by Shirlee Taylor Haizlip
Growing up in Connecticut in the 1940s and 1950s, the daughter of a prominent black Baptist minister, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip enjoyed a position of privilege and security in her identity that for many years she took for granted. For her mother, Margaret, and the rest of the Morris family, fair skin had been a double-edged legacy, a contrast to the Reverend Taylor's dark, proud, and successful clan. Light enough to "pass," Margaret's father and surviving siblings, descendants of an Irish immigrant and a mulatto slave, had disappeared into the white world, abandoning her and cutting themselves off from their tangled roots. Shirlee grew to adulthood moving easily between the black world and the white, but with an unfulfilled dream of discovering what had become of her mother's family. As Margaret approached eighty, her daughter determined to realize that dream. What she unearthed in dusty archives, letters, journals, and other records, is a tale of journeys - physical, emotional, racial, and social - that continues even today. Across the boundaries of race and time, the story spans six generations of both sides of Shirlee's family, ranging form Ireland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., to Connecticut, New York, Ohio, the Virgin Islands, and finally California. There, with the help of a private detective, Shirlee tracked down her mother's only surviving sibling and reunited two sisters - one who called herself white and the other who called herself blackafter seventy-six years. She also uncovered a history of desertion, redemption, and betrayal set in motions by the charged, complicated meaning that color has carried in our society. The different choices the members of her multihued family made, and the different lives each of them led as a result, raise questions of identity and allegiance common to us all.
Paperback: 271 pages