Pauli Murray mural in her hometown of Durham, North Carolina This book is a hidden gem: the biography of a mixed-race family around the time of the Civil War. It was published well before its time in 1956 there wasnt much interest in African-American family sagas but it is well-written and fascinating in part because this isnt a commonly-told story.
Even without the local connections, our book club agreed Proud Shoes should be required reading for Americans--it really is that rich, powerful, and informative.
It's mostly the story of Murray's grandmother, who had been a slave (and a mistress of the household at the same time), and her grandfather, a scholar and teacher and Civil War veteran. My great-grandfather had been laid to rest there some time before.
Few freedmen had tools in 1865; only the feeling, the urge." (page 168) And this one about the KKK harassing one of the main characters and then beating someone else up was hard to read- "For a while the Ku-Klux Klan disrupted Grandfather's new home. Then they cut off the hair from one side of his head and painted half of his face and shorn head black. A colored man brought him his clothes and his wife met him with his crutches and together they helped him to his house. When he had asked his tormentors what harm he had done they told him, 'Teaching n*ggers.'" (pages 221-223) An enraging history lesson about public education in NC- "It was a time when the idea of a public school system supported by taxes was not popular in North Carolina. The distribution of school funds was removed from control by the state board of education and placed in the hands of the legislature. "Without a proportional system, it was easy to starve the colored schools. The state superintendent of public instruction had no interest in Negro education and stated that he doubted 'any system of instruction will ever lift the African to high spheres of educated mind.'" (pages 233-234) "When Grandfather came south to teach, the little Negro freedmen and the poor white children were more or less on an equal footing, shared an abysmal ignorance and went to log cabin schools. A half century later the crusade against starving the colored schools was a feeble whimper. Each morning I passed white children as poor as I going in the opposite direction on their way to school. Their school was a beautiful red-and-white brick building on a wide paved street. West End looked more like a warehouse than a school. Our seedy run-down school told us that if we had any place at all in the scheme of things it was a separate place, marked off, proscribed and unwanted by the white people. We came to understand that no matter how neat and lea, how law abiding, submissive and polite, how studious in school, how churchgoing and moral, how scrupulous in paying our bills and taxes we were, it made no essential difference in our place." (pages 268-270) On the obsession with color in the early 1900s- It seemed as if there were only two kinds of people in the world - They and We - White and Colored. Brush your hair, child, dont let it get kinky! Dont suck your lips, child, youll make them too n*ggerish! Black is evil, dont mix with mean n*ggers! Black is honest, you half-white bastard. I always said a little black and a little white sure do make a pretty sight! To hear people talk, color, features and hair were the most important things to know about a person, a yardstick by which everyone measured everybody else. From the looks of my family I could never tell where white folks left off and colored folks began. I wondered why some people were called white and some called colored when there were so many colors and you couldn't tell where one left off and the other began." (page 260)
Murray graduated first in her class, but was denied the chance to do further work at Harvard University because of her gender. As a lawyer, Murray argued for civil rights and women's rights. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) Chief Counsel Thurgood Marshall called Murray's 1950 book States' Laws on Race and Color the "bible" of the civil rights movement.