Our Josephine and the King Twins
By Lanie Anderson
“Josephine, will you always be our Josephine?”
The title of the King Twins’ third book, Our Josephine, came easy, as Katherine and Margaret King remembered the question they had asked Josephine Harris Sanders 57 years ago when they said goodbye to her in Vicksburg.
In Our Josephine, the Oxford authors write about their weeklong stay in Vicksburg with their grandmother and great-grandmother during the summer of 1957.
While in Vicksburg, the twins met Josephine, a 16-year-old black caretaker of their great-grandmother at the time, and they never forgot her and the lessons she unknowingly taught them. Through the eyes of 9-year-olds, Our Josephine tells of the racial tensions that existed 57 years ago with delicacy and humor.
Growing up in Oxford with “separate-but-equal” Jim Crow Laws and little to no intermingling with blacks, the King Twins did not understand the “rules” of young Sanders’ world—rules such as walking behind the twins rather than beside them on the sidewalk or crossing the road to walk on the other side when passing a white school.
The Kings’ great-grandmother was born in 1869 shortly after the Civil War, so their great-grandmother, grandmother and the twins—all living under one roof—represented very different generations that summer.
“There were these huge generation gaps,” Katherine said, “and Josephine was kind of a catalyst between our great-grandmother all the way down to us. She was amazing, and we learned a lot about race relations that we didn’t understand.”
The King Twins write their books together; they usually sit on opposite sides of their living room, brainstorming while Margaret types the words on the computer. They knew when they began writing their first book, Y’all Twins?, that they would write a book in the future about Sanders. But finding her when they began looking in 2010 was not an easy feat.
After checking the Vicksburg Post’s obituaries and making phone calls, Margaret and Katherine received a call from Vicksburg school board president Jim Stirgus Jr., who informed them that Sanders was still in Vicksburg and was, in fact, his neighbor.
“I really didn’t know how to take it,” Sanders said, referring to when she received news that the twins had been looking for her after so many years. “I asked, ‘Are they really looking for me?’ It was really something for me (because) I really loved them.”
Sanders said “no way in this world” did she think that the twins would write a book about her, but she highly praised Our Josephine.
“I want to let everybody know that that story, that book, touches my heart,” Sanders said, while attending a book signing at Square Books on Tuesday. “This is a true story. I did that: I handled Mrs. Kirk, and I was just 16 at the time… I want someone to read this book and realize that it is OK to help a person when they need to be helped.”
Katherine and Margaret said they hoped that readers would think about the Josephine in their lives.
“Find someone in your life that meant that much to you, regardless of race,” Margaret said, “and realize what they did so that you can walk down the street side-by-side today.”
Katherine added, “Ours was when we were 9-years old: Josephine.”