Thruway Diaries Summary
In Thruway Diaries, the Cadillac, that Black American symbol of achievement and success, having made it, provides no immunity to Big T and his family as they travel from Chicago to his native Mississippi in the early sixties and find themselves the target of police officers hell bent on making sure they know their place. It is even more unfortunate for Big T and his family that they are making the trip only a few years after Rosa Parks has refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, sparking a bus boycott that fuels the Civil Rights Movement. Even a car representing success can be seen as an affront to the status quo. God forbid one should display an ounce of visible pride, which could easily be interpreted as an act of defiance, an action that could land the unwary in a shallow grave. There are other places to vacationNew York and Chicagoto show off the Cadillac, as Big T knows and hears in no uncertain terms from his children. But home is where the heart is and millions of African Americans returned home each year to visit family and display their new found status. Some, like my Uncle Albert and Uncle John Dew, escaped Mississippi under the cover of darkness to avoid the penury system that held blacks in a state of economic servitude that was little better than slavery. So returning home in a modern car, sometimes a Cadillac as my Uncle Albert did, displaying the latest fashions, was an act of liberation, of financial independence, if not outright defiance. But Big T learns a harsh lesson that compels him to put his Cadillac on the blocks. Family comes first.
Big Ts wife, Naomi, while willing to share in her husbands wishes to see his Mother, harbors a disturbing secret of her own from her days as a maid in a white household when the white master still took advantage of young black women without fear of being charged with sexual abuse. She has fled to Chicago to escape in the arms of Big T. Her experience leaves her on an emotional edge that is soothed only by the comfort of family, the distance from her native home and her hope for the future of her family.
But what happens almost forty years later when a retired Big T pulls his Cadillac off the blocks and travels with his family to the Southeast, this time through Pennsylvania, Washington, D. C., and to Virginia? There are three generations instead of two in his Cadillac setting out to enjoy that dream vacation that includes a visit to the Washington, D. C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial to see a family member and to walk his granddaughter down the aisle. They could not be happier and they are very comfortable. The Cadillac Eldorado, after all, has been modernized and updated by grandson Tyrone, known also as Little T, himself an automotive design student at a prestigious Midwestern university. The past, the present, and the future are represented in Big Ts Cadillac. As with the typical family, they are not perfect, there is laughter and joking, stories from the past and some tension between mother and son about relationships, in this case an interracial one. But for Big T and Naomi, the golden years have been good to them. Naomi has hand stitched her granddaughters wedding dress. The dream wedding that she never had will be lived through her granddaughter as she walks down the aisle in the perfect dress, one that is without blemish.
The wholesome family of law-abiding, God-fearing Americans heading on a vacation in their modernized Cadillac is driving into a very different world than the early sixties. It is world at the mercy of America's War on Drugs into which they are driving. In the security of their home and local community in which Big T travels, it mattered little to them that the United States Supreme Court has validated stop and frisk by police; that the Court has further ruled that any traffic offense committed by a driver, no matter how minor, is a legitimate legal basis