Book Review: Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories

Dr. Jessie Voigts's picture

I've got such a special book to share with you today. Author Mariana Titus is an old friend and I've always admired her writing, care for others, and artistry. Yes, she's an accomplished artist - she's inspired our daughter in her artistic pursuits as well. Mariana's books are full of a sense of PLACE and character. It is rare that an author can dig deep and truly share the essence of a place, culture, people. She has written five books about the area around Franklin, Louisiana, including ‘Graveyards and Bayou Bars’, 'Summers Full of Porch Bull’, ‘Hurricanes, Healings and Dancing Ceilings’, and ‘Rain,Cane, Bayou Refrain.’ We were lucky enough to be sent a review copy of her latest book, Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories. Sunday Mornings is beautiful journey into some of the black churches around Franklin, Louisiana. Mariana shares history, food, family, and church memories of many people, creating an anthropological view into this area. The stories are enhanced by Mariana's incredible photographs of family, gorgeous outfits and hats at church, beautiful smiles, historic buildings, the joy inherent in the church communities.


Mariana Titus, Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories


We meet incredible people like Ethel McClain Johnson, who noted "We were poor but, then again, we were rich because we had so much love for each other and other people." Ethel Jenkins notes, "I came into the world shouting...When I say something, people know it's the truth...they can feel what I'm saying!" A section on the seven sisters of the McDaniel family truly gets the essence of religion and  family, including this from Golden McDaniel Charles - "I attended the Evening Star Baptist Church. My Pastor was the late Reverend Johnnie Carr, Jr. I was baptized in the Bayou Techie. That was a glorious time. My Pastor prayed until the waters trembled!"



We were lucky enough to sit down and chat with Mariana about the book, her experiences in Louisiana, writing the book, and more. Here's what she had to say...



WE: Please tell us about your book, Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories...

MT: Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories is my fifth book.  It contains 149 pages of photographs as well as church related stories told to me by  black  women from my hometown of Franklin, Louisiana and surrounding areas.
It is the book I've always wanted to read.   I'm drawn to personal diaries, oral history, real life stories, local cookbooks, etc. , regional tales.  I  believe that knowing where we come from helps us to see where we're going.  The best way for me to do this is to transcribe verbatim what the subjects have to say about themselves - that way I learn about the area and their culture first hand.



WE: What led you to write this book?

MT: Writing my first four books was a fascinating learning experience and I wanted to continue the journey by creating another.  Actually, all of my  books wrote me.  This book was a continuation to further find myself through interviews with these women. 

Also, my Aunt Angelica was a seamstress who taught me a great deal about style and fashion. I  wanted to honor the beautifully dressed  women in hats who walked past my house on their way to church.  I wanted to photograph them in their churches.  As a young girl, I rode by many of the country churches and longed to know what they were like inside.   This book allowed me to do it all; interview these women, photograph them in church and connect with their places of worship.



WE: What is your history of living in Louisiana?

MT: I moved to southwest Louisiana at an early age after my dad graduated from Palmer School of Chiropractic in Davenport, Iowa.  He and my mother met in her native country of Venezuela.  I grew up in the Franklin/Garden City area.  Our house welcomed everyone and my dad often gave his services for free to those who could not afford them.  We were often paid with chickens, fish and vegetables from the patients gardens. One man, Mr. Dean, gave my dad free oyster shells for the driveway.   My dad was well-respected and my mother dearly loved by all in the community.  I was able to interact with a variety of people because dad's office was in our house. They told me stories about their own lives  which nourished my curiosity and planted the seed for my future books.

We lived in a big Victorian house in the tiny mill town of Garden City. One day a New York photographer noticed us kids playing outside and took pictures of us.  After that experience  I wanted to be a photographer.  At age ten and my parents gave me  my first camera, an Imperial Six-Twenty.  I took pictures of the people and places around me.  Many of them later became subjects in this book.

I spent a great deal of my early life in the country and the small town of Franklin, Louisiana, where I continue to live several months of the year. 


Mariana Titus, Sunday Mornings, Crowning Glories



WE: There is such a long history - family, culture, church - in your book. Can you please share more of what you found?

MT: I found that each church has had many of the same family members for many generations.  They form a close unit with lives centered around the church and the church activities.  The members are supportive of one another and their great faith holds them together.  A few of these churches were built on the plantations of the sugar cane farmers many years ago.  The workers had one day off and that was Sunday.  Also, these same churches were used as schools.  Many of the women that I interviewed told me about their early years attending school everyday and church on Sundays, all in the same building.



WE: Is it easy to enter/integrate into such a different culture?

MT: It was easier for me because I grew up there.  I knew many of the families and they knew me and my family.  This is a small community and everyone knows everyone.  I wanted to attend the churches and I spoke to the local librarian who introduced me to Anna McDaniel who attended Mt. Zion Baptist Church.  She invited me to her church and I felt comfortable being there.  She cleared it with the pastor for me to take pictures. It was an honor to sit up front with the Mission Sisters of the church.  I gave them many pictures of themselves.  Then, Anna's cousin invited me to another church and that's how it continued for a couple of years.  The family unit is very strong in these churches.  I felt very welcomed because I was with a member of one of the families.



WE: What were your favorite parts of creating this book?

MT: During the time I worked on this book, I was approached by a Welsh TV station who was doing a film series called Rivers of the World.  They needed a local person to help scout locations around the Mississippi Delta and Louisiana area so they hired me.  For a baptismal scene, I chose Mt. Zion Church because of the charismatic minister  and welcoming congregation. This was quite an experience for those filming.

I made many new friends and attended bible study and other church activities.  My favorite experience was the great music, it was like attending a blues concert each Sunday. 



WE: Is there anything else you'd like to share with us?

MT: I believe that everyone should be encouraged to interview the older folks in their community.  Begin with your family members and then branch out.  You will learn more about yourself as you learn about others.  Learn to listen to what the older folks have to say.  We spend a great deal of our early lives being know-it-alls.  It isn't until we grow older ourselves that we realize how much we still have to learn.

WE: Thanks so very much, Mariana. You've given us a glimpse into a world few people see. I, for one, am much richer for it.


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All photos courtesy and copyright Mariana Titus.