“On a Burning Deck” Uses Oral History for a Compelling Narrative
In March 1917, Haskell Jones was nineteen years old when he stepped off a train in Akron. He had traveled from Mayfield, Kentucky, traveling north on the news that a good-paying job would be waiting for him when he arrived. After paying $16 for the train ticket, he had six dollars in his pocket. The rubber industry was booming in those weeks before America entered World War I and with employment agents riding the trains, jobs in the tire factories were easy to come by. This proved especially handy for thousands of young migrating Kentuckians who were quick to show insubordination and equally quick to pick a fight.
Late in life, Haskell Jones sat down with his grandson, Tom Jones, and recorded his memories of growing up in Kentucky and working in the Akron rubber mills. On a Burning Deck: The Road to Akron weaves a tapestry out of those recordings, capturing an intimate history of the first great migration. Historians have written extensively about African American migration out of the rural south, and Jones seeks to round out the story by including the voices of white Appalachians who also came north for industrial jobs. Of his grandparents, Jones writes “Their lives are not …. any more special than those of anyone else. They are just documented.” Weaving his grandfather’s story with passages providing historical context, Jones has crafted a compelling narrative that left me wanting to know more of the family story.
After working for Firestone and graduating from Kent State University, Tom Jones left Akron and established a successful career as an advertising copywriter. He lives in Texas where he is working on a second volume of On a Burning Deck. I’m looking forward to learning the rest of the family story. More information can be found at www.OnABurningDeck.com.