A Quilted Life: Reflections of a Sharecropper’s Daughter by Catherine Meeks

A Quilted Life: Reflections of a Sharecropper’s Daughter by Catherine Meeks cover imageSummary: A memoir from sharecropper’s daughter to academic to retired anti-racist educator. 

I do not know how I ran across Catherine Meeks’ work. She was a professor at Mercer and then Wesleyan College. She worked as an organizer for the city of Macon and was the founder of Lane Center for Community Engagement and Service. Then, she retired in 2008 and started another career as an anti-racist trainer within the Episcopal Church, eventually founding the Absalom Jones Center for Racial Healing. She again retired from that role this past December. In 2022, she received the President Joseph R. Biden Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Volunteer Service Award medal.

What I enjoy about reading memoirs and biographies is that I see the complications of lives, not just the awards or recognitions they receive. Catherine Meeks was born to a sharecropper and a teacher in rural Mississippi. Her mother worked as a teacher throughout her childhood, but it took her 18 years to finish her college degree. Her father was illiterate and died when she was a child. The background of growing up in poverty during Jim Crow matters to the rest of her story. But this is not simply a Horatio Alger story of growth and success. Esau McCaulley, in a podcast interview that I cannot find right now, talked about the problems of writing a memoir as a successful Black man. He talked about the fact that people want a happy ending. And even when there is a happy ending, the happy ending can be used as proof against those with a less happy ending.

What is important about A Quilted Life is that the story is framed as a whole, made up of all of the pieces, happy and sad, good and tragic, that were put together to illustrate a whole life. History is recent. Catherine Meeks just retired a few months ago but lived in the Jim Crow South. She witnessed a murder by a college security guard of a youth teen who was shot because he was Black on a college campus. Her first few homes did not have indoor plumbing, but she is younger than my grandmother.

Most people will not know Catherine Meeks, but she is a good example of how important unknown people are to the long-term change of our society. Professors, community organizers, and non-profit leaders do the actual work of changing people and systems for the good. And most of the time, that work is done unheralded.

We need more memoirs like A Quilted Life to illustrate actual discernment in practice. One of the book’s themes (and of my recent reading) is the role of discernment over time. Sometimes, discernment looks like a very clear direction from God. But more often, it is less clear and more about becoming the person that God wants you to be and then doing what is in front of you. Catherine Meeks is an example of just that type of discernment. She knows she is not perfect, but our call isn’t to perfection but to continue.

A Quilted Life: Reflections of a Sharecropper’s Daughter by Catherine Meeks Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition

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