Marguerite and her brother Bailey arrive in Stamps, Arkansas when Marguerite is three and Bailey is four. They’d been sent on the train to live with their grandmother after their parents had decided to divorce. Years later, Maya writes, she would discover that millions of Black children had been sent back and forth between the north and the south, looking for the safety of home, and never quite finding it.
Maya didn’t start out in Stamps—she was sent away from her parents as a young child. Though Stamps is Marguerite’s home, at least nominally, her very migration to Stamps is an example of displacement. Marguerite is like other “millions of black children” in America because from the start she struggled to find acceptance, permanence, and home.
Marguerite and Bailey’s grandmother, whom they call Momma, has owned a store for 25 years. The store is central to black life in Stamps. Everyone does their shopping there, and men come there to rest after long laborious days working in white people’s fields. Their tired bodies and beat up hands teach Marguerite about the harshness of being a black man in the south
The book keeps a keen eye on the effects of gender as well as race—it means something different to be a black man than it does to be a black woman. Black men in this book record a history of violence on their bodies: they endure hard labor, assault, and the threat of lynching. Black women are victimized (as we will see) in other ways.