Posted on 04/25/2008

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Mamie Garvin Fields

Mamie Garvin Fields
[b. 1888 - d. 1987]

In 1971, South Carolina's 'Woman of the Year' was Mamie Garvin Fields, a distinguished citizen of Charleston whose grandparents had been slaves. Narrated in her own intelligent voice, ''Lemon Swamp and Other Places,'' which goes from the 1890's to the 1940's and from Charleston to Harlem, is the memoir of a woman who desired to improve herself by every means.

The quest for learning in her family began with a distant African uncle who miraculously had attended Oxford while serving as a valet to his white master's sons. His education was passed along to other slaves on the sly. In her own time, nothing inspired Mrs. Fields to action quicker than displays of white superiority or black subservience.

She determined from the first to learn a trade (seamstress - with a weakness for stylish hats) in addition to a profession (teaching). Unstintingly, humorously, she helped people better themselves, insisting, for instance, that they fight for their newly won right to a minimum wage. Her memory sings of the days of her courtship and of holidays spent on her grandfather's farm, where she learned about country life and his youth as a slave. Her memoirs demonstrate a character of special grace.

This memoir was the work of Mamie Garvin Fields and her granddaughter, Dr. Karen Fields