Friday, February 18, 2005

Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family by Ronne Hartfield

I enjoy reading memoirs. I am not alone, as the autobiographical titles that I add to my library's collection are fairly popular with readers. One of the best new additions to our collection is Another Way Home by Ronne Hartfield.

Shepherd, known as “Day” or “Dearest,” was born in Louisiana in 1899. Her father was a white plantation owner and her mother was one of the daughters of a family that had been in service on the plantation for generations. Mathematically, she was seven eights white, if you define someone by ancestors, but she adhered to the conventions of the time and identified herself as “colored.” With her fair skin, she moved between cultures easily and often took jobs that were reserved for whites in New Orleans and later in Chicago where she arrived in 1918. Eventually she settled into the African-American community of the South Side of Chicago, married, and raised a family. As a mother, she told her children all the family stories. Now the author, her daughter, has woven these stories into her own memories of growing up on the South Side and stories about race relations in the city. What I liked was how well the family’s life was described. You learn about the father’s jobs, the children’s schools and friends, and the mother’s caring for the family. You learn about mending clothes and when to bring out the good china. It is an intimate portrait, which emphasizes the similarities between races more than differences. I recommend this book to readers who enjoy biographies.

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