Priscilla Kipp

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Sixty-seven years after the savage murder of Emmett Till in Mississippi, his cousin still seeks some kind of justice. Haunted by the 1955 hate crime that ignited the civil rights movement, Reverend Wheeler Parker Jr. brings everything and everyone back to life in A Few Days Full of Trouble: Revelations on the Journey to Justice for My Cousin and Best Friend, Emmett Till. The title comes from the Bible—“Mortals, born of woman, are of few days and full of trouble” (Job 14:1, NIV)—and is aptly applied to the short life and violent death of 14-year-old Till, while also ironically relating to the decades of delayed and denied justice that followed.

Till’s murder became international news when his mother, Mamie Till-Mobley, insisted on an open casket at the boy’s funeral, inviting the world to see her mutilated son. People fainted, the press raged—and yet the two white men accused of his murder were soon acquitted by an all-white jury. Not that the men worried about their fate; during their trial, they were allowed to leave their jail cells for supper with their families, carrying guns. Four months later, Look magazine published “The Shocking Story of Approved Killing in Mississippi” by William Bradford Huie, which featured an exclusive interview with Till’s acquitted killers, Roy Bryant and his half brother, J.W. Milam. Milam admitted that they shot Till, tied a gin fan around his neck and rolled him into the river. Their confession earned them $4,000 and had no significant consequences.

Several investigations by the FBI and Department of Justice ensued, hindered by possibly racist politics and questionable sources. In 2017, Timothy Tyson published a bestselling book that contained a quotation from Carolyn Bryant Donham, the white woman who claimed that Till had accosted her at the grocery store, motivating her husband and brother-in-law to pursue and eventually murder Till. In the quote, Donham recanted part of her original story. Or did she? As the Mississippi district attorney worked to confirm the quote in Tyson’s book, evidence of the author’s conversation with Donham vanished—if it ever existed.

Parker, with the help of his co-author, Christopher Benson, takes a hard look at everything that has transpired since 1955, including Parker’s own feelings of guilt. He was there the night Bryant and Milam came for Till, but he survived and went on to become a barber, minister and major force behind the family’s effort to achieve justice and right the record. His is a vivid chronicle of racism in America, an intense read that may make some readers uncomfortable. Perhaps that is the point. 

Anti-lynching bills struggled through Congress for years after Till’s murder. Finally, in March of 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the Emmett Till Antilynching Act, making lynching a federal hate crime. As Benson writes in an afterword, “the work to achieve justice has just begun.”

The story of Emmett Till’s violent death in 1955 is retold by his cousin Wheeler Parker Jr., the force behind decades of attempts to achieve justice and right the record.
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In 1767, Phillis Wheatley arrived in Boston via a slave ship at the age of 7. In the years leading up to the start of the American Revolution in 1775, she became famous across New England and in London for her poetry. For all her talent and influence on the issues of her day, such as abolition, emancipation and revolution, the details of Wheatley’s life are still unknown to many. Award-winning historian David Waldstreicher sets out to change that with his in-depth, engrossing biography, The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley: A Poet’s Journeys Through American Slavery and Independence.

At a time when enslaved—and free—Black people were regarded by many colonists as barely literate “barbarians” and possible threats to Massachusetts’ rebellion against England, Wheatley earned her fame with words. Recognizing her unique ability, Wheatley’s wealthy, white enslavers gave her the time and privacy to write. Her poems, such as “On Being Brought From Africa to America,” were metered, not free verse, and spoke to the intellectual and impassioned Christian beliefs of her times. Wheatley’s elegies for the dead were distributed as broadsides at funerals, and her poems—which managed to praise British soldiers as well as American patriots and abolitionists—were published in newspapers on both sides of the churning political divide. Waldstreicher includes the text of many of Wheatley’s poems, explaining them well for those less familiar with the classical forms she used.

When an enslaved man fled his captors while they were visiting England, the ensuing public and legal controversy revealed the hypocrisy of a group of colonies seeking freedom while allowing slavery to persist. Within this context, Wheatley’s own position was precarious. She often had to prove that a young enslaved Black girl could indeed be a brilliant poet. In 1773, she achieved her emancipation with the help of her many patrons in Boston and England after the publication of her first book—at a time when very few women could get published.

Waldstreicher documents the long, tortuous journeys toward independence for both the poet and the American colonies in The Odyssey of Phillis Wheatley. Along the way, the likes of Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin and Abigail Adams cross Wheatley’s path, and events like the Boston Tea Party and the Boston Massacre feature prominently. This account of Wheatley’s life adds much to the tumultuous Revolutionary chapter of America’s political and racial history.

David Waldstreicher’s engrossing biography of the enslaved poet Phillis Wheatley adds much to the tumultuous Revolutionary chapter of America’s political and racial history.
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Edith Bolling Galt Wilson, the controversial first lady of 28th president Woodrow Wilson, had some impressive predecessors. There was women’s rights advocate Abigail Adams, wife of second president John Adams and mother of sixth president John Quincy Adams. During the War of 1812, Dolley Madison, wife of fourth president James Madison, rescued the nation’s treasured artwork from a burning White House. Edith was also followed by trailblazers, such as Eleanor Roosevelt, whose looming legacies have sometimes left Edith in history’s shadow. With Untold Power: The Fascinating Rise and Complex Legacy of First Lady Edith Wilson, historian Rebecca Boggs Roberts gives Edith her due, demonstrating that, as the first unelected woman to govern the country, Edith has no match.

Like several other first ladies, Edith had little formal education. She came from a Virginia family who had been dispossessed after the Civil War and grew up in a crowded apartment above a general store, which she eventually left for Washington, D.C., where a tall, striking beauty like herself could better shine. When she married Norman Galt, a jewelry business owner, she became his helpmate; when he died, she became a working widow. 

Woodrow lost his first wife, Ellen, soon after taking office in 1913. When he was introduced to Edith, he promptly fell in love. He shared with her every aspect of his work, soon darkened by the looming threat of a world war that many Americans wanted no part of. During those early years of her marriage, Edith knew her place—and how to get around it. When women were not allowed at important White House meetings, she hid in drapes to watch. When a stroke left Woodrow incapacitated shortly into his second term, Edith quietly took over, deciding which pieces of news wouldn’t be too stressful for him, who could visit and how to keep everyone, especially his political enemies and the press, from seeing the truth of the president’s condition.

Untold Power brims with details, from the colors of the signature orchids Edith wore to the troubled corners of Woodrow’s mind after his stroke. Senator Henry Cabot Lodge is there, bent on destroying the president’s obsessive quest for a League of Nations, and sheep populate the White House lawn (one of Edith’s successful—and profitable—wartime ideas). This well-told history, based on sources that are often at odds with Edith’s own memoir, also begs the question: How could so much in the White House have gone unseen and unknown for so long? And, chillingly, could it happen again?

With Untold Power, Rebecca Boggs Roberts gives first lady Edith Wilson her due, demonstrating that, as the first unelected woman to govern the country, Wilson has no match.
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The epigraph at the beginning of Nicole Chung’s vivid memoir A Living Remedy includes a line from Marie Howe’s poem “For Three Days”: “ . . . because even grief provides a living remedy.” As Chung immerses readers in her experience of grief, her powerful words compel us to follow her on a beautiful but difficult journey of loss.

Chung was born prematurely to Korean parents who felt they could not care for such a fragile baby. She wrote about her adoption by a white couple, and her subsequent search for her birth family as she became a mother herself, in her bestselling 2018 memoir, All You Can Ever Know. Now Chung continues her story, returning to the Oregon mountains of her childhood at the moment her beloved adoptive parents’ health began to fail.

Chung’s struggle to be present for her parents as a daughter, while also being a wife and a mother in another city three thousand miles away, will be familiar to many readers. When her father’s health began its slow downward spiral, he was still young enough to seek a better job with better health resources but was stymied by his limited education—and proud enough to resist the government assistance Chung begged him to request. When he finally did, he was denied, falling through the cracks of a broken health care system. By that time, his illness had taken an irreversible toll. Chung’s grief and frustration over his death were fanned by the costly miles between them, but she resolved to do better by her widowed mother. However, Chung’s time with her mother eventually ran out as well, as the gathering storm of the COVID-19 pandemic spread its own brand of pain and panic.

A Living Remedy makes this era of collective grief more personal, as Chung honestly explores her childhood and the lives and deaths of her parents. She gives these hard times a purpose, absorbing them with both fury and compassion, making them part of her own legacy to pass along to her daughters. For her, this is indeed a living remedy.

In Nicole Chung’s memoir about the deaths of her parents, she absorbs hard times with fury and compassion, making the universal experience of grief vividly personal.
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“You must do the thing you think you cannot do,” Eleanor Roosevelt once wrote. In journalist Shannon McKenna Schmidt’s detail-rich and revealing account, The First Lady of World War II: Eleanor Roosevelt’s Daring Journey to the Frontlines and Back, it is abundantly clear that the four-term first lady lived her words. Beginning as a Red Cross volunteer during World War I, and later as President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s wife and widow, she was a powerful voice for pacifism and economic and racial equality. She was derided during her lifetime for her forays into men’s worlds of work and war, but that didn’t stop her from embarking on a perilous journey to visit American troops in the South Pacific during World War II.

The first lady’s 1943 tour started in secret, as an attempt to evade misogynistic criticisms from press and politicians. When the news broke that she was amid the fierce, ongoing war with Japan, she was pilloried. Disdain and skepticism awaited her when she met the military men in command. Admiral “Bull” Halsey said he didn’t have time to entertain a “do-gooder.” General Douglas MacArthur refused to allow her to visit his post in Papua New Guinea. Yet, flying in freezing military planes, often under cover of darkness to avoid detection, Roosevelt visited Hawaii, Australia, New Zealand and 17 islands, including Bora Bora, Christmas Island and Guadalcanal, over the course of five weeks. She went from bed to bed in hospitals, offering to bring messages home to the families of wounded soldiers and letting the troops know she was there because their president wanted to know how they were doing.

What was first viewed as a political stunt soon earned Roosevelt the admiration of Halsey and others, many of whom couldn’t keep up with her. She ate with the enlisted men, slept in huts, took cold showers and wrote it all down in her syndicated news column, “My Day.” In New Zealand and Australia, she visited factories and farms where women did the work that men were no longer available for. She wore a Red Cross uniform she paid for herself, just as she funded her entire trip. While some people back in America groused that Roosevelt should “stay at home, where a wife belongs,” the troops she met with gushed, “She’s just like your mother, isn’t she?”

After witnessing firsthand the horrific combat conditions for servicemen in the South Pacific theater, Roosevelt became a force for improving their lives as veterans. The GI Bill of Rights would help prevent the shameful treatment and broken promises that World War I veterans had endured. Roosevelt’s role as a delegate in the nascent United Nations also had its roots in this journey, which continued to haunt her throughout her life. As Schmidt powerfully conveys, it was a trip that changed many lives, especially Roosevelt’s.

Shannon McKenna Schmidt’s detail-rich and revealing The First Lady of World War II follows Eleanor Roosevelt on her perilous journey to visit American troops in the South Pacific.
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The appalling history of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre in Oklahoma is becoming better known, albeit a century later. But journalist Victor Luckerson understands that what happened following those horrific events, as the survivors persevered and rebuilt, is also an important part of this history. In his debut book, Built From the Fire, Luckerson tells the story of the massacre, the people who restored the Greenwood district of Tulsa after that violent night in 1921, and their descendants who continue to fuel and inspire change.

The book is divided into three parts as Luckerson chronicles the last century of Greenwood’s history. Part 1 recounts the district’s beginnings circa 1901, when a segregated slice of oil-rich Tulsa became a destination for Black Americans looking for a future that the Jim Crow South would not deliver. But hope dimmed after the widespread race riots of 1919’s “Red Summer.” Black soldiers returning from World War I, where racism in the military meant menial assignments and segregated units, found that their service also failed to earn them equality at home. Yet Greenwood prospered, with movie theaters, dance halls, restaurants, hotels and a newspaper with a distinctly Black voice.

Luckerson fills every page with humanity distilled from his prodigious research. For example, there’s Dick Rowland, a young Black worker who got caught in a malfunctioning elevator with a white girl on May 30, 1921, the day before the massacre. She screamed, and he was almost lynched. Loula Williams, a successful Black entrepreneur, escaped the mob the night of May 31 but lost almost everything she had built—and later lost her mind. Prominent community member J.H. Goodwin diverted white terrorists from his home possibly because he passed for white.

During the night, Greenwood’s thriving businesses were reduced to smoking rubble. White rioters, including many citizens who were spontaneously deputized as policemen, stormed into the area and dragged people from their homes, shot them in the street and burned everything in their path. Planes even dropped explosives as they flew low over fleeing families. Luckerson holds nothing back in this description of hell, so terrifying that for years, survivors kept silent and such lurid history went untaught. But this, as Luckerson makes clear, was only the beginning.

Part II follows Greenwood’s survivors as they began the daunting task of salvaging, rebuilding and fighting back. Their descendants reclaimed the city’s entrepreneurial spirit while becoming civil rights activists and adamant reformers. Part III brings Greenwood into the still-turbulent present, as Goodwin’s great-granddaughter Regina, a Democratic state representative, pursues a relentless legislative quest for justice. As the search for the massacre’s mass graves continues, recovery from the gentrifying urban-renewal wrecking ball of the 1970s makes progress and demands for reparations intensify, Luckerson’s point is clear: Greenwood is alive again.

Victor Luckerson’s Built From the Fire documents what happened following the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921, centering the survivors who persevered and rebuilt.
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Investigative journalist and award-winning author Rachel Louise Snyder has reported on natural disasters, genocides, wars and social justice issues around the globe. Acclaimed for her seminal 2019 study of domestic violence in America, No Visible Bruises, she turns her focus to her own troubled family history in Women We Buried, Women We Burned, a memoir that is compelling, propulsive, gripping and disturbing in equal measure.

Snyder was 8 when her mother died of breast cancer at age 35. Growing up with her older brother near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Snyder had basked in her Jewish mother’s beauty and love; the loss left her feeling haunted and forever incomplete. Their father soon remarried, moving them near Chicago and immersing the newly blended family into the fervid world of evangelical Christianity. Church, Bible readings, forced hugs and bruising spankings were the remedies for all broken rules, and Snyder eventually rebelled in every way she could. 

Snyder was kicked out of her house at age 16, and her path from a homeless teenager to a college professor—one who, in her work as a journalist, has borne witness to women’s victimization across the world—is a journey worth following. It began when Snyder spent a semester of college traveling internationally by boat, funded in part by her mother’s brother. Though she had never left America before, she ended up visiting Japan, China, South Africa, India and Kenya with other college students. Along the way, she discovered that several of her fellow students had also lost a parent, and she wondered if that made them all more curious about simply being alive. 

Later, Snyder’s years living in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, where the Khmer Rouge’s legacy of genocide still silently throbbed between generations, provided another education altogether. She describes the pulsing monsoon rains, the never-ending search for soldiers gone missing during the Vietnam War and the geckos climbing her apartment walls with a precision that makes even her most everyday observations vividly alive.

With the birth of her daughter, Snyder was able to reach a deeper understanding—and a sharper judgment—of her father and stepmother. The life she builds from this new wisdom is another kind of journey, one equally worth following.

The award-winning author of No Visible Bruises turns her focus to her troubled family history in a memoir that is compelling, propulsive, gripping and disturbing.
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“Rough sleepers” are homeless people who mostly choose to sleep on the streets rather than in indoor shelters. Their death rates are staggering, their health needs endless, their fates often in the hands of people who struggle to know what to do with them. However, there are some people whose mission is to care for rough sleepers, doing work that is both lifesaving and extremely frustrating. With a straightforward scrutiny that somehow sees, describes and reveals without flinching or judging, Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder offers a long, hard look at the lives of people without housing in Rough Sleepers: Dr. Jim O’Connell’s Urgent Mission to Bring Healing to Homeless People.

As a writer, Kidder is intensely immersive. In Mountains Beyond Mountains, he traveled with Dr. Paul Farmer to observe groundbreaking health care work around the world. In Rough Sleepers, Kidder documents the three years he spent with the team that cares for Boston’s homeless population, making rounds with Dr. Jim O’Connell in his van late into the night. They treated people on the street or got them into hospitals and clinics to receive care. They offered blankets and food. They listened. Kidder was given deep access to their world—to the shelters, clinics, emergency rooms, hidden hangouts—and to the life of the man leading these efforts, fondly known by his many patients as Dr. Jim.

Readers also meet some of the people who live without homes in Boston in Rough Sleepers. There’s Tony Colombo, who spends his days at a respite house helping residents and staff and his nights on the street getting into trouble. Tony’s friend BJ, having lost both legs, needs constant help keeping upright in his wheelchair. Joanne Guarino is maintaining her sobriety after 30 years on the street and remains a regular guest speaker at Harvard Medical School, where she compels students to treat homeless people with compassion.

Dr. Jim and his team are the inspiring center of Kidder’s book. Now in his 70s, the Harvard-trained physician is still the city’s “street doctor,” sustaining and nurturing relationships with society’s most marginalized and vulnerable people. He realizes his work has come at the cost of his own family life and wryly compares himself to Sisyphus. His colleagues also grapple with the personal toll such vigilant care takes. Still, they see themselves as merely necessary, not heroic. In Rough Sleepers, Kidder begs to differ.

With a straightforward scrutiny that reveals without judging, Pulitzer Prize winner Tracy Kidder offers a long, hard look at the lives of homeless people.
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Sam Heughan, known to legions of fans as Jamie Fraser in the popular TV show based on Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander series, recently decided it was time to walk the rigorous West Highland Way in Scotland, a long-distance hiking trail that runs from north of Glasgow to Fort William in the Scottish Highlands. He wanted a solitary challenge and a pause in the acting career he has worked tirelessly at, and packing 96 miles into five days seemed like it would provide the right combination of endurance and introspection. In his remarkable, thought-provoking memoir, Waypoints: My Scottish Journey, he welcomes readers along for the journey.

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Before Heughan stepped out the door onto the West Highland Way, he was a runner, not a walker. Marathons, yes; walking slowly, not his thing. His camping and hiking experiences were limited; he even thought hiking poles were “cumbersome” and almost threw them away once he hit the trail. His overstuffed rucksack, complete with whiskey and cigars, weighed him down. The rain in late October almost ruined him on the second day, and he soon chose comfortable wayside inns over his tent. But he was nearing his 40th birthday (making him the same age as the Way) and, despite these challenges, felt it was simply time he got this done.

Bracketing Heughan’s journey is an account of his visit to his dying father in faraway British Columbia, Canada. The man was a stranger who abandoned his family long ago, but Heughan and his brother felt nonetheless compelled to offer a goodbye. Once they arrived, Heughan was stunned to learn that his father had been following his acting career all along. He recorded their visit on his phone, but later, back on the set of “Outlander,” the phone vanished. It was, he writes, “a fitting epitaph.”

The award-winning actor, author, philanthropist and entrepreneur offers plenty of details of his walk to Fort William, including a daunting hike up Ben Nevis, the highest mountain in the United Kingdom. Along the way, Heughan has a clear, precise and entertaining style. He is a funny man, and his encounters with roaming sheep, other hikers and clusters of mushrooms are wonderfully comic. 

If Waypoints were merely about Heughan’s walk, it would be delightful, instructive and enticing. But this is a memoir, after all, and it is his reflection on his life and work, interspersed with the challenges and discoveries of the Way, that lend his story heft and grit.

“Outlander” star Sam Heughan’s reflections on his life and work add heft and grit to his memoir about walking the West Highland Way in Scotland.
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When award-winning British journalist Simon Parkin (A Game of Birds and Wolves) dug through the National Archives in London looking for a story idea, he literally found one: A newspaper called The Camp was mistakenly folded between some pages. Produced by German and Austrian internees at a camp for “enemy aliens” during World War II, the newspaper revealed details about a time and place discreetly buried within a shameful chapter of England’s fight against the Nazis. The Island of Extraordinary Captives: A Painter, a Poet, an Heiress, and a Spy in a World War II British Internment Camp brings to light a truly extraordinary example of humanity at its best and worst in a country at war, sometimes with itself.

With copious and often heart-wrenching detail, Parkin brings this interlude back to life through the experiences of those imprisoned in Hutchinson camp on the Isle of Man and their thwarted yet persistent rescuers. In 1938, Peter Fleischmann, a Jewish teenager thought to be an orphan, escaped Berlin via the legendary Kindertransport train and landed in England. Then, in 1940, he was arrested. Suspected of (but never charged with) being a Nazi spy, he was released, then arrested again, as British fears about refugees intensified. Thousands of people, young and old, Jews and Nazi sympathizers alike, were deported or imprisoned in camps on the Isle of Man in the Irish Sea. 

In Hutchinson camp, the arts were encouraged as an antidote to anxiety and despair, enabling imprisoned painters, composers, journalists, scholars, poets, sculptors and musicians to create “Hutchinson University.” There, Fleischmann flourished. He and many others—such as his mentor, Dadaist pioneer Kurt Schwitters—would later excel in their fields.

Justice seekers like Bertha Bracey of the Germany Emergency Committee kept pressure on the government to end the misbegotten idea of mass internment, but Prime Minister Winston Churchill defended it as a necessary wartime protection. “Most regrettable and deplorable things have happened,” Sir John Anderson said in an address to Parliament in 1940. It was as close as England ever came to an apology.

In addition to the prison newspaper, Parkin’s primary sources include firsthand accounts of the tragic sinking of the SS Andora Star, an ill-equipped former cruise ship that deported hundreds of “enemy aliens” to Canada and was attacked by a German U-boat, and interviews with internees’ friends and descendants. It is a cautionary yet inspiring tale, one that bears remembering.

Simon Parkin brings the shameful history of British internment camps during World War II to life in The Island of Extraordinary Captives.
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Angelina Grimke and her sister Sarah were the white daughters of South Carolina slaveholder John Faucheraud Grimke and his cruel wife, Polly. When the sisters fled the South and, as Quakers, sought redemption for their family’s racist ways, they became celebrated 19th-century abolitionists and women’s rights activists, blazing a trail through the turbulent antebellum Northeast with speeches, writings and protests against America’s “original sin” of slavery. This story looms large in the popular American imagination, but in The Grimkes: The Legacy of Slavery in an American Family, Tufts University historian Kerri K. Greenidge reveals a counternarrative—one of a complex, conflicted Black and white Grimke family that was often at odds with their country, their own progeny and themselves.

Following the Civil War, white mobs in Charleston, Philadelphia and New York City torched Black homes and churches, lynching people with impunity as they fought to keep the institution of slavery alive. Greenidge unflinchingly relays the horrors that Black Americans endured before the Civil War and during the days of Reconstruction. She also reveals that, during this latter period, the Grimke sisters overlooked their own Black nephews until the boys’ mother, Nancy, who was enslaved by the Grimkes’ brother, begged for help.

The stories of Nancy’s sons—Archie, Frank and John—and their entanglements with their famous white aunts in the postbellum North are rich with ironies. The aunts’ often ambivalent support helped Archie through Harvard Law School and Frank at Princeton Theological Seminary, but there were odd strings attached. For example, the young men had to abstain from flashy clothes and avoid any familiarity with the “negro masses” struggling beneath them. Later, as part of the “colored elite” of the Gilded Age, ​​Archie mingled with Black leaders such as Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. Du Bois. But these relationships did little to influence Archie’s work as consul to the Dominican Republic and his racist treatment of Black workers there.

Greenidge bookends this history with moments from the life of another Angelina Grimke in the 20th century: Archie’s daughter, Angelina Weld Grimke, who was abandoned by her white mother. Family members despaired over her immodest dress and, later, her impassioned voice as a celebrated playwright and poet. Her stories, as well as her ancestors’, belong in the wider Grimke history. Now, thanks to Greenidge’s provocative and well-written account, they are.

Kerri K. Greenidge complicates the accepted history of the abolitionist Grimke sisters with the full, complex story of their Black and white relatives.

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