Minneapolis-based journalist and teacher Winstead’s debut memoir thoughtfully explores family bonds, dark secrets, and the slow but sure advance of justice.
Following her father’s path from a self-imposed exile in Minnesota to his origins in rural Mississippi, the author finds that “he’d rejected the isolation, poverty, and lack of opportunity he’d grown up with, but . . . he’d carried the Neshoba County ethos to Minnesota with him nonetheless. It showed in his attempts to balance loyalty to his roots with loyalty to his offspring, and the emotional barriers that would come between us as a result.” Some of that ethos, troubling to his young daughter, involved her father’s vigorous use of the word “nigger” and apparent disregard for African-American efforts to secure social justice. She learned on traveling to Mississippi, however, that her father’s attitude was mild compared to that of some of her Down South relatives, who were involved with the Ku Klux Klan and convinced that the battle against civil rights would “determine the fate of Christian civilization for centuries to come.” Some of her kin actually knew who, in 1964, killed Freedom Riders Andy Goodman, Michael Schwerner, and James Chaney as they worked to register black voters in the area. Her pensive investigation turns up other unwanted revelations, including the depth of southern hatreds and the power of cultural norms that value family over society no matter what. That power extended even to Winstead. On learning her family’s secrets, she writes, she was tempted to revise the past in her relatives’ favor: “My desire to be approved of, embraced, and loved was so strong that I found myself rewriting passages, doubting conversations I’d heard, feeling guilty for breaking promises that, upon reflection, I’d never even made, nor had I been asked to.” Happily, the truth wins out, as does justice—at least of a kind.
An honest and affecting journey into the past and into the writer’s heart.