Family trauma—even inherited trauma—can take a tremendous toll on children. But as Bakari Sellers makes plain in My Vanishing Country, family trauma can also be a source of strength.
Sellers’ story is remarkable. When he was 22, he unseated a 26-year incumbent to become the youngest legislator in South Carolina. In that role, he championed policies addressing rural poverty, including access to health care and improved educational opportunities. He became a CNN political analyst in the wake of the mass shooting at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, and today he is a successful attorney. These accomplishments required persistence and resilience.
In My Vanishing Country, Sellers beautifully evokes the South Carolina low country, the haunted landscape of his childhood, to explain how its backbreaking poverty and history of relentless racism molded him. But the greatest influence on his life was an event that occurred years before he was born, when his father, Cleveland Sellers, was imprisoned on trumped-up charges for his role in the Orangeburg Massacre.
The fact that many people have not heard of the Orangeburg Massacre is in itself an excellent reason to read My Vanishing Country. Sellers meticulously recounts how and why eight South Carolina highway patrol officers fired upon a crowd of black student protesters at South Carolina State University, killing three students and wounding 27 others. The massacre affected every member of the Sellers family, including the yet-unborn Bakari. Though they each still bear the painful effects of that event, their trauma has also become a source of power—the power to endure tragedy and achieve their goals.
My Vanishing Country is more than a memoir. It’s a loving celebration of a father’s gift of fortitude and determination to his son.