An articulate, poignant recollection of the almost two years Ivester and her family spent in the Mississippi Delta town of Mound Bayou during the turmoil of the civil rights movement.
“My parents were foot soldiers in President Johnson’s War on Poverty.” Thus begins Ivester’s debut, constructed from her writings and from journals kept by her mother, Aura Kruger. Ivester was only 10 when her father, a pediatrician in Newton, Massachusetts, decided to close his practice and relocate the white family to an all-black community in the rural South to open a much needed medical clinic. In August 1967, their three youngest children in tow, the Krugers moved into two trailers that would be their home until February 1969. While Leon focused on his new medical facility, Aura became a high school English teacher. With stark honesty, Aura’s writings reveal her anxieties and anger about uprooting her children and moving them into schools where they would be the only white students. She details the challenges of dealing with the Jim Crow laws still in effect in the South. The first time her students entered her classroom, they walked in silently, slowly, eyes cast down. “Many of these students had never seen a white person up close,” Ivester writes. “They’d been raised to fear white people, to always appear docile and unthreatening, to avoid eye contact.” Eventually, she was able to breach the color divide, using her class to introduce these teens to the writings of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Eldridge Cleaver. Aura, more than anyone else in the Kruger family, found her voice and sense of purpose in Mound Bayou. Interspersed with Aura’s journal entries are black-and-white photos and recollected childhood writings from the author. Her young voice is haunting, reflecting confusion when she was teased for being Jewish and trauma when she was attacked and beaten by three older boys. What makes this book particularly valuable is its vivid depiction of the abhorrent consequences of legalized segregation. What gives it heart is the window it opens to the personal journeys of mother and daughter.
An important, riveting history lesson that, unfortunately, is still relevant today.