Wednesday, October 26, 2011

The Grace of Silence by Michele Norris

The Grace of Silence. A Family Memoir by Michele Norris

Every family keeps secrets that are hidden from the next generation.  Whether intentional or not, some secrets are stories that never get told. These stories may explain or define who we are but stay hidden beneath layers of memory.

Michele Norris started out writing a book to explore hidden conversations about race and what she found were painful secrets her parents kept hidden from their children. This is Michele's journey to unearth the secrets of her past and find meaning and grace in her parent's choice to remain silent. 

First Michele introduces us to her family and her life growing up in Minneapolis, Minnesota.  She then tells her grandmother's story and investigates her job as a traveling Aunt Jemima in the Midwest.   Then Norris travels south to Alabama to learn why her father, a World War II veteran, was shot weeks after he arrived home by a white police officer in Birmingham. 

Have you ever traced your family roots?  Have you sat down with the elder generation of your family to ask questions?  Each of us has a family story to tell and a generation of memories that make us who we are.  After reading The Grace of Silence, I thought about the secrets my family has, the ones I've heard, the secrets I've told and the secrets I myself still keep.  And I thought about race.

My grandfather had a secret that he took to his grave and I learned of it 13 years after his death.  My grandfather fought in World War II and was in the 9th Army Air Force.  He was in Belgium, occupying a castle with the Germans about 2 miles away.  There was a bar many of the soldiers frequented during their time off and it was not segregated, so black and white soldiers could drink in the space together.  This was normal for my grandpa because he lived in Minnesota where public places were not segregated.  A fight broke out between a white soldier and a black soldier.  The white soldier pulled out his gun and pointed it at the African American soldier and pulled the trigger.  My grandpa happened to be near the area and I am not sure if he knew either man but he pushed the hand of the soldier with the gun away as the gun fired two shots.  Both shots landed in the ceiling of the bar.  My grandpa took this story, a heroic story in my opinion, to his grave.  Why?

I learned this story from the women whose parents owned that bar in Belgium and who remained one of my grandfather's friends.  My mom and I visited Maggie in 2004, about 13 years after my grandfather's death and she told us this story. 

The Grace of Silence is a book that will get you thinking about race.  Now is the time to take the initiative and start talking about race and break down the barriers and secrets that hold all of us in place.
It is time for change.

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