Assessment by the BookLife Prize
Bell's polished memoir reflects on an interracial marriage in an era before the ban on mixed marriages was deemed unconstitutional. With its uncommon focus, this work shines a light on a tumultuous moment in history and a society on the brink of change.
Bell's prose is evocative and clear. The author writes with grace and authority, telling her story in a manner that is both inviting and edifying. By focusing on the life of a marriage, Bell offers a unique framework for her memoir. Though she maintains this narrow focus, the specific circumstances provide a window into the greater social climate, offering a stark perspective on racism, politics, and cultural change.
The author effectively places her story within its historical context, blending the personal with the universal, while portraying individuals with compassion and circumstances with nuance. Bell's easy and engaging style draws the reader into a story of personal drama inextricably entangled with the background of national turmoil.
ABOUT MIXED MARRIAGE
In 1965, before the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the ban on mixed marriages was unconstitutional, in many states it was a crime to marry "outside your race." And less than 1% of Americans chose to commit that crime. This is the story of how I came to defy that ridiculous law.
It was the sixties. Everything was changing. People were demanding freedom of every kind. Freedom from racism, from the war in Vietnam, from sexism, from police brutality, from college courses that ignored the achievements of everyone except those of European descent. So, why not, also, the freedom to marry whomever you choose?
Essay topics include abortion in "Choosing a Life in the Dark Age"; healing in "For Love of a Child"; aging in "Looking Forward with Aging Grace"; racism in "The Help: How to Comfort Whites"; white supremacy in "The Big White Lie"; and triumphing over racism in "Not All Black People Are Poor, Not All Poor People Are Black."
"I want to thank you for your writing and advice. I've found the essays personally very interesting and helpful. I also thought many of the [essays] were inspiring and funny.... It's a wonderful book." Jennifer Deam
A coming-of-age memoir that confronts race and gender issues in middle America during the pre-Civil Rights era.
“Janet Cheatham Bell's beautifully written memoir is both a tender meditation on her close-knit midwestern black family and a searing indictment of the mid-twentieth century racism that circumscribed their lives. Her spirit and resilience—as she grows from depression-era toddler to confident civil rights era woman—will keep you captivated and cheering. This coming of age tale has universal appeal and should be required reading for all Indiana high school students.”
A'Lelia Bundles, author of On Her Own Ground:
The Life and Times of Madam C. J. Walker, and Madam Walker's great-great granddaughter