"Sometimes, it's hard to be a black man."
These were just a few of the captivating words spoken by Monday night's Writers in the Library featured author, John O. Hodges.
Hodges, an associate professor emeritus in the Department of Religious Studies, eloquently read selected excerpts from his new book, "Delta Fragments: The Recollections of a Sharecropper's Son," to a riveted audience.
In his book, Hodges shares the poignant and thought-provoking experience of growing up as a sharecropper's stepson in the Mississippi Delta of the 1950s and '60s.
"'Delta Fragments' tells the amazing, circuitous journey that brought John to where he is now," said Charles Reynolds, professor emeritus in religious studies, during his introduction of Hodges.
Hodges explained that he and his family were very poor, often having to borrow money against the following year's estimated crop yield in order to survive the winter months.
"Life was seldom boring, yet often inconvenient," Hodges said. "We always seemed to come out in the hole, no matter how hard we worked."
A major theme of the book is Hodges' quest for a quality education. He said that 7- and 8-year-old children were expected to work in the fields, but his stepfather told the owner of the plantation Hodges should stay in school because he was only getting in the way at work.
"His marvelous sacrifice has, in fact, made all the difference in my life," Hodges said.
After graduating as valedictorian of the segregated Broad Street High School in Greenwood, Miss., Hodges won a full-tuition scholarship to Morehouse College in Atlanta. From there, he earned his master's in English from Atlanta University, followed by a Ph.D. in religion and literature from the University of Chicago Divinity School.
"Where there was an opportunity to go to school, I thought I would never stop," Hodges said. "Why not be at the library? It's such a wonderful place to be."
"Delta Fragments" also calls attention to the poverty, educational, and crime-related issues still faced by the Delta region, urging citizens to cooperate in eradicating them.
"I want this book to show that, if given the opportunity, black individuals can achieve in life," Hodges said. "I also want to encourage all individuals, black and white, to undertake a serious racial dialogue that has yet to be touched on."
During his tenure at the University of Tennessee, Hodges educated and inspired a multitude of students and colleagues.
"I am very grateful to have had the privilege to learn from Dr. Hodges," said Nora Wilson, a 1994 UT graduate in religious studies. "I had the opportunity to study under some of the best religious studies professors in the world."
John O. Hodges is the recipient of the Lorayne W. Lester Award for distinguished service to the university and has been acknowledged by the UT Alumni Association as an outstanding teacher.
"Delta Fragments: The Recollection of a Sharecropper's Son" can be found in the UT library archives or for sale in the UT Bookstore.