Pearl's Secret: A Black Man's Search for His White Family.
A photograph of a prosperous-looking white gentleman; a family's oral history of a love affair between he and a former slave; a yellowed obituary of the man; and a letter beating his near-deathbed acknowledgement of the existence and parentage of a mixed-race child.
"My Dear Pearl: In looking over my papers in my safe I came across your picture, also your daughter's, and your letter to me dated May 3, 1899. I must acknowledge that you are my daughter and I feel that I have done you a great injustice in not acknowledging the receipt of your letter. If this reaches you, write to me. Your affectionate father, A.J. Beaumont"
The letter to the daughter of Henry's maternal great-great grandmother, Laura Brumley (1850-1932), was from Arthur John Beaumont, an immigrant of English and French ancestry who achieved wealth as a plantation owner in Louisiana.
Separately they did not tell much of a story. Together they had the makings of a good mystery that a trained journalist could not resist solving.
Neil Henry, son of a successful Seattle doctor and a librarian, inherited the mementoes and legends through his mother. As a reporter for The Washington Post and later as a journalism professor at the University of California at Berkeley, he used his skills to weave together the elements.
One of the things he wanted most was to find out if Beaumont also had a "legitimate" white family and what had become of them. (Not to give away the ending, but he does find them in more modest circumstances than he might have imagined. He also finds a warm, if bittersweet, welcome.)
The result of his labors is an intensely intimate autobiography of his own experience of race in largely white environments and a highly detailed account of his genealogical search through courthouses, cemeteries and microfilm.
This text is not a footnoted, scholarly narrative in the tradition of other recent studies of black-white heritage. It is neither researched in the way historians might have done it, nor told in the way they might have written it. It is, however, a heartfelt, candid and painstakingly written essay of one man's search for answers to his own family's racial enigmas. As such, it is a creditable contribution to solving the puzzle of emotions and facts that continue to divide people and nations.
Angela Dodson, a BIBR contributing editor, is an editor and writer who lives in New Jersey.
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|Publication:||Black Issues Book Review|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 1, 2001|
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