A memoir in which a young boy comes to terms with the religious cult that had given his family hope.
In this follow-up to the author’s Street Shadows: A Memoir of Race, Rebellion, and Redemption (2011), a debut that proved a breakthrough in terms of awards and recognition, the focus is tighter and the narrative challenge considerable, as Walker (Creative Writing/Emerson Coll.) assumes the perspective of the boy he was from ages 6 through 14, in a black family belonging to the overwhelmingly white (and segregationist) Worldwide Church of God. Its charismatic founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, had prophesied that only the anointed “chosen” would find redemption upon the Earth’s imminent destruction. Young “Jerry” would barely be 11 years old when this would happen, and he accepted the prophecy on faith, though the specifics of his religion confused his young mind. His alcoholic, epileptic father and his mother—both blind—had embraced the cult in part because they thought sight would be their reward. They also had some secrets in their pasts that their son would only learn later. As the predicted apocalypse of 1975 failed to happen and the boy matured and experienced more of the world, he lost faith in the church, as did other congregants and members of his family. He found himself torn between Armstrong’s vision of a better life to come and the streetwise testimony of Iceberg Slim and other hustlers. At a pivotal point, he writes, “my life isn’t becoming a real horror show, I’m thinking. It’s been one for a long time.” He asked his older brother, “How do you un-believe a belief?” and he learned “how the world is full of deception, how very few people can really be trusted, how it’s important that I learn to think and make decisions on my own.”
The key to the memoir’s cumulative power is Walker’s narrative command; the rite of passage is rockier than most, making the redemption well-earned.