an aquaintance of mine is reading a book called 'Proud Shoes' and i decided to take a look at it. i like what i see and so i include some excerpts from the introductions to the book. i relate to a great deal that the author says in her introduction, plus i am intrigued to read more about an African-American family that acknowledges and processes its 'white' heritage - one a slave-owning heritage, the other a product of an early phase of american life about which we hear very little today when people intermarried freely among the so-called 'races.'
published in 1955, Proud Shoes' author, Dr. Pauli Murray, is an episcopalian minister and graduate of Harvard Law School.
On July 18, 1933, a young Pauli Murray scribbled a sketch in her diary that would eventually blossom into the family memoir Proud Shoes. Over the twenty-odd years that it took to write this story, she thought a lot about what it meant to be an artist. She was at times so pained by the process that she had to set the project aside. But a healing clarity always followed the pain, enabling her to paint life as she saw it. What she created is a compelling family saga that gives us two views of the American experience: one a close-up that follows her family – the Fitzgeralds – from the early 1800’s to the beginning of the twentieth century, the other a wider angle that situates her ancestors’ story on a larger cultural mosaic.
Although Proud Shoes was conceived as a children’s story to be shared with her nieces and nephews, it became a defense of a personal and collective heritage that challenged the ethnocentrism of the 1950s. It spotlighted black achievements that had been ignored or denied. It exposed the ‘secret’ of rape and voluntary interracial sex that so characterized the American South. It raised the lid on racial passing and on class and color conflicts within black communities.
We should read this book for what it is, an exquisite and groundbreaking work of creative nonfiction. Because it was written at a time when genre distinctions were for some sacrosanct, Proud Shoes became an archetype for a generation of writers who would later merge novelistic techniques and nonfiction. (the above paragraphs are taken from Patricia Bell-Scott’s Introduction to Proud Shoes)
From the Author’s Introduction to Proud Shoes: “My maternal grandfather’s family was one of the clusters of free people of color, the Fitzgeralds of Delaware and
. By contrast, my grandmother’s people, the Smiths of Chapel Hill, North Caroline, were a white slave-owning family of local prominence. My dual family heritage made a deep impression on me as a child.
As my (research) work progressed I gained a new conception of history. I was amazed to find that apparently anonymous men and women, living in ways that seldom attract public notice, leave behind them a personal record of activities which may illuminate the social history of a nation or an era as much as the activities of the leaders, the movers and shakers. These personal records live hidden away in old documents.
Following (a) joyous romp through the early history of the Fitzgeralds, I had to face the difficult and painful decision of including my grandmother’s “Smith side” of the family story – a decision with which I had been wrestling during the months of my research. The Smith story awakened long-dormant, unresolved questions of identity and intensely conflicting emotions. It also resurrected the ominous shadow of slavery which still hung over the South of my childhood. In the telling of my grandmother’s story I had to embrace all the tangled roots from which I had sprung, and to accept without evasion my own slave heritage, with all its ambivalences and paradoxes.
Thus the writing of Proud Shoes became for me the resolution of a search for identity and the exorcism of ghosts of the past. No longer constrained by suppressed memories, I began to see myself in a new light – the product of a slowly evolving process of biological and cultural integration, a process containing the character of many cultures and many peoples, a New World experiment, fragile yet tenacious, a possible hint of a stronger and freer America of the future, no longer stunted in its growth by an insidious ethnocentrism.
This view was not altered by my later exploration of my African cultural roots during an eighteen-month sojourn in
in 1960 and 1961. My experience in
cleared my vision of whatever negative stereotypes had blurred my understanding of the African background; but it also strengthened my conviction that I was of the New World, irrevocably bound to the destiny of my native
The self-image which emerged from my exploration of my roots did not anticipate the intense Black Consciousness which developed in the decade after the publication of Proud Shoes, with its accompanying polarization of the races. It may be that I telescoped history, projecting my vision into the future, leaping over the intervening stages of pluralism and ethnic consciousness.
Yet Proud Shoes and its portrayal of the entanglement of the races is not a unique story. Over more than two centuries, enough criss-crossing of racial lines and recirculation of genes within designated races has occurred to make the notion of racial purity a highly questionable biological concept for many future Americans. Multi-racial origins of both blacks and whites are realities; they may be ignored but not wholly discounted. The acceptance of the possibility of relatedness would do much to defuse the highly charged discussions on race. Ultimately, it might help to ease the transition to a more humane society.
Throughout (my) early struggles my grandmother’s tradition was always in the background: her acceptance of her relatedness to the dominant class and race; her view of her own life as a symbol of the possibility of reconciliation between races and classes, however fragmentary the symbol may have seemed.”