In October 1941, Mia McGee, of Cherokee descent and married to her black childhood sweetheart Obidiah Bounds, is an NAACP activist in Washington, D.C. After receiving a violent threat, she attempts to protect her 11-year-old daughter Ella, sending her by bus to her brother in Hopewell, Ga. When Ella doesn’t show up, Mia rushes to Hopewell in an understandable panic, but readers know that Ella is safely ensconced with Willie Mae and Mary-Mary, two elderly black women who came to her rescue after rednecks attacked her. This slender branch of plot carries a lot of weight as Ella’s ancestors, of black, white, Cherokee blood, tell their stories. Readers will need the supplied family tree to keep names and dates straight: Mia, one-eighth Indian, recalls her depression era childhood and the Klan lynching of Obidiah’s father, as well as visits from the girl ghost Lovelady. Former slave Willie Mae recalls being sold by a white ancestor of Ella’s to Samuel Bounds. Willie Mae, who has “the glow” to attract spirits, is Mary-Mary’s lover but also happily married to Alger, the son of slave Lossie and Riddle Young, the overseer of Samuel’s farm. Riddle and his sister Emmaline, unhappily married to Samuel, are half Cherokee. Childless Emmaline commits suicide and becomes an unsettled spirit. In 1860 Riddle buys Lossie and Alger’s freedom and takes the family, including Willie Mae, back to his homestead. Alger dies while a volunteer in the Confederate Army. Lovelady, Willie Mae’s daughter, drowns escaping an attack by white racists during Reconstruction. The struggle between cruelty and goodness goes on and on.
The surfeit of narratives about noble victims runs together into a heavy-handed treatise on racial injustices; and the awkward insertion of the supernatural only confuses.