The photo above was taken in December, 2000. Folks still call it “The Sugar Shack.” It just happens to be located about 100 yards from “the old school” in my previous post. The Sugar Shack is an example of an early American black business—a product of the entrepreneurial spirit.
The Sugar Shack is still standing—in the same place where it has been since the 1940s. It was the equivalent of the local grocery story/candy story/trading post/gathering place. It was a place to stop by and buy a cold soda water, what we now call a soft drink. You could also buy penny candy, if you had a penny—or credit with the store owner. Folks also stopped by to “shoot the breeze,” or carry on grapevine gossip—or try to buy or sell some type of needed item for farm maintenance and improvement. Kids who went to the old school would go to the Sugar Shack after school for hard candy called Jaw Breakers, or those All-Day suckers—anything sweet.
After years and years of serving at least some of the needs of community, the Sugar Shack became a place for men in the community to gather and play dominoes, or just sit on the front “garret” and talk about the way things used to be. Many of their conversations began with “I wonder whatever happened to…” or, “Do you remember when…..” The Sugar Shack has remained in the same family since it was built. The great grandchildren of the original owner still keep it clean and neat. It is a priceless piece of history. When the family gathers for family reunions the young one are taken to the Sugar Shack for genealogy lessons—and life lessons about what the Sugar Shack really means.
The Sugar Shack is a stark reminder of many things. First it reminds us that time marches on—nothing stays the same. It reminds us of those we loved and cherished who have passed on. It reminds us of the “good old days” of a close knit community. It reminds us of how children used to run and play outdoors frolicking in nature. It also reminds us of the narrow pathway that was afforded to African Americans to achieve the American dream—of wealth—of passing on wealth to future generations. The Old School and the Sugar Shack are stark reminders of racial oppression, especially in the Deep South. There was a time in Anderson County, Texas, where the Sugar Shack is located, where the value of the slaves was worth more than all the land, horses, cows and other structures combined. Enslaved people, brought to Texas from the even deeper South, cleared the forest, tilled the land, planted and harvested the crops, milled the salt, and maintained an economy based on the forced extraction of free labor from other human beings. One of the largest plantations was owned by a man named Jemison. The plantation was called Jemison Quarters. He buried his many slaves in a far back portion of his vast land holdings. Today, the black cemetery not far from The Sugar Shack is still called Jemison Quarters Cemetery. There are headstones in the cemetery of people who died before slavery ended.
I suppose every town and every hamlet in America has its own Sugar Shack. Large and small, all across America there are buildings that once represented vibrant life. Old theaters, old mom and pop stores, old drive in movies, old drug stores, old schools, factories that once built cars, steel mills, iron factories—you name it, America has moved on to other avenues for entrepreneurship. For most people places like The Sugar Shack are objects to point at in picture books or old photo albums. For those old enough to remember, The Sugar Shack offers a bit of nostalgia for what appears in hindsight to be “the good old days.” They may not have been “good” but they sure were different.
Copyright 2017 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.