WALKIN’ THE LINE by William Ecenbarger


A Journey from Past to Present Along the Mason-Dixon
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Reader’s Digest staffer Ecenbarger walks the Mason-Dixon line from its start at Fenwick Island to its end in Brown’s Hill, Pennsylvania.

Ecenbarger weaves historical narrative with a look at the state of race relations along the line, going from location to location and meeting the individuals who live in the vicinity—telling the history of the places, and providing clichéd views of the North and South as an added bonus. The author begins his travels by setting the stage for Mason and Dixon’s journey—which was, in fact, a mission to settle the boundary between the Quaker Pennsylvania of the Penns and the Catholic Maryland of the Calverts in the American colonies of the 18th century. From there, he jumps to the present and finds the first of Mason and Dixon’s markers among present-day detritus of an interstate highway. He then jumps along the line further, and then again further still, following the line all along it route from Point A to Point B. The author’s jump from place to place creates little in the way of narrative—his story reads about as coherently as the journal of Charles Mason, which he quotes liberally from throughout—and he reveals little of his own character in the process of walking the 365 miles. While Ecenbarger tells of scores of incidents of racial injustice along the line over the past 300 years, there is no reason to believe that these have anything to do with the existence of the line itself (save the importance of getting runaway slaves over the border once Pennsylvania abolished slavery in 1808) and while many of these incidents have never been described before, they are not very different in kind or degree from other accounts (segregation, lynchings, etc.) we have heard many times before.

Serial dispatches from the field, about as straightforward and interesting as the line itself.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 2000
ISBN: 0-87131-910-1
Page count: 240pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2000