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A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights

by Tananarive Due & Patricia Stephens Due

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2003
ISBN: 0-345-44733-6
Publisher: One World/Random House

Two generations of civil-rights insights from an activist in her 60s and her daughter, a newspaper reporter turned novelist (The Living Blood, 2001, etc.).

Eschewing the broad-brush approach of many civil-rights memoirs—high-profile marches, mass arrests, White House signings, etc.—the Dues favor a narrative technique more akin to pointillism. In 33 alternating chapters, mother and daughter explain how each became involved in behind-the-scenes organizing, as well as occasional high-profile encounters. Patricia honed her awareness of racial injustice in rural Florida, where the substandard Negro schools she attended could not stunt her inquiring mind. In high school, outraged by the principal’s lackadaisical attitude about quality education, she tried to get him removed by launching a petition drive, a tactic she had learned about from her stepfather, a civics teacher, and her mother, a voter-registration activist. By the time she entered Florida A&M University, Patricia was deeply involved in civil-rights activism, as was her equally brainy and committed sister Priscilla; together they faced jail time and beatings by police. Patricia and her husband, a civil-rights lawyer, passed this crusading spirit to their daughter, Tananarive. By the time she came of age, some civil-rights battles had been won in the courts, but she knew she would have to combat racism on an individual basis every day. The book is filled with mini-portraits of the obscure as well as the famous (Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, et al.). The authors quickly identify almost every character by race, giving credit where credit is due to blacks and whites alike—as well as parceling out blame where blame is due to blacks and whites alike. They don’t adhere to a linear chronology, which can be confusing, and the alternating chapters don’t always mesh smoothly. But the anecdotes, based on family letters, school papers, and other closely held memorabilia, are unmatched in other accounts.

Occasionally disjointed, but readers will quite likely be both charmed and educated by these dedicated, candid, brilliant women.