The Passing of Ernest Gaines

OSCAR – Literary master and Louisianan Ernest Gaines has died, WBRZ learned Tuesday.

Gaines, a Pointe Coupee Parish native, died Tuesday morning.

Gaines, whose A Lesson Before Dying was part of Oprah’s Book Club in 1997, was an acclaimed author.

Colleagues of his at UL Lafayette – where his works are studied and shared at the university’s Ernest J. Gaines Center – mourned his loss in a thoughtful message online:

“Gaines peacefully passed away at his home in the presence of his wife, Mrs. Dianne Gaines. The legacy that Dr. Gaines is leaving behind is nothing short of brilliant and awe-inspiring. Though he touched countless people through his work, to know him was to love him. A towering man with a gentle voice, Dr. Gaines was an inspiration to generations and his death will be felt deeply by family, friends, and his University family.”

In 1981, he began working in the creative writing program at UL until his retirement from teaching in 2010.

The University of Louisiana records his masterpieces this way: “Gaines based his award-winning novels on the African American experience in the rural South. His works include The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman (1971) and A Lesson Before Dying (1993), both later produced as award-winning films. Gaines’s generous donation of his early papers and manuscripts (through 1983) and some artifacts to Edith Garland Dupré Library provided the foundation for the Center’s collection. The Center also anticipates acquiring the remainder of Gaines’s papers.”

In 1993 Gaines received the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation Fellowship for his lifetime achievements.

“It is with a heavy heart that we say goodbye to Ernest J. Gaines, a native Louisianan who used his immense vision and literary talents to tell the stories of African Americans in the South,” Governor John Bel Edwards said in a statement. “We are all blessed that Ernest left words and stories that will continue to inspire many generations to come.”

Gaines was born on a plantation near New Roads in 1933.

“I was born here, stayed here, lived here until I was 15. It was because I could not go to a high school around here, in New Roads or Pointe Coupee,” Gaines said in a story by WBRZ anchor Brandi B Harris in February.

He and his wife were working to preserve a one-hundred-year-old church that had ties to his early life in Louisiana. The church is in their backyard and serves as hope for his audience.

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Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America by Ibram X. Kendi: A Review

There are very few history books that encapsulate a combination of vivid storytelling and engaging honesty. Kendi takes the reader on that perilous voyage, from before slavery to the present day (ending with the election of Obama). There is nothing sweet about Stamped from the Beginning. If you aren’t angered by something in each paragraph, you aren’t really reading the book. This is where the contents of the book could have become problematic. Kendi projects so much information that it feels as if they’re underwater. As a result, the reader (at least I did) yearns for some relief, only to realize that a period in history as brutal as the one endured by people of color –for hundreds of years (and continues)– cannot be peppered with jovial anecdotes or celebratory events. Kendi ventures into a world that seems surreal, inhumane beyond belief and definitely a cause to wonder if the Europeans of that era were human at all.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is what a history book is supposed to be. As I trekked through the pages I reflected on the Black history education I had received and how little I truly knew. From parading through elementary school and praising Christopher Columbus and Thanksgiving to the water-downed assessment of the searing 60s and the Black Power / Civil Rights movements while a college student, I realized that I was cheated of truth and followed the path of what was expected of me to keep me oppressed although I was led to believe that I was succeeding. Kendi made me listen closely to the conversations and, equally, watch the actions, of people who didn’t look like me, think like me, or, in many instances, were less educated than I am. He forced me to take a deeper look at who I had become and how I had become that person. I shuttered at the realization that the legacy of my forefathers was not only stolen but manipulated so perfectly that I found near absolute comfort in not questioning my heritage.

Kendi opened a Pandora’s Box and left it open, allowing the demons and the filthy truth to flutter freely. He addressed the racism of both Blacks and whites throughout history. He reawakened the ‘down south’ stories I had been told as if they were Aesop fables, thus only slight believable. Kendi made me think, and I am certain that those who become enveloped by this book will also think, or more precisely, rethink, how well they know the history of race throughout the world.

Stamped from the Beginning: The Definitive History of Racist Ideas in America is beyond an amazing book, but because of its depth it may, unfortunately, be taught in very few educational institutions when it should be unquestionably required. This a double or triple read book. There is so much density within each page that a second or third reading would be like reading it for the very first time. Bravo Ibram X. Kendi, for writing one of the best books I have ever read the first time.