1 January 2013

Mildred D. Taylor: The Road to Memphis (1990)

Mildred D. Taylor is sometimes mentioned as a writer of young adult fiction, but this novel certainly doesn't read that way. The Road to Memphis is set in 1941 and belongs to Taylor's Logan family saga, concerning the situation of blacks in mainly rural Mississippi, where they are very much second class citizens in a segregated society, where there are restaurants and toilets strictly for whites and blacks only, and where blacks sit or stand at the back of buses, and the seats at the front are for whites only.

Taylor was born in Jackson, Mississippi in 1943, and although her family moved to the North, as a child she frequently re-visited the South, absorbing the many stories she heard, later incorporating them into her novels, and The Road to Memphis is a fictional representation of archival and family research.

The author painfully depicts a world in which blacks must call whites 'Mr' and are daily forced to accept different kinds of intimidation that whites mete out with (usual) impunity. Jeremy Simms is a young white man who is an exception to these rules, though, as he believes that 'folks are folks', and is generally respected by the black community. Until, that is, he joins his racist cousins the Aames in chasing Harris, who badly breaks his leg as a result. However, Jeremy redeems himself when Moe snaps and beats up the Aames, and he not only hides Moe in his truck but secretly drives him to Jackson, from where he escapes in Stacey Logan's car to Memphis and by train to the safety of Chicago.

But there are no easy endings. There can't be.

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