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A Ride Through Slavery's Old Back Yard

by Eddy L. Harris

Pub Date: May 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-671-74896-3
Publisher: Simon & Schuster

 Harris's continuing search for his identity as a black American, previously documented in Mississippi Solo (1988) and Native Stranger (1992), now takes him on a compelling motorcycle journey through the American South. Setting out with little baggage and no fixed itinerary, Harris rides through the South with an inescapable awareness of the region's legacy of racism and oppression. On the very first page here, he passes a sign referring to a ``Coon Hunters' Club,'' which instantly reminds him of the area's terrible history of lynching. At the same time, he acknowledges his ``addiction'' to the South, which he recognizes as his ancestral territory, paramount even to Africa. And so he looks for traces of his forebears, especially his great-grandfather, a slave in Virginia. He talks to ordinary people of all ages and races, met by chance on park benches and in roadside restaurants; visits Richmond, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charleston, finding memories of the black struggle for freedom as well as Confederate monuments; hears a sermon in Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s old church; and finds his great-grandfather's manumission papers in a Virginia courthouse. The events of the journey set off riveting chains of association, meditations on being a descendent of slaves in a nation that proclaims itself free. Harris's ultimate journey is as much inward and emotional as geographical, and the reader will be as surprised as the author was to learn its true destination. Harris has an eye for detail that many novelists might envy, and a fine prose style--qualities that, combined with the powerful subject matter here, result in an energetic and emotionally satisfying work.