Desert Isle Keeper
No Crystal Stair
On December 31, 1999, I watched the New Year celebration that took place on the Mall in Washington, DC. One of the highlights of that event was a beautiful 20-minute chronicle of the most turbulent and jubilant times in U.S. History. I consider Eva Rutland’s latest novel to be almost as worthy a chronicle of that same era. No Crystal Stair is a wonderful homage to the human spirit’s ability to endure and triumph over incredible odds.
Ann Elizabeth Carter comes of age as one of the cream of Atlanta’s black upper class whose members patronize the more upscale Atlanta businesses, but are barred from using their restrooms, drinking from their water fountains, and eating in their restaurants. The daughter of a doctor and granddaughter of a slave, Ann Elizabeth has grown up pampered and protected from the more harsh realities of segregation.
Her mother, Julia Belle, knows her own light skin and blue eyes affirm her high status in this exclusive society. Ann Elizabeth’s marriage to Dr. Dan Trent will ensure her rightful place within the hierarchy and keep her sheltered from the worst degradations of Jim Crow. However, at her debutante ball, Ann Elizabeth has eyes only for her brother’s new friend, Airman Robert Metcalf of the first black unit in the U.S. Army Air Corps.
As the two make their life journey from the air force training fields of Tuskegee, Alabama, to war torn Nazi Germany, through Rob’s wrenching experiences with discrimination as he struggles for a foothold in the aeronautics field, to the hatred the family encounters when they integrate an all white neighborhood, Ann Elizabeth comes to realize the true extent of what it means to be black in America. However, the victory will ultimately be theirs as they share in the civil rights movement of the 60’s and marvel as their children become masters of their universe.
A warning to those who are easily offended – Ms. Rutland’s use of the “N” word is with little restraint, almost to the point of being gratuitous. After a while, I began to cringe every time I encountered the word. I must say that, if it was truly used as often as it appears in the book, I now understand how easily we African-Americans made it part of our own vocabulary.
Make no mistake, No Crystal Stair is first and foremost “a saga of a black family.” However, the story is so beautifully interwoven with the historical content, I found joy and a sense of black pride in the telling. Please don’t miss this one.