Charlie Cook: A Trusting Childhood In St. John
Growing up in St. John in the 1950s, Charlie Cook remembers his community as a very rural neighborhood composed of caring and trusting people. Instead of deadbolts, simple latches held their front doors closed, which Charlie believes is a symbol of how safe people in the community felt with one another.
Most residents in the community raised hogs as a source of meat, and Charlie’s father was no different. He often tended to livestock and crops on their property. Other residents of St. John would tend their own plots, but the community would often come together to share food and resources. This was a sign of unanimous love and respect among the residents. Charlie can remember one cold winter when several of the men in the community butchered a few of their hogs and shared the meat with the entire community.
Community That Comes Together
Residents who couldn’t offer food would find other ways to contribute, such as by providing home repair services. One summer, Charlie recalls, the local brick mason, electrician, carpenter, plumber, and painter all came together to build updated housing for residents whose homes had fallen into disrepair. To Charlie, the best days of his childhood are those where he can recall such events that made unity a priority among St. John residents. To him, when a community provides communal responsibility and care for one another, it’s really more like family.
Starting at the young age of six, Charlie worked for the King Edward Tobacco Company in Quincy. His main job was to retrieve fallen leaves from the tobacco line so they could be resewn into the slab, a large bundle of leaves later processed and used for cigars. He notes that throughout his childhood he worked almost every job at the tobacco farm except for packing the final product.
“My earliest memory is sitting in a cotton field in St. John.”Charlie Cook
Though Charlie has fond memories of his community, outside of St. John he found that the feeling of inclusion was almost non-existent. Jim Crow laws and segregation in Quincy at the time kept the city divided, and Charlie remembers the disparities that existed between the black and white populations. Limited health care access and being barred from places such as businesses and parks was a harsh reminder of the deliberately exclusive laws that aimed to oppress Quincy’s black population.
Despite these hardships the community faced, Charlie remembers his community as proud of their cultural legacy and identity. Today he has fond memories of attending the Black History Parade, the Emancipation Day cookouts held every year on May 20th, and the Juneteenth Celebration. Charlie is proud to come from St. John, a place where people recognize the importance of treating one another like family. In a community that has endured profound hardship, the residents have remained kind and proud in the face of adversity.