As Eddy Harris rode his motorbike around the American South, he spotted a sign "Davies County Coon Hunters Club". A shiver went up his spine. What may have been a totally innocent club has more disturbing resonances for the author, a descendant of black slaves. He still remembers signs that said "We cater to white only" and still burns with the same rage. But for men like his father the stories of the Depression years are full of pain and shame - remembering his light-skinned girlfriend and the night four men in white sheets told him to get out of town; and his cousin Jessie who was lynched for trying to buy candy on credit along with some white boys. Stories like these conflict with the kindly old South, the gentility and grace which we also know about. The author travels in search of the new South.
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Harris's continuing search for his identity as a black American, previously documented in Mississippi Solo (1988) and Native Stranger (1992), now takes him on a compelling motorcycle journey through the American South. Setting out with little baggage and no fixed itinerary, Harris rides through the South with an inescapable awareness of the region's legacy of racism and oppression. On the very first page here, he passes a sign referring to a ``Coon Hunters' Club,'' which instantly reminds him of the area's terrible history of lynching. At the same time, he acknowledges his ``addiction'' to the South, which he recognizes as his ancestral territory, paramount even to Africa. And so he looks for traces of his forebears, especially his great-grandfather, a slave in Virginia. He talks to ordinary people of all ages and races, met by chance on park benches and in roadside restaurants; visits Richmond, Atlanta, Birmingham, and Charleston, finding memories of the black struggle for freedom as well as Confederate monuments; hears a sermon in Martin Luther King, Jr.,'s old church; and finds his great-grandfather's manumission papers in a Virginia courthouse. The events of the journey set off riveting chains of association, meditations on being a descendent of slaves in a nation that proclaims itself free. Harris's ultimate journey is as much inward and emotional as geographical, and the reader will be as surprised as the author was to learn its true destination. Harris has an eye for detail that many novelists might envy, and a fine prose style--qualities that, combined with the powerful subject matter here, result in an energetic and emotionally satisfying work. -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.From Publishers Weekly:
"How eagerly I had anticipated evil at every turn," writes Harris ( Native Stranger ) near the end of this impassioned account of his recent motorcycle tour of the South. The St. Louis, Mo., resident began his journey through the country of his slave forebears filled with rage at the treatment of his people, fearful for his safety and expecting indignities worse than those he was subjected to in the North. At Civil War sites and scenes of civil rights battles, he meditates on the history of slavery and bigotry, relating his family's and his own experiences. Of people he meets, he asks, "How are the white folks treating you? Why do you stay?" The answers astonish him. One black man insists that blacks in the North have run away from the "real struggle" while those in the South are winning the "quiet fight for dignity . . . inch by inch." A white man maintains that life is less oppressed for black people in the South: "We understand them better than they do up North, because we've been through the fire together down here." Claiming his heritage on this trip, with its moment at which "suddenly, mysteriously, miraculously . . . fear and loathing vanished," Harris delivers travel literature of a rare sort: personal, and proof of the changing power of place.
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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