The Glory Field Summary

Walter Dean Myers

The Glory Field

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The Glory Field Summary

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The Glory Field (1996) by acclaimed children’s author Walter Dean Myers covers five generations of an African-American family’s journey from slavery to increasing equality. Myers has used historical fiction in several books to illustrate the meaning of historical events, and is best known for his 1988 novel Fallen Angels, which depicts the Vietnam war in very grim, realistic language.

Major themes include faith in god, love for family across generations, and the progress toward fair and equal rights through strong-willed people. In simple, spare prose, Myers shows the slow progression of justice as each generation rises up to advocate for equality. The book has five young narrators. Each perspective illustrates how the family fought for freedom and eventually equality.

The story begins with eleven-year-old Muhammad Bilal, the family’s first known documented member, shackled on a slave ship. He is forced to stay at the bottom of this ship for thirty-six days before it even leaves the West African coast. Torn from his home in Sierra Leone in 1753, Muhammad survives the voyage to the US aboard a cramped slave ship where many of his countrymen die. The ship docks in Curry Island, South Carolina. Muhammad yearns to be free again and wonders what fate befell his parents.

The next section is set in a plantation called Live Oaks. It is 1864. Muhammad Bilal’s descendents have all been given the name of the plantation master, Lewis. Fourteen-year-old Lizzy, along with other slaves on the planation, is taken out to pick sweet corn on a Sunday. It is unusual for slaves to work on a Sunday, and Lizzy soon learns that they are working because two of her cousins have escaped the plantation. The overseer, Mr. Joe Haynes, sees Lizzy give water to her cousin, Lem, who is tied up and to be sold. The overseer beats her cruelly and claims she was trying to set a slave free. She is forced to leave the plantation at night, after telling her family what happened. They pray that their love will be enough to guide her to freedom. She and Lem join the Union army to fight in the Civil War.

Three decades later, in the Jim Crow south, Lizzy’s son, Elijah, is plowing a field and his mule, Sukey, doesn’t want to move anymore. Elijah has been given eight acres of land as reappropriation for slavery. The plantation is adjacent to Live Oaks, where his family used to work as slaves. They name their new land The Glory Field.

Myers shows how difficult starting on one’s own was for former slaves. They had to clothe, feed, and house themselves with little to no money. When his grandparents, Saran and Moses (they own the plot) seek out a loan to pay their taxes, they are denied by the bank, which says they can only loan to white people. They are also under constant threat from the Ku Klux Klan (KKK), a group of white southerners who hate all newly independent black people who own land. Elijah helps rescue a young white boy, the son of a prominent official, but gets no credit in the newspaper for his valor and is cheated out his award money. When he speaks up against the injustice, the KKK threatens his life and runs him out of town.

The next part is set in the 1930s. It is the height of the Great Migration, and Elijah has married his high-school sweetheart, Goldie. They have one son, Richard, and one daughter, the strong-willed Luvenia who is the focus of this section. She is sixteen years old and dreams of enrolling at The University of Chicago. During the day, she is a domestic servant to Mr. And Mrs. Deets. Her family wants to return to Glory Field and are adamant that Luvenia joins them. But she refuses, and ends up living in Chicago by herself.

In 1964, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Luvenia’s nephew, Tommy Lewis, is a stellar basketball star for his high school, the Curry Cougars, and plans on playing for an integrated college. His team wins the All-City Tournament, and Tommy meets a college scout named Leonard Chase. He invites him to play at Johnson City State College, if he is willing to skip his senior year and go through the trials of being the first black person in a segregated campus. After a small demonstration in South Carolina turns violent, Tommy no longer thinks the world will treat him fairly. He is drafted in the Vietnam War and eventually dies there.

The book ends in 1994. The section focuses on teen Malcolm Lewis, a musician who specializes in the alto-flute and saxophone with his band, String Theory. He works at Mahogany Beauty Products, which is the cosmetic chain his great-aunt Luvenia started. He lives in Harlem, and before the Lewis family reunion, Luvenia tells him that he must bring his drug-addled cousin, Shep, to the reunion. Luvenia says the journey south would give Shep time to recover. Malcolm convinces Shep to join him and the two travel from New York to South Carolina.

The Lewis family is reunited on The Glory Field. Malcolm sees the history he is tied to, and decides to make all of his ancestors proud of his future achievements.