Rose L. Jourdain (1931-2010) came from a prominent African American family in Evanston, and she carried the civil-rights message of her father and grandfather beyond Evanston through her work as a reporter, editor and novelist. Her novel, “Those the Sun Has Love” (1978). is a veritable primer of African American history from the black men who fought for this new country before and during the Revolutionary War right through to modern times when a black congressman from Massachusetts runs for president.
And, yes, 30 years after her novel was published, Ms. Jourdain campaigned hard for Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential run.
“Those the Sun Has Love” is a saga of romance, war, politics, adventure and family with history folded in. It stretches over 200 years and seven generations of a free African American family, from 1773 in Surinam on the north coast of South America to the 1970s in the United States.
Rose Jourdain once described her novel as a fictional version of her own family’s history. And so it seems, because her family came as free men from South America in the 1700s. Her grandfather, Edwin B. Jourdain Sr. (1865-1938), grew up in Bedford, MA, in a mansion that had been a station on the underground railroad. His childhood friend was W.E.B. DuBois, and by 1900 when he had become a lawyer, that big house on Arnold Street was called “the New Bedford Annex for Boston Radicals” where activists debated how to improve the lot of black Americans and made plans to found the Niagara Movement, a forerunner of the NAACP. Her father, Edwin B. Jourdain, Jr. (1900-1986), was a Harvard graduate, a journalist, managing editor of the Chicago Defender, publisher, real estate investor and Evanston’s first black alderman, 1931-47.
Ms. Jourdain grew up in Evanston at 2032 Darrow, went to Haven Elementary and Middle School and was a 1948 graduation of Evanston Township High School. After a year at the University of Illinois, she transferred to Lake Forest College, graduating in 1953.
After college, she quickly established herself as a journalist in Chicago, writing for Ebony and Jet. Soon she was on her way to New York City to work for Time-Life as co-author and editor of “The Epic of Man.” She then became a community organizer in Harlem for the Department of Commerce and later in Manhattan for the Black Economic Union. That time in New York she often recalled as the best, most stimulating years of her life.
In the 1970s she was divorced and returned to Evanston to raise her daughter, Jacqueline. She found work at Scott Foresman Publishing as a textbook editor and writer and carpooled to work with two younger Evanstonians who would become lifelong friends, Dorothy Williams and Carlis Sutton. During this time in Evanston, she was also active in Jack and Jill of America mothers’ group, worked as a substitute teacher at Haven and ETHS and wrote the bulk of her 1978 novel.
“Rose was a great friend,” says Carlis Sutton, godfather to Ms. Jourdain’s daughter. “She was smart and funny and a wonderful storyteller. She knew James Baldwin and W.E.B. DuBois, Ralph Bunch and Paul Robeson. She knew John Johnson. She knew them personally. I was a history major, but Rose was an eyewitness to history.”
Ms. Jourdain moved to Washington, D.C. when Jacqueline went east to school, graduating from Harvard like her grandfather and uncles before her. Ms. Jourdain worked for the State Department as a project manager in the Agency for International Development (AID) and for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) as a speechwriter for its chairman, Clarence Thomas. She was a speechwriter for the National Education Association by 1991 when Clarence Thomas was nominated for the U.S. Supreme Court. Ms. Jourdain was among former EEOC employees prepared to corroborate the sexual harassment testimony of Anita Hill against his nomination. “We were called the Doubting Thomases,” Ms. Jourdain said later, “but instead of testifying before the committee, our phone interviews were simply read into the record and carried no weight.”
Her EEOC co-worker, Angela Wright, called Rose Jourdain her mentor, a word repeated again and again by friends describing how Ms. Jourdain would take them under her wing. In recent years, she and Carlis Sutton ran a program at the Evanston library to help improve the writing skills of college-bound high school seniors.
Years ago, Dorothy Williams, director of Family Focus, remembers being in high school when Ms. Jourdain invited a small group of writers to her home. “We’d read and write poetry, take field trips. When I ran across a picture of a group of us in the YMCA orchid room on the Y’s 125th anniversary website, I found myself studying the photo and realizing how many of us Rose had direct contact with. She had intelligence, wit and a real brilliance about her. She certainly was a mentor to me,” she said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without Rose, and a lot of other people wouldn’t either.”
Although Ms. Jourdain often observed that Evanston was a “great place to come from,” she still found herself coming back to Evanston in the early 1990s, this time to be with her aging mother, Emmaline Hardwick Jourdain. Back home, she belonged to Second Baptist Church, served on the Evanston Arts Council 2001-04 and became a founding board member of Shorefront and the first editor of the Shorefront journal.
Rose Jourdain never stopped writing. In 1991 she filed copyrights for two original screenplays, “Stealing Home” and “My Brother’s Keeper.” When she died, she was working on three manuscripts, a memoir and two novels.
Rose Jourdain passed away March 16 at St. Francis Hospital. Besides her many friends, she is survived by her daughter, Jacqueline “Wifit” Jourdain Hayes, a lawyer in Los Angeles, and by her siblings, Edwin and Spencer Jourdain and Joanne Jourdain Burton. A memorial service was held April 25 at Lake Forest College.
The Rose L. Jourdain Legacy Fund has been established in her memory to help the Shorefront Legacy Center collect and archive additional materials relevant to the history of the black community in Evanston and the North Shore.