A family’s story reflects social upheaval.
Combining memoir and astute cultural history, Haynes (Sociology/Univ. of California, Davis; Red Lines, Black Spaces: The Politics of Race and Space in a Black Middle-Class Suburb, 2001, etc.) and his wife and co-author, Solovitch, analyze the Haynes family as exemplary of African-American experiences throughout the 20th century. Haynes grew up in Harlem, privileged enough to attend elite private schools and Manhattanville College, which “seemed like a country club.” After earning a doctorate in sociology, he taught at Yale, where he focused his research on race. Without strong religious or cultural ties to the African-American community, his research interest struck some as odd. “I became the black scholar who studies community while forever being in search of community,” he admits. But Haynes had strong ancestral roots in sociology: his grandfather, the “first person of African descent to receive a doctorate from Columbia University,” had been a noted social scientist, founder of the National Urban League, colleague of W.E.B. Du Bois, and adviser on race to President Woodrow Wilson; his grandmother was a social scientist as well; and Haynes’ parents both were social workers. These intellectual and professional achievements did not prevent the family from suffering from the social blight, beginning in the 1970s, that changed Harlem from a thriving, proud neighborhood into a fearsome area rife with homelessness, drug wars, murder. One of his brothers was shot dead outside of the store where he worked; the other, whose bipolar illness was long misdiagnosed, succumbed to crack addiction. Along with sharp social analysis, Haynes chronicles his parents’ bizarre relationship, which deteriorated precipitously when his mother found out that her husband had been married before. The once-elegant house in which the family lived crumbled into disrepair, concrete evidence of the state of his parents’ marriage. The author’s compassionate portraits of his brothers contrast with his unsentimental, even incredulous, view of his parents’ personalities and choices, underscoring the impressive distance he has traveled in carving out his own successful life.
A candid and profoundly personal contribution to America’s racial history.