Tamara Woodson is at a turning point in her life. She begins a journey of self-discovery that reveals important connections to her ancestral past. Prompted by her ambitions and experiences, she prepares herself for an uncertain future.
At one point, Tamara’s fears are expressed in a dream that intertwines a Nigerian Yoruba folktale. She learns to interpret important symbols. At another, Tamara learns about the Apache Indian culture from a girl who is preparing for her own elaborate coming of age ceremony. Exposure to these two cultures helps Tamara validate the values and traditions of others as well as her own. As she matures, Tamara learns to let go of her own fears and to rely on her inner strength.
Journey Home is book one in the juvenile historical fiction series, “Passage to Womanhood.”
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About the Author
Eubanks says that the crowning achievement of her work has been the opportunity to touch the lives of girls all over the United States, to empower them to think critically, to analyze problems and issues, and to assume leadership roles. Her interest in the healthy development of adolescent girls, along with her research on the coming of age experiences of young Americans throughout history, led Eubanks to create her own series of juvenile historical fiction, “Passage to Womanhood.” Her research has taken her to the American West of the 1880s, the Gullah culture of South Carolina, and African American roots in Nova Scotia.
Eubanks has recorded her experiences in South Carolina in her essay, “A Sea Island Legacy,” published in the anthology of travel adventures, Go Girl! The Black Woman’s Book of Travel and Adventure. She has conducted workshops for the National Black Child Development Institute, Bank Street College Alumni Association in New York, the Arizona Genealogy Society, and schools and Girl Scout councils across the nation. She is a Finalist in the 2013 Harvest Book Reading’s Featured Book Competition in Phoenix, AZ.
Eubanks lives with her husband in the desert community of Anthem, Arizona; and teaches at South Mountain Community College. Her four granddaughters, two sets of twins, are her greatest inspiration.
Read an Excerpt
Passage to Womanhood
By Toni Eubanks
Peoples Publishing Group Inc.Copyright © 2013 Toni Eubanks
All rights reserved.
"Tat-a-tat-tat. Tat-a-tat-tat," Jessica was unconsciously striking her fingertips against the hard wood of her desk. Squirming in her seat, she bit her lower lip nervously and looked up at the clock for the third time in ten minutes. She had to think quickly but her mind was a complete blank.
Jessica was in her eleventh grade history class and the teacher had asked each student to tell the rest of the class where their ancestors came from. All Jessica knew was that her ancestors came from Africa and had been enslaved in the U.S. for what seemed to her like an eternity. What could she say about Africa that would make her proud?
Jessica looked around the room at the other students in her class. There were twentytwo of them. Five of her classmates were African American, but they were scattered around the room. She couldn't pass a note to one of them without being caught. Jessica sighed.
One by one, row by row, each student spoke about his or her family origins. They all seemed to have ties to Europe. Some of them could identify the towns their ancestors lived in 200 years ago.
One girl even said that her family traced themselves back to Queen Isabella of Spain — the same queen who sponsored Christopher Columbus' voyage to America! The others were eagerly awaiting their turn. They sat upright, attentive, and ready to have their say.
Jessica turned to look at the five other African American students in the room. If the teacher, Mrs. Carlson, continued to call on each student by seating order, Jessica knew she would be next. From the corner of her eye, she could see Andrew to the far right. He didn't look upset. Then Jessica remembered that Andrew's family was from Barbados. His parents came to America of their own free will. They were never held in slavery, at least not in America.
Jessica's thoughts were interrupted by applause. Gina, who was sitting two rows ahead, had completed her talk. She was born in Peru, but moved with her parents to the U.S. when she was six years old. Jessica had just assumed that Gina was African American, but now she wasn't sure.
Still, Aunt Mildred had said that African people lived in many other parts of the world besides Africa, the United States, and the Caribbean. Whatever she was, Gina seemed to be very proud to be Peruvian. Jessica would have to say that her ancestors were brought from Africa in chains to become slaves in America.
Karen was speaking now. She was seated directly in front of Jessica. Jessica fidgeted in her seat. Her eyes darted quickly around the room in search of a miracle. Erica and Joseph seemed to be suffering through this as much as she was. Erica had buried her head in her chest so that she didn't have to look anyone in the eye. Beads of perspiration were forming on Joseph's forehead, in spite of the cool temperature.
Erica raised her eyes without lifting her head and encountered Jessica's inquiring gaze.
"What are you going to say?" she whispered, barely moving her lips.
"I don't know," Jessica whispered back as she glanced a fourth time at the clock. The tension of the past ten minutes showed on her face. There were only five minutes left of class, and there was no telling how much longer Karen would go. If only Karen would continue to talk.
"Ring-g-g-g." Jessica breathed a sigh of relief at the welcomed sound of the bell. This history period was O-V-E-R. She wasn't sure what tomorrow would bring, but for now, she could escape the torment of the past forty minutes.
She hurried down the hall toward her locker trying to put as much space between her and Mrs. Carlson's class as possible. Maybe that's the real reason she didn't hear her name drifting through the noisy halls of Franklin High School.
"Jessica, Jessica Cannon, hang on a minute!" Mr. Anderson had increased his pace to a brisk walk and was now only a few feet behind her. Jessica slowed her steps and turned around with a puzzled look on her face. Everyone seemed to be hurrying somewhere, except Mr. Anderson.
"Mr. Anderson, were you calling me?" Jessica asked.
"All the way from room 301. I think you dropped this." Jessica looked blankly at the history book Mr. Anderson was holding in his outstretched arms.
"Thank you. I didn't realize I had dropped it," she said sheepishly.
"You seemed to be deep in thought. I've been trying to get your attention since you bolted out of Mrs. Carlson's room."
Mr. Anderson was one of four African American teachers at Franklin High. Many of the girls in school had a crush on him. He was young, good-looking, and easy to talk to. In class he was a no-nonsense type. He expected the best from his students. He organized the school chess club and got several of the African American students involved in it. Although Jessica hadn't yet been in one of his math classes, those who had thought he was cool.
"Is anything wrong?" he asked.
"Yes ... no ... well ... maybe," fumbled Jessica, not knowing what to say. She was fighting hard to hold back the tears. Jessica blinked rapidly and hurriedly brushed the sleeve of her blouse across her moist eyes in a brave attempt to conquer her rebellious tears. She was a tall girl, and almost met Mr. Anderson eye to eye. He pretended not to notice the tears in Jessica's eyes.
"Come with me," he said gently, leading the way down the crowded hall. "We can talk in my room."
Trigonometry problems were still on the blackboard from his last class. Jessica thought the mathematical symbols looked like hieroglyphics. There were posters of African people all around the room. Mr. Anderson noticed Jessica's interest in the posters.
"I like to place posters of African scientists and mathematicians around the room. They show my students that Africans were rulers and scholars in ancient times," Mr. Anderson said.
"They were?" Jessica asked.
"Of course they were," Mr. Anderson replied. "The poster you are looking at now is a drawing of Amanitora. She was the Queen of Kush, an ancient African kingdom. To her right is Imhotep. He was an Egyptian physician and architect. Imhotep lived several thousand years ago, around 2700 B.C. He was the architect of many temples, including the famous Step Pyramid."
"Wow! I didn't know Africans designed the pyramids. I thought they were only used for slave labor."
"Many of my students are surprised to learn that Africans were more than slaves."
Jessica looked down at her feet. "That's why I was so upset in history class," she mumbled. She told Mr. Anderson what had happened, and how embarrassed she was to have to say that her ancestors were slaves. He listened intently, and when she finished, he said, "Our history didn't begin with slavery. Our African ancestors created a great civilization that was greatly admired and respected throughout the world."
Mr. Anderson told her that Africans were the first mathematicians and astronomers. They invented the calendar. He pointed to Taharka and Ahmed Baba, whose colorful pictures were positioned next to each other near the entrance to the room. "Taharka was an important African pharaoh in Nubia and Ahmed Baba was a well-known African teacher and scholar in the ancient kingdom of Songhay on Africa's West Coast."
Jessica felt her mood change as she listened to Mr. Anderson describe her ancestors' accomplishments. Eyes that brimmed with tears a moment earlier were now twinkling with pride.
"African Americans also have a glorious history in this country," Mr. Anderson continued. "They were homesteaders in this very state of Kansas after the Civil War."
"But I thought only white people went West and became cowboys," Jessica said.
"No," Mr. Anderson corrected. "There were black cowboys and other black people who founded towns and built homes and businesses to start a new life for their families, right out of slavery. Many of them were homesteaders, people who traveled West and claimed land for themselves in the new territories."
Jessica was very excited when she left school that afternoon. She couldn't wait to tell her family what she had learned.
That night at dinner, Jessica was surprised to learn that her own family had been homesteaders in the old West. "My great-grandparents migrated to Kansas from Kentucky in the 1890s. They purchased land there and tried to make a better life for themselves. Our family still owns the land," Mrs. Cannon said.
"You mean Aunt Ruby's ranch?" Jessica asked.
"Yes. That property was settled by my great-grandparents, your great-great-grandparents, when they were newly wed. Aunt Ruby has the original deed to the land."
Jessica thought about all of the weekends and vacations she and her brother Max had spent on the ranch. They played in the orchard, went fishing in a nearby creek, and rode the horses. She never thought of the ranch as a part of her family's history.
"In fact, when your mother's grandparents were still alive," Mr. Cannon added, "we would visit them every Sunday at the ranch. They taught your mother how to make butter and beeswax candles. The quilt on Aunt Ruby's bed was made by your great-grandmother."
"It's past time you and Max learn more about your ancestors," Mrs. Cannon said.
"Aunt Ruby and I grew up knowing our family roots. Now it's your turn."
"Wow!" Jessica exclaimed. "I can't wait. When do we start?"
"Well ... we could go to Libertyville where all of the legal records are kept. You and Max spend all of your time on the ranch when you visit Ruby, but Libertyville is only a fifteen-minute walk from the ranch. It holds a very special place in our hearts because it was the first town founded by black people in Kansas, and it's still run by African Americans today."
Jessica was elated by this news. That night, she decided that her final project in history would be about African American homesteaders in the old West. And she would include her ancestors in her report!
The band music faded to a soft hush as Jessica closed the door to the Libertyville Library. She stood at the entrance for a few minutes waiting for her eyes to adjust to the darker interior. The festive sounds of the town's annual Founding Day celebration lingered in the quiet room. Jessica looked around and thought about the events that had led her here.
Although Libertyville was only seventy-five miles from Jessica's home in Farmingdale, Kansas, she was just beginning to learn about its place in American history, and its place in her family. Following the discussion with her family at dinner, Jessica discovered that her great-great-grandfather had been a rancher. He and his wife had lived just outside Libertyville on their own ranch — the same ranch that Jessica's aunt and uncle live on today.
Jessica learned that the land in the West held great promise for blacks in the 19th century. Much of it was in vast, unsettled territories, not yet states, and only sparsely populated. Many black families went West to build their own homes and communities away from the violence of the post-Civil War south. These hardy, black pioneer people were homesteaders, just like their white counterparts. The Southern Homestead Act of 1866 opened up uncharted territory in the West for settlement for people in the South who were devastated by the Civil War.
Many of these black families raised their first generation of children who were not held in bondage. Jessica's great-great-grandparents were among the first wave of blacks who settled the West. They had been slaves in Kentucky. After the Civil War and Emancipation they journeyed West. They survived the difficult trip across the country in a covered wagon. Their oldest child, Mrs. Cannon's grandfather, was born during the trip. Jessica was back to celebrate Libertyville's 113th year of existence as an all-black town and to find out more about her ancestors.
"Hello, may I help you?" Startled, Jessica turned around quickly to face a woman the color of rich hot chocolate, with a smile that revealed dimpled cheeks. She wore a "Libertyville, Kansas Centennial" sweatshirt.
"Hello, I'm Jessica Cannon. I am attending the Founder's Day celebrations with my family. I came into the library to see if I could learn more about Libertyville and my own family's history. I'm writing a report on African American towns in the West."
"I see. That's a good topic to study. I am Ms. Holman, the librarian. Libertyville is a small town, but our residents are proud of their heritage. We have quite a bit of information about those early years."
Ms. Holman led Jessica further into the main room of the library. It was circular in structure with a frosted glass dome ceiling that welcomed in sunlight, but blocked a clear view of the sky beyond. Only two other people were in the room, a man and a young boy. They were looking at the special Founder's Day exhibit.
"Who discovered Libertyville?" Jessica inquired.
"Libertyville wasn't discovered. It was founded in 1880 by Jacob Woodson and his brother Jeremiah. The brothers and the four or five other families that came with them built the town out of the prairie. They built homes and businesses, dug wells for water, and planted crops to feed their families. The railroads were just being built across the country, and since the towns and railroads depended on each other for survival, they often were constructed side by side."
"Why was that?" asked Jessica.
"Railroads transported goods like produce and cattle from the West, to be sold in the East," replied Ms. Holman. "Then the railroads transported nails and lumber, seeds and other goods from the East to the towns of the West for people to purchase. The people who ran the railroads made money from these business deals, so in that respect, they benefited from the newly developed towns."
"Did all towns have railroads?"
"No. In fact, many towns closed because they couldn't get the railroad company to lay tracks through their town. On the other hand, there were times when railroad tracks were laid in unpopulated wilderness areas. In those cases, the railroad company hired agents like Jacob Woodson to help populate the area. This would bring business and money to the railroad. That is how Libertyville came into being."
"How does someone start a town from scratch in the wilderness?" Jessica asked.
"With hard work, intelligence, and the cooperation of a lot of people. Take a look at our special display case that holds some artifacts from Libertyville in the 1880s."
Jessica looked at the exhibit, which included kitchen utensils, a hand-sized grinder, some kind of wooden rocking contraption, an old spelling book, and a yellowed newspaper dated April 7, 1883, with the headline, "See What Colored Citizens are Doing for Their Racial Uplift." There was also a small sickle-shaped object that looked like it was made of ivory. It had a carving of an African man on it. But Jessica's eyes rested on a large, natural turquoise stone suspended on a tarnished silver chain. Ms. Holman, noticing Jessica's interest in the stone, said, "There's a wonderful story behind that necklace; it might interest you."
"Yes, I'd like to hear about it," replied Jessica.
"I'll do better than that. I'll let you read it for yourself," Ms. Holman suggested. "It's found in the personal journal of Tamara Lynnese Woodson, daughter of Jeremiah Woodson. She was about your age when she wrote about it."
Ms. Holman unlocked the glass display case and lifted the worn, leather-bound diary. She told Jessica to handle the diary carefully because it was over 100 years old. Jessica was delighted. She promised to take care of it while she read. Settling in her spot on the window seat, Jessica began to read:
April 3, 1883 I'm starting my journal today. It is a beautiful spring day! My best friend Harmony and I went picking wild flowers. We gathered primrose and spiky purple asters before going down to the river bank to pick wild plums. We got enough for both of our families.
MaBecca says I should start by telling who I am. My name is Tamara Lynnese Woodson, but everyone calls me Tammy. I am 15 and nearly grown. I go to school in the morning and I help Papa out with his newspaper in the afternoons. I like helping Papa. It makes me feel grown up. Soon I'll be finished with school. MaBecca says that's when real responsibilities start. Papa says I'll be ready to work for his newspapers when school is done, but I don't really want to. I haven't told Papa that cause I don't want him to feel bad. I'd rather be a teacher like Miss Anna. She's a real good teacher.
I like to write, so my Aunt Gia bought this journal for me on one of her trips East. My dream is to travel to the big cities in the East. Aunt Gia says there's so much to see.
As Jessica read Tammy's journal, she tried to visualize her house on the Kansas prairie. According to Tammy, the house was built with lumber imported from the East. Her family was slowly replacing the chicken wire windows with glass panes brought in from the East. The new windows brought an unaccustomed sunshine into the front of the house where the Woodsons spent most of their waking hours. Earlier that spring, Tammy's father had installed a glass window in her bedroom. For the first time, she was able to see the stars at night from her bed.
"She reminds me of myself," Jessica thought as she continued reading. Joshua, Tammy's brother, slept on a mattress near the fireplace in a room that doubled as a kitchen and dining room. The Woodson's home had a large front porch where Tammy and her mother shelled peas, made soap once a month, and washed clothes in her father's newest invention. The washer was a five-foot-long wooden tub that was built on rockers. When operated by its handle, the machine rocked and rotated the clothes in soapy water until they became clean. Jessica realized that the wooden object she was looking at earlier in the display case must have been the rocker.
Jessica looked out of the library window just as the Libertyville High School band was passing by. Instead of seeing the band parading up Main Street, she imagined Tamara Woodson.
Tammy might have looked a lot like me, Jessica thought, as she pictured Tammy — a tall, slender girl with even-toned skin the color of rich brown sugar ...
Tammy's large expressive eyes revealed an imagination as vivid as Jessica's, except now, a frown had settled on her otherwise pleasant face. Tammy was struggling with the handle of the crude washing machine. She stopped for a moment and looked out from her porch onto the spacious prairie. There were no other houses in sight. The prairie grass, interrupted by the porch steps, stretched as far as the eye could see. In the distant horizon, land and sky became one. Tamara thought how fortunate she was that her family had survived the long, dangerous trip across country to build their own home and become part of their own community.
Excerpted from Journey Home by Toni Eubanks. Copyright © 2013 Toni Eubanks. Excerpted by permission of Peoples Publishing Group Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Land of the Ancestors,
Visitors from the Larger World,
The Four Cardinal Directions,
The Shadowy Figure,
Coming of Age,