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Every summer during my childhood, my family would take a road trip from Southern California to visit my grandparents in rural Texas. They had a modest house in the country. I remember spending our days sitting on the front porch, with the sun-bleached metal rocking chairs, the melting Popsicles, my grandmother braiding our hair.
The porch was simple. Concrete. Two steps. Covered. It was where I learned about black life in the South — its folklore, traditions and spiritual foundations. It was where I learned about myself.
This week, my colleague Audra D.S. Burch wrote about the porch and its significance in the African-American imagination.
Audra went to Detroit with Germane Barnes, an African-American architecture professor at the University of Miami whose current research explores the historical role that the front porch has played in shaping black identity, and interviewed black homeowners about their porches.
More than an entrance to a home, the porch loomed large as a stage, a window, a symbol of success, a place for healing.
After the story published, readers quickly contributed their own memories of spending time on their porch. “I am not African-American, but may I share my porch story?” wrote one New York Times reader:
My father died when I was a child and he suffered his illness at home and died there. My parents had different Jewish backgrounds, with my mother more Conservative and kosher, and my father Reform and not, and they agreed when they married that although my father could eat whatever he wanted outside, there would be no treyf in the house. When my father was dying, my grandmother asked if she could bring over his favorite food, which was lobster. My mother said, ‘Yes, of course,’ and she did, in an enormous pot, but he ate it outside, on the porch.
Although his research is centered on African-Americans, Mr. Barnes recognizes that the porch is not unique to black life. “Architecture and identity go hand in hand,” he said.
Audra told me that in her work as a National correspondent, she often explores not only how people live, but the moments and places that help shape their cultural identity. “In looking at the front porch as a cultural artifact,” she said, “I was hoping to learn how this common physical space had become central to the African-American experience. I started by asking people, ‘What does the front porch mean to you?’”
We’d love to know about your memories on the front porch and how they informed who you are. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last, remember a few weeks ago when I asked you to share your first memory of encountering racism? I’m excited to announce that we will be publishing a few of them in their entirety in the coming weeks. Please look for them and tell us what you think!
Have a great weekend,