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Pleasantville
Author:Attica Locke

Pleasantville by Attica Locke

 

 

 

DEDICATION

 

 

per te, Saro

 

ci vediamo li

 

 

 

 

 

AUTHOR’S NOTE

 

 

This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to persons living or dead is coincidental and not the author’s intent. Pleasantville is a real place, but portions of its history and geography are fictionalized here for the sake of a good story.

 

 

 

 

 

EPIGRAPH

 

 

Any politician worth his salt knows the road to elected office passes through Pleasantville.

 

—JAMES CAMPBELL, Houston Chronicle

 

 

 

 

 

Election Night

 

 

TEXAS, 1996

 

 

They partied in Pleasantville that night, from Laurentide to Demaree Lane. They unscrewed bottle tops, set the needle on a few records, left dinner dishes soaking in the sink. They sat on leather sofas in front of color TVs; hovered over kitchen radios; kept the phone lines hot, passing gossip on percentages and precinct returns, on the verge, they knew, of realizing the dream of their lifetime, the ripe fruit of decades of labor and struggle. They were retired army men, some, grown men who wept openly in front of their TV sets as the numbers started to roll in. They were doctors and lawyers, nurses, schoolteachers and engineers, men and women who had settled here in the years after the Second World War, in Pleasantville, a neighborhood that, when it was built in 1949, had been advertised over the city’s airwaves and in the pages of the Defender and the Sun as the first of its kind in the nation–“a planned community of new homes, spacious and modern in design, and built specifically for Negro families of means and class,” a description that belied the rebellious spirit of its first inhabitants, the tenacity of that postwar generation. For, yes, they endured the worst of Jim Crow, backs of buses and separate toilets; and, yes, they paid their poll taxes, driving or walking for miles each Election Day, waiting in lines two and three hours long. Yes, they waited. But they also marched. In wing tips and patent leather pumps, crisp fedoras and pin-striped suits, belted dresses and silk stockings, they marched on city hall, the school board, even the Department of Public Works, holding out the collective votes of a brand-new bloc as a bargaining chip to politicians previously reluctant to consider the needs of the new Negro middle class, and sealing, in the process, the neighborhood’s unexpected political power, which would become legend over the next four decades. And it was hard not to believe it had all been leading to this.

 

Channels 13 and 11 were already calling the local race, putting Sandy Wolcott and Axel Hathorne, a Pleasantville native, in next month’s runoff for the mayor’s seat, and Houston, Texas, that much closer to getting its first black mayor in its 160-year history. Channel 2 was running a concession speech by Councilman Lewis Acton, who looked to finish a distant third–and word was now spreading down the wide oak-and elm-lined streets of Pleasantville that the man himself, their onetime neighbor, Axel Hathorne; his father, Sam “Sunny” Hathorne, patriarch of one of Pleasantville’s founding families; and key members of the Hathorne campaign staff were all coming home to celebrate. From Gellhorn Drive to Silverdale, folks freshened up coffeepots, pulled the good gin from under the sink. They set out ice, punch, and cookies and waited for the doorbell to ring, as they’d been told Axel wanted to knock on doors personally, shake a few hands, just as Fred Hofheinz did the night Pleasantville helped put him in the mayor’s office, and Oscar Holcombe before him–celebrations that wouldn’t come close to tonight’s.

 

The girl, she wasn’t invited.