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Toni Cade Bambara (1939—1995)


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Minnie Ransom

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The “fabled healer” of Claybourne, Georgia, Minnie Ransom is the stimulus for Velma Henry's healing in Toni Cade Bambara's The Salt Eaters (1980). A multifaceted character, Minnie communes with her spirit guide, Old Wife; plays jazz recordings; and has a “voluptuous eye”cast on a young doctor, all while guiding Velma in her healing journey.

Minnie's characterization is a departure from the usual representations of conjure women, healers, or mammies in African American literature. Wearing a red dress, hot pink headwrap, kente cloth, a silk fringed shawl, and an armful of bangles, she is fully sexual, a celebration of African American womanhood. While deeply committed to her community and its collective as well as individual well-being, she refuses to take responsibility for the health of others, insisting, for example, that Velma be sure she is ready for the “weight” of being well.

Although Minnie's spirit guide, Old Wife, is a “good Christian,” Minnie's spiritual system is more syncretic. She draws on the powers of the loa and astrology, as well as the “chapel” she visits with Old Wife. As able to read auras as she is to cure disease, Minnie came to her gift reluctantly, nearly going crazy as she realized what was happening to her. Seeing their “educated, well-groomed, well-raised” daughter eating dirt prompted her family to send Minnie off to a seminary. Like her patient Velma, however, Minnie grows and becomes wise, knowing that healing is not about being good or righteous, but being “available” to the powers and gifts within and around her.

— Ann Folwell Stanford

Subjects: Literature

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