Sweeter the Juice

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Growing up in Connecticut in the 1940s and 1950s, the daughter of a prominent black Baptist minister, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip enjoyed a position of privilege and security in her identity that for many years she took for granted. For her mother, Margaret, and the rest of the Morris family, fair skin had been a double-edged legacy, a contrast to the Reverend Taylor's dark, proud, and successful clan. Light enough to "pass," Margaret's father and surviving siblings, descendants of an Irish immigrant and a mulatto ...
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Growing up in Connecticut in the 1940s and 1950s, the daughter of a prominent black Baptist minister, Shirlee Taylor Haizlip enjoyed a position of privilege and security in her identity that for many years she took for granted. For her mother, Margaret, and the rest of the Morris family, fair skin had been a double-edged legacy, a contrast to the Reverend Taylor's dark, proud, and successful clan. Light enough to "pass," Margaret's father and surviving siblings, descendants of an Irish immigrant and a mulatto slave, had disappeared into the white world, abandoning her and cutting themselves off from their tangled roots. Shirlee grew to adulthood moving easily between the black world and the white, but with an unfulfilled dream of discovering what had become of her mother's family. As Margaret approached eighty, her daughter determined to realize that dream. What she unearthed in dusty archives, letters, journals, and other records, is a tale of journeys - physical, emotional, racial, and social - that continues even today. Across the boundaries of race and time, the story spans six generations of both sides of Shirlee's family, ranging form Ireland, North Carolina, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., to Connecticut, New York, Ohio, the Virgin Islands, and finally California. There, with the help of a private detective, Shirlee tracked down her mother's only surviving sibling and reunited two sisters - one who called herself white and the other who called herself blackafter seventy-six years. She also uncovered a history of desertion, redemption, and betrayal set in motions by the charged, complicated meaning that color has carried in our society. The different choices the members of her multihued family made, and the different lives each of them led as a result, raise questions of identity and allegiance common to us all.

Haizlip's timely and provocative memoir tells the story of her seach for her mother's family, which passed for white, setting it against her father's successful black family. Tracking the origins of both families, she finally reunites two sisters--one "white, " the other "black"--after 76 years.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
``All America is in me,'' writes the author, whose heritage combines black, white and Indian forebears. Her effort to untangle her family history makes for an absorbing, if sometimes convoluted, American saga. Although Haizlip, who was born in 1937, grew up comfortably in Connecticut as the daughter of a Baptist minister, her mother's rejection by her own white father left an enduring wound on both mother and daughter. The author uses a rich mixture of records, interviews and memory to trace her family tree and along the way offers vignettes that illustrate America's historic racial divide: one white-looking relative became the first Washington, D.C., black police officer, albeit unbeknownst to the police department; an aunt living as a black denied her blood tie to her white-skinned niece to spare the young woman difficulties. Haizlip's own story includes satisfying, if isolated, years studying at Wellesley, her marriage to Harvard graduate student Harold Haizlip and subsequent integration into New York City life, and her search for her estranged maternal relatives. At the end, Haizlip, now living in Los Angeles, finds and attains an awkward reunion with her mother's ``white'' sister, who ``had no colored memories at all.'' This memoir will confront readers with resonant questions about identity. Photos not seen by PW . Doubleday Book Club and Literary Guild alternates. (Jan.)
Library Journal
In Haizlip's dramatic account of her search for her mother's multiracial family, race is less a matter of genetic endowment than of social and psychological perceptions. Her mother and her mother's siblings could all pass for white; Haizlip recounts their differing choices with considerable narrative force. The life-long consequences of these decisions, combined with vivid details of her family's success in claiming position and power in a race-conscious society, and above all, the emotional pain caused by the conflicting perceptions of race, give this account an almost novelistic quality. We learn of Haizlip's numerous prominent positions in public service and the media. In the final analysis, Haizlip raises the issue of identity itself--who is black and who is white? How do we know, and what does it mean? Highly recommended for all Americans desiring to come to terms with who we are.-- Marie L. Lally, Alabama Sch . of Mathematics & Science, Mobile
Kirkus Reviews
A provocative memoir that goes to the heart of our American identity as Haizlip (owner of a public-relations firm), while searching for her mother's family—blacks who passed for whites—confronts the deeply intertwined but often suppressed tensions between race and skin color. From childhood, Haizlip was aware of her mother's underlying melancholia, and as Margaret Taylor neared her 80th birthday, her daughter decided to find the family that the woman had lost when, at age four, she'd been left in the care of her darker-skinned relatives. The beautiful, alabaster-skinned Margaret had grown up to be ostracized because she was identified with the black side of the family—the side her own siblings chose to ignore by passing as white. "I am a black woman, but many of you would never know it, my skin is as light as that of an average white person," Haizlip observes, raising the delicate question of pigmentocracy among blacks as she traces her family's roots. These include Martha Washington; an Irish grandmother; Native Americans; and a white indentured servant. The author notes that some geneticists claim that 95% of "white" Americans have varying degrees of black heritage, while 75% of African-Americans have at least one white ancestor. But Haizlip's memoir is more than a lesson in genealogy or race: It's also a family story, with memorable heroes, heroines, and villains. The author contrasts the Dickensian horrors of her mother's early life with the relatively idyllic childhood she enjoyed as the daughter of a prominent Baptist minister, and covers her own education at Wellesley; her marriage and professional life; and the happy outcome of her search—the reunitingof her mother and her remaining siblings. Finally, Haizlip admits to having "grown less certain about the vagaries of race...more cautious in labeling or pigeonholing others." A moving tale of family sorrows and secrets—as well as a courageous and candid search for the truth, however painful it might be. (Sixteen pages of b&w photos—not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780830035397
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 12/2/1993
  • Pages: 271

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