In Nobody Knows, Mattie's family are sharecroppers in the South. When she is six, Mama takes her to town where she sees two doors marked "White Only" and "Colored Only." Mattie thinks the shopkeeper doesn't like them. Her mother tells her at least she's not a slave, as she was as a child. At 18 Mattie marries Nate Charles. In 1917 their cotton crop is failing, so Nate takes a job in a Chicago meatpacking plant. Mattie is sad to leave home, but she moves with her husband to work for a better life. In the North they find racial prejudice, labor unrest, and violence. They work hard, and with two children they move to a better home. Then there is an accident at the plant. Nate is killed. Alone after Nate dies, Mattie brings Mama north to help her. Through the Great Depression and World War II, she works many jobs to support her family. When Mama dies, Mattie takes her home. She finds the South still segregated. She stands up for change.
The Sweet Shop ... 1
Mr. Nate Charles ... 6
Moving North ... 10
Chicago ... 14
Trouble at the Lake ... 20
Black and White ... 24
The Union ... 29
Feeling Like Home ... 33
A Very Bad Night ... 37
Mattie Finds Work ... 42
A Different Job ... 47
Standing Up ... 53
Going Home ... 60
Glossary ... 69
A Letter on Nobody Knows from students.
This is a letter written to Tana Rieff, author of Nobody Knows, by a six-student class at Olive-Harvey
College in Chicago. It was sent by their teachers, Mamie Pettigrew and Anita Caref. Her response is
Oct. 14, 2015
Dear Ms. Reiff,
We are students at Olive-Harvey College in an adult education reading class in Chicago. We just finished reading the book Nobody Knows. Mattie inspired us with her strength and endurance. She has a strong will like many people we know.
You captured the personality of the Black people of that time. Mattie shows young women how to
speak up for themselves. Your writing made it easy for us to picture and imagine being there with the
family. We learned a lot about the experience of African-Americans who moved from the South to the
South Side/Bronzeville. We all live on the South Side, and we really enjoyed the way you wrote about
It was so interesting that we didn't want to stop. And now we want to know what happened next. Did
Mattie's son make it home from the war? Did Mattie stay in the South and become the owner of the
We experienced many different emotions like sadness, happiness, bitterness, and compassion while
reading. We learned a lot of history.
Thank you for writing this story. We hope you write back to us.
Fall 2015 class:
Ms. Gloria Ogden Mr. Ronald Allen
Ms. Myron Carter Mr. Marcos Garcia
Mr. Kirk Harding Mr. Carlton
Mamie Pettigrew and Anita Caref, Instructors
Dear Olive-Harvey Fall 2015 Class:
Thank you all so much for writing to me, I love to hear from readers, and I enjoyed hearing your
reactions to Nobody Knows. I especially appreciate your letter because you live in Chicago, where the
story takes place.
Although, of course, I did not personally experience the migration of African-Americans from the South
to the North, I read a lot about it. I formed the characters based on real experiences, and so Mattie and
Nate Charles became almost real people to me. It sounds as if you felt the same way.
It was my pleasure to bring this bittersweet story to readers. Sometimes the truth is hard to hear, but we can learn from it. Getting involved with the story and characters is why reading historical fiction is so important.
And I'll tell you a little secret. I have written 20 Hopes and Dreams books, and Nobody Knows is my
favorite. I'm delighted that you enjoyed it and learned from it. That warms my heart.
I wish you all the best – Ms. Gloria Ogden, Mr. Myron Carter, Mr. Kirk Harding, Mr. Ronald Allen, Mr.
Marcos Garcia, Mr. Carlton, and your instructors, Mamie Pettigrew and Anita Caref. Keep on reading!