CHILDREN OF STRANGERS: The Stories of a Black Family by Kathryn L. Morgan

CHILDREN OF STRANGERS: The Stories of a Black Family

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Our folklore was the antidote used by our parents and our grandparents and our great-grandparents to help us counteract the poison of self-hate engendered by racism."" In a personal yet straightforward manner, Kathryn Morgan effectively shows how her family created its own folklore, using stories of earlier generations to teach values of discipline, responsibility, and common sense to younger generations. Leading off the stories is Caddy, the author's great-grandmother. Daughter of a Beaufort County, Virginia, slave and an Englishman (hence the book's title), she was early kidnapped and sold into slavery. But, as we learn in ""How Caddy Found Her Mother,"" Caddy returned as an adult woman with her own ""children of strangers,"" and then started accumulating enough money selling rags to take her family north to Philadelphia. There, the light-skinned children and grandchildren can pass at will, but do so usually only through another's mistake. ""There are no stories of 'cross-overs'. . . . A family member who 'crosses over' is considered dead."" As the family slowly gains in respectability, tensions result in values and behavior that are reflected in the stories. In one, Morgan's mother starts attending meetings of the ""educated ladies"" at her church but keeps quiet all the time. ""As long as I keep my mouth shut they can think all they want to that I'm a fool. If I open my mouth and try to talk about something I don't know nothing about, I would prove it."" Yet, in another story, a young teacher is sharply criticized for sending her mother out to the kitchen when her educated friends come calling. ""I don't believe in reminding children what you have done for them. But she wouldn't have sent me to the kitchen."" Sometimes Morgan presents different versions of the same tale to reflect changing values within the family (one which Caddy told to stress the family's ""aristocratic"" blood, Morgan herself uses to teach family responsibility). While the book does not present a ""typical black family"" (which doesn't exist), or a shared folklore (though the tales should find their parallels in other families), it does succeed on two counts: it helps fill in the blanks in the historical accounts of color-mingling; it suggests that, even if we no longer believe in national folk heroes, we still search for and often do find their counterparts in our personal pasts.

Pub Date: Dec. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Temple Univ. Press