Powerful debut memoir relates what happened after the author’s white mother and black father split up.
Cross (Journalism/Columbia Univ.) knew a lot about race from a very young age. People frowned at little June’s hair, said she looked Chinese, said she had her daddy’s lips. Her parents separated in January 1954, when she was a baby. Identified as “white” on her birth certificate, she lived with her mother, Norma, in New York for a few years, but then her skin got darker, and she could no longer “pass.” Before June was old enough to enter school, Norma sent her to live in Atlantic City with a middle-class black couple, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Paul. Eventually, her mother married actor Larry Storch. June visited them in the summertime, but Norma always worried that her presence threatened Storch’s career. Meanwhile, Peggy loved her like a daughter, but they clashed as the ‘60s unfolded; the older woman had little patience for African-American radicalism and worried that June was limiting herself at Harvard by hanging out with other black students. The memoir follows Cross through college and beyond, into a successful career in journalism that included making an Emmy-winning documentary, also called Secret Daughter, about her childhood and her relationship with Norma. Here, she concludes that her mother “had done the right thing,” though she also knows that her childhood lefts its marks: “Trust eludes me. . . . I waited until middle age to marry. I never had children.” The kiddie voice employed in early chapters (“Paul’s God had a mommie called Virgin Mary”) is replaced by the middle of the book with a strong, even tone.
A searing, personal account of race and racism in mid-century America.