McCray's loving tribute to her mother chronicles one woman's battle for racial equality from Reconstruction to the...


FREEDOM'S CHILD: The Remarkable Life of a Confederate General's Black Daughter

McCray's loving tribute to her mother chronicles one woman's battle for racial equality from Reconstruction to the Depression. That Mary Allen was born in 1877 of a white Confederate general and a black housekeeper was not so remarkable in the Old South; that her white father claimed his black offspring was. General John Jones took his light-skinned daughter out for ice cream (treatment denied his darker-skinned son) and paid for her college education. This devotion likely cost him a place in the Confederate pantheon. Ironically, the general (and the ex-slave uncle who raised Mary after her mother's death) instilled the redoubtable confidence and fortitude that fueled Mary's lifelong battle for ""full freedom"" for blacks. She succeeded her late first husband, Gregory Hayes, as president of Virginia Seminary and later founded NAACP chapters in Virginia and Montclair, NJ, where she moved with her second husband. McCray remembers her childhood home abuzz with early NAACP leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, Harlem Renaissance writers like Sterling Brown and Countee Cullen, and ""Thursday people,"" blacks who visited on their traditional day off from jobs as domestics in white households. Drawing on family memories, stories told by the poet and longtime family friend Anne Spencer, and from the Library of Congress's NAACP archives, McCray fashions an episodic, novelistic portrait of her mother. Some of the invented conversations that bridge gaps in the reported record are stilted and preachy, but McCray largely succeeds in creating a forceful testament to her mother's strength in the fight against discrimination. Though she regularly locked horns with theater managers, school principals, and even US presidents, no incident illustrates Mary's strength of character more than her persistence in speaking daily to a white neighbor, who eventually accepted Mary as her best friend. Such attention to small, everyday details makes this intimate familial memoir more affecting than third-person history.

Pub Date: April 28, 1998


Page Count: 288

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1998

Close Quickview