Study Guide Excerpt: The Glory Field by Walter Dean Myers
The Glory Field (1994) by Walter Dean Myers is the story of an African-American family’s journey from slavery to increasing equality. It follows six young members of that family at different times in American history. The individual lives of these characters appear as six separate, but interconnected stories within the novel, spanning the years from 1753 to 1994, and from Sierra Leone to Harlem. Major themes include family, freedom, and hope, as the family progress from slavery towards fair and equal rights. It is a story of strength, pride, love, and a plot of land that binds a family together.
The first story starts in 1753 when eleven-year-old Muhammad Bilal, the family’s first known documented member, is kidnapped by slave traders who attack his village in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Muhammad is shackled and forced onto a slave ship. He struggles to survive the horrific journey to America - and many of his countrymen and fellow villagers do not make it. The ship finally docks in Curry Island, off the South Carolina Coast, and Muhammad is taken to a plantation there. As an enslaved worker Muhammad labors on the land which will eventually become the Glory Field.
The second story takes place on the Live Oaks plantation, Curry Island, South Carolina. It is 1864. Lizzy Lewis, thirteen-years-old, has been born and raised on the plantation. Muhammad Bilal’s descendants have all been given the name of the plantation master, Lewis. Two of the slaves, Joshua and Lem, have a freedom dream and run away. Lem, however, gets caught and is dragged back and tied to a tree. Joshua returns to save Lem, and Lizzy is caught by the ‘overseer’, Mister Joe Haynes, giving Lem water. Joshua attacks Haynes and ties him to the tree whilst freeing Lem. Lizzy is forced to leave the plantation at night, after telling her family what happened. She, Joshua and Lem join the Union Army to fight in the Civil War.
Following the end of the Civil War, the Lewis family have been given eight acres of land next to the Live Oaks plantation. They have named the land the Glory Field. It is now April 1990. Lizzy has married Lem’s brother, Richard, and they have a son named Elijah who works the land. When Elijah’s grandparents, Saran and Moses, seek out a loan to pay their taxes, they are denied by the bank as they are not white. Elijah is determined to get the money to help his grandparents. When he helps rescue a young white boy, the son of a prominent official, he gets no credit in the newspaper and is cheated of his award money. When he speaks up against the injustice, the Ku Klux Klan threaten his life and run him out of town.
In 1930s Chicago, the height of the Great Migration, Elijah’s sixteen-year-old daughter Luvenia does not want to move back to Curry Island to work the Glory Field as her father did. Proud and determined, she wants to become a student at the University of Chicago and follow her dream of becoming a teacher. However, when she is fired from her job, due to a lie told by her employer’s daughter, she is unable to get the letter she needs to secure a bank loan for her studies. Unable to attend university Luvenia decides to start her own business and live in Chicago by herself.
In 1964, in the midst of the Civil Rights Movement, Luvenia’s nephew, Tommy Lewis, is a star basketball player for his high school, the Curry Cougars. Tommy dreams of playing basketball in 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 University, and he asks if Tommy 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 Glory Field’s final story takes place in Harlem, New York. It is August 1994. Malcolm Lewis is a musician with a band called String Theory. He plays the saxophone and the alto-flute. He also works at Mahogany Beauty Products, his great-aunt Luvenia’s cosmetics chain. There is to be a family reunion at the Glory Field. Luvenia tells Malcolm that he must take his cousin Shep. Shep is a drug addict and Luvenia believes the journey may help him recover. On arriving at the Glory Field, Malcolm joins his family in bringing in the last of the crop of sweet potatoes. He works the land with Robert (Planter) Lewis who tells him stories of his ancestors, and of the shackles worn by Muhammad Bilal. Malcolm sees the history he is tied to and decides to make all of his ancestors proud of his future achievements.
Throughout The Glory Field, Myers emphasises the importance of family, freedom, and hope, as each generation makes their way in the world. He also highlights the experiences of the family in great historical moments such as the civil rights movement and the post-Civil War era.