Book Review: The House At The End Of The Road

The House At The End Of The Road:  The Story Of Three Generations Of An Interracial Family In The American South, by W. Ralph Eubanks

This book presents the reader with a fascinating examination of a complicated family in rural Southern Alabama and in seeking to overcome it also wrestles with the question of race and identity within contemporary America.  In the early 1900’s, the author’s white grandfather, Jim Richardson, married a mixed-race wife Edna Howell, and the results of that decision have continued to have repercussions throughout the family.  It was not unusual then for white men to have families with black or mixed-race women.  Indeed, Jim’s father had two families, one with his white wife and another with a black mistress in a neighboring town.  That said, the mixed-race families tended to be unacknowledged and swept under the rug, as it were, while only the white family was recognized.  What Jim Richardson did in attempting to recognize and provide for the well-being of his complicated family was a more delicate task and one that represents the difficulties in achieving some sort of racial harmony in contemporary America.  The author himself at times appears to struggle with the implications of what is meant by his own family background.

This book is a short one at about 200 pages in length.  The author begins with a prologue about his slowness in recognize the importance of his mixed-race heritage as he was a proud light-skinned black during the heady days of the civil rights movement.  After that the author talks about the importance of the Alabama ghost town of Prestwick (I) in forming his family history, including the world that was found by his maternal grandparents (1), as well as a discussion of the backgrounds of Jim Richardson (2) and Edna Howell (3), as well as the way that they dealt with their shadowy existence (4) while also seeking to come out of the shadows (5).  The author then discusses his attempts to reach out across the chasm (II) in discussing the importance of his grandfather’s decision (6), the parallel lives and separate legacies of the branches of his family (7), and the lost world of the small-town and rural spaces that allowed for freedom from the racial politics of the day (8).  Finally, the author moves to his discussion of transcendence (III) and the way that people can overcome racial ambiguity (9), move beyond various myths about the past (10), carry on one’s history to the next generation (11) and look at the ambivalence of the history of Alabama in the contemporary world (12), after which there is an epilogue, suggestions for further reading, and acknowledgements.

In many ways, this book is a subtle but powerful slap at the politics of the BLM as much as it is a more direct and less subtle slap at the racial politics of the KKK and other white supremacists.  The author, having married a white woman himself, is the product of many generations of racial admixture and is certainly proud of his black identity.  But at the same time he wants to recognize the importance of his white ancestry and the meaningful aspect of his grandfather’s choice not to merely keep a sub rosa second family through a black mistress but to actually make a home with her as a wife, which was a rare decision and one that was technically illegal in Alabama (and many other states) at the time.  This book is all about the ways in which people are able to move beyond binary categories of black and white to celebrate the complexity of their family backgrounds and acknowledge the elements that combine in their blood and in their background.  How much white blood does it take to be white?  Is one drop of black blood sufficient to make one black and thus some sort of racial elite in contemporary America?  The author would indicate that it is best if we are able to move beyond the binary identities of black and white without rejecting any elements of one’s background, but this is a complex and nuanced task that appears to be beyond the simplistic politics of our time, or any time that has existed so far in our nation’s history.  And that is a great shame.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in American History, Book Reviews, History and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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