please know that you have our most mournful condolences.
  21. charity
    a kindly and lenient attitude toward people
    Did you know that she often brought us dinner? Leftovers is what she called it but it was a feast. That woman could cook, but she was full of charity, looked out for Ralph and me, not that we can’t look out for each other, for ourselves, of course.
  22. noble
    having high or elevated character
    Many times I’ve seen you with your grandparents. Noble family you have here, young Harlan.
  23. demise
    the time when something ends
    I apologize for Ronnie’s unseemly outpouring of emotion, but your grandmother’s demise has come as a real shock to him, and, of course, to me as well.
  24. delta
    a triangular area of alluvial deposits where a river divides
    I love the Delta, but there are some things you can’t understand that keep it from being a good place for us right now.
  25. immaculate
    completely neat and clean
    She worked five and a half days a week—she had Sundays off and didn’t come in until Monday afternoons—kept the house immaculate, and kept me and Grampa stuffed with delicious food.
  26. fertile
    marked by great fruitfulness
    It always seemed ironic to me that once we left the Delta in fertile Mississippi for the barren Arizona desert Mom and Dad
    suddenly started producing kids at the rate of one per year for four years: Joseph was born about a year after we got to Tempe, 1949; then came Emma, Eliza, and finally Brigham in 1952.
  27. adjust
    adapt or conform oneself to new or different conditions
    It took me a year to get over leaving Grampa and Greenwood, and even though I eventually adjusted to living in Tempe, the annual invitation from Grampa to spend the summer in Greenwood would get me mad all over again.
  28. stubborn
    tenaciously unwilling to yield
    When I turned into a teenager, I got older and bolder, and I’d argue with Dad about it, but he was stubborn as a stump.
  29. term
    a statement of what is required as part of an agreement
    If Grampa really wants to see you, he’ll come out here and visit on my terms. I will not have you spending three months in Mississippi getting a head full of your grampa’s Southern nonsense.
  30. furious
    marked by extreme anger
    He should be the one trying to get to Greenwood; he should be the one most concerned about Grampa. It made me furious that he didn’t care at all about his own father or about what I wanted.
Created on June 6, 2017 (updated January 10, 2018)

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