Freedom's Child: The Life of a Confederate General's Black Daughter

Overview

When Carrie Allen McCray was a child, she was afraid to ask about the framed photograph of a white man on her mother's dresser. Years later she learned that he was her grandfather, a Confederate general, and that her grandmother was a former slave. In her late seventies, Carrie McCray went searching for her history and found the remarkable story of her mother, Mary, the illegitimate daughter of General J. R. Jones, of Lynchburg, Virginia. Jones would later be cast out of Lynchburg society for publicly recognizing...

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Overview

When Carrie Allen McCray was a child, she was afraid to ask about the framed photograph of a white man on her mother's dresser. Years later she learned that he was her grandfather, a Confederate general, and that her grandmother was a former slave. In her late seventies, Carrie McCray went searching for her history and found the remarkable story of her mother, Mary, the illegitimate daughter of General J. R. Jones, of Lynchburg, Virginia. Jones would later be cast out of Lynchburg society for publicly recognizing his daughter. FREEDOM'S CHILD is a loving remembrance of how Mary spent her life beating down the kind of thinking that ostracized her father. She was a leader in the founding of the NAACP and hosted the likes of Langston Hughes and W.E.B. Du Bois as they plotted the war against discrimination at her kitchen table. Carrie McCray's memories reward us with an extraordinarily vivid and intimate portrait of a remarkable woman. "Highly recommended for all readers."—Library Journal, hot pick; "I defy anyone to finish FREEDOM'S CHILD without a tear in their eye, a sense of meeting a great spirit, and an inspiration to act with generosity and justice."—Gloria Steinem; A BOOK-OF-THE-MONTH CLUB and QUALITY PAPERBACK BOOK CLUB SELECTION.

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Editorial Reviews

Kirkus Reviews
McCray's loving tribute to her mother chronicles one woman's battle for racial equality from Reconstruction to the Depression. That Mary Allen was born in 187? of a white Confederate general and a black housekeeper was not so remarkable in the Old South; that her white father claimed his black offspring was. General John Jones took his light-skinned daughter out for ice cream (treatment denied his darker-skinned son) and paid for her college education. This devotion likely cost him a place in the Confederate pantheon. Ironically, the general (and the ex-slave uncle who raised Mary after her mother's death) instilled the redoubtable confidence and fortitude that fueled Mary's lifelong battle for "full freedom" for blacks. She succeeded her late first husband, Gregory Hayes, as president of Virginia Seminary and later founded NAACP chapters in Virginia and Montclair, NJ, where she moved with her second husband. McCray remembers her childhood home abuzz with early NAACP leaders like W.E.B. DuBois and James Weldon Johnson, Harlem Renaissance writers like Sterling Brown and Countee Cullen, and "Thursday people," blacks who visited on their traditional day off from jobs as domestics in white households. Drawing on family memories, stories told by the poet and longtime family friend Anne Spencer, and from the Library of Congress's NAACP archives, McCray fashions an episodic, novelistic portrait of her mother. Some of the invented conversations that bridge gaps in the reported record are stilted and preachy, but McCray largely succeeds in creating a forceful testament to her mother's strength in the fight against discrimination. Though she regularly locked horns with theater managers, schoolprincipals, and even US presidents, no incident illustrates Mary's strength of character more than her persistence in speaking daily to a white neighbor, who eventually accepted Mary as her best friend. Such attention to small, everyday details makes this intimate familial memoir more affecting than third-person history. (Author tour)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781565121867
  • Publisher: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill
  • Publication date: 1/28/1998
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,442,263
  • Product dimensions: 6.34 (w) x 9.26 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Carrie Allen McCray was born in 1913 in Lynchburg, Virginia, the ninth of ten children. She moved with her family to Montclair, New Jersey in 1920 and stayed there until her high school graduation. McCray earned her BA from Talladega College in Talladega, Alabama and her MSW from New York University. She was married first to Scott Young, with whom she had one son. Her second husband was the late South Carolina journalist and civil and political rights activist, John H. McCray. Carrie McCray's career-long commitment to social activism has reached far and wide. She served as the Director of Health Services in the Essex County Tuberculosis League from 1940—65, and from 1940 she was a social worker in New York City and the Director of Psychiatric Services at Sheltering Arms Children's Agency in Brooklyn. In 1960, she and a group of professors in the Department of Social Work at Talledega College organized the Pulliam Street Center in Talladega, Alabama. Governor Brewer of Alabama appointed McCray to work on the Alabama Youth Commission. She received the Social Worker of the Year Award from the National Association of Social Workers and the United Negro College Fund's Teacher of the Year award in 1976. She retired from her position as Associate Professor of Social Work and Sociology at Talladega College in 1979. Though she wrote scholarly articles and some short stories and poems over the years, it was not until she reached age seventy-three that McCray began writing "seriously." Since reaching that landmark a decade ago, her work has been published in numerous publications, including Ms., The South Carolina Collection, The River Styx, The Squaw Review, Cave Canem I, and in Gloria Steinem's 1994 book, Moving Beyond Words. One of her short stories, published in John A. William's Beyond the Angry Black and several of her poems were used in a theater production by Luna Stage in Montclair, New Jersey. Among her many public appearances have been readings at the Charleston Spoleto Festival and on NPR's All Things Considered. Since retiring, McCray begins to write at 5 A.M. each day. She keeps busy conducting poetry workshops in schools, mental health centers, and senior centers; serving as a member of the Board of Governors of the South Carolina Academy of Authors; and working on the Social Action Committee and Missions Board at Second Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia. She also finds plenty of time to enjoy the company of her sisters, two grandsons and two great-granddaughters; her birds and dog; and the many friends she visits with regularly. Carrie McCray lives and works in Columbia, South Carolina.

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