Southern slaveholders and their descendants harvest thorns with their fruit. The tangles that begin with active participation in slavery tend to linger from generation to generation.
The author, troubled when she discovers that her white Southern ancestors owned many black slaves, sets out to search her family history. She visits her Southern relatives, pores over public documents and private letters, studies books on Southern culture, and reflects deeply upon her own past. Impressions and emotions flood over her as she grapples with her evolving ideas during this tenaciously investigative memoir.
The author discovers that the family tree can be the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, with their intertwining mysteries. In writing story after story, and thought upon thought, she is undergoing a journey of the mind into human nature at its worst and best. Her expedition Into the Briar Patch uncovers the complex moral psychology of a family passing through five generations. From the twists and turns of her family history, the author brings to light some new ideas about the roots of racism, the interplay of culture and soul, and the lasting repercussions of family and race relationships over time.
|Product dimensions:||6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.81(d)|
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Long before family historians begin formal research, they pass through an informal stage of inquiry. This casual phase, in which an outwardly passive child or adolescent absorbs lore handed down through the generations, is nearly universal. Most of us do it at one time or another. In some cases, that child or adolescent ponders those stories and formulates, over the years, a surprisingly pointed series of questions and tentative answers. Then comes the formal research and, if we’re lucky, an astute and graceful account of one family’s origins. In Mariann Regan’s case, we’ve been lucky. Her memoir Into the Briar Patch explores the legacy of slaveholding as it plays out in one American family. Mariann--we’ve become friendly through our blogs and on Twitter, so I’ll use her first name here--opens her story with an account of a catastrophic fire that tore through the family home in 1915. Her mother, then an infant, was thrust into the arms of her seven-year-old sister Ansie, who ran from the flames, carrying the infant to safety. Save the baby, the adults cried, save the baby, and Saving the Baby becomes thereafter a recurring metaphor in Mariann’s chronicle. Mariann pursues this theme through the labyrinth of her family history. The metaphorical baby being saved varies with each episode. We witness strenuous, even heroic, efforts to save the family farm, wayward children, individual reputations, and the family’s collective self-concept. Baby-saving becomes an endless task for this family, which seems fundamentally compromised by its slaveholding past. In Mariann’s view, America’s odious trade in human beings had far-reaching effects, not only on its practitioners and victims, but also on their descendants. Among the practitioners, guilt and fear were the chief burdens--guilt arising from an awareness of slavery’s intrinsic immorality, fear from a realization that numerically superior blacks could, if aroused, easily wipe out their white overseers. These two primal emotions lead to an endless and contradictory search for expiation and justification, as well as a need to display courage and cultivate physical strength. Mariann’s research is impressive. Drawing on historical accounts, courthouse records, family papers, interviews, and correspondence, she traces the lives of her forebears as they wrestle with their complex family legacy. We meet strong-willed landowners and sharecroppers, an intrepid sheriff’s deputy, a missionary, teachers, and doctors. Augmenting her research with insightful analysis, Mariann draws on the writings of Montaigne, Alice Miller, Langston Hughes, Henry Louis Gates, and others to sketch an insightful and compelling theory of white racism and black resistance. These last two qualities are in the end the most gratifying. While some writers and readers may see the memoir as a vehicle for catharsis, there is something overrated about blowing your stack, or having it blown for you. With her mix of deep research and keen analysis, scrupulous honesty and emotional restraint, my friend Mariann has created a moving account of one family’s experience with America’s peculiar institution.
What do you do when you find unspeakable things in your family history? How do you handle the accurate reporting of what happened? It’s easy to judge others, but I think a fundamental key to really reconstructing your ancestors’ lives is to not judge them. It’s paramount to take a step back from your emotional reaction, and walk in their shoes for a little while. To do this does not mean you approve of everything your ancestors did in their lifetimes, but it allows you to freely explore as much as you can of their lives. In doing this, a researcher can get a more accurate picture of the conditions in which your ancestors lived in and the circumstances in which they went through. In her book, Into the Briar Patch: A Family Memoir, Mariann S. Regan does a superb job dealing with difficult family history issues. At the beginning of her book, she promises the reader that she will be objective with all information she finds, and she lives up to that promise. She delves into all family relationships she encounters in her family tree and shows the reader the complexities of family relationships. Additionally, Mariann explores her ancestors who were slaveholders, and gives the reader a glimpse as to the repercussions of slaveholding on her family tree and the relationships contained therein. As we’ve seen in several episodes of Who Do You Think You Are? and in the first two episodes of Finding Your Roots, it is not easy for descendants to learn their ancestors were slaves nor is it easy for descendants to learn their ancestors were slaveholders. And I believe in her memoir Mariann takes it past her emotional reaction and carefully looks at her slaveholding ancestors - not to condone the actions - but to fully understand the influence these actions have had on her family tree. I highly recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who have come across unspeakable circumstances and actions in their family history research, and especially to those who have come across ancestors who were slaveholders. Not only does she give a great example as to how to explore this difficult issue, but her "Works Cited and Selected Bibliography" might be helpful to the researcher as well.