Two Brothers, A Kidnapping, and A Mother's Quest : A True Story of the Jim Crow South

eBook - 2016
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A true story of two albino African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a decades-long struggle to find them and to get justice for her family. The year was 1899, and the old people told the story: the place, a sweltering tobacco community in the Jim Crow South called Truevine, where everyone they knew was either a former slave or a child or grandchild of slaves. Though the narrative of George and Willie Muse has been passed down for over a century, no writer has ever gotten this close to the beating heart of their story and its mysteries: Were they really kidnapped and put into servitude by the circus? How did their mother, a black maid toiling under the harsh restrictions of segregation, bring them home? And why, after getting there, would they ever want to go back? At the height of their fame, the Muse brothers performed for British royalty and headlined more than a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were fine musicians and global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success hinged on the color of their skin and on the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even 'Ambassadors from Mars." Beth Macy is a master chronicler of life in the South, and her exclusive interviews and sources make for a riveting American story about race, greed, and a mother's love. These were two little boys born in a brutal time, sharecropping a field in the segregated South, stolen away by a white man offering candy, and set on a path of events that would forever change their lives--and their family's destiny.--Adapted from dust jacket.
Publisher: New York : Little, Brown and Company, 2016
Edition: First edition
ISBN: 9780316337533
Characteristics: 1 online resource (432 pages) : illustrations (some color), map

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PimaLib_NormS May 18, 2017

“Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother’s Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South” by Beth Macy is a fascinating look at the story of George and Willie Muse, who were sideshow freaks for various carnivals and circuses from 1914 to the 1960’s. “Truevine” is not a full-on biography of the brothers, it is more the tale of a poor African-American family in the South, using the story of George and Willie as a prism. According to family lore, 9-year-old George and 6-year-old Willie were working in a tobacco field, when a white bounty hunter for a circus snatched them up and took them away. Why? The boys were albinos. Their skin was very white, they had watery blue eyes, and straw colored hair, with African-American features. In that time, they were considered freaks and the circuses were always on the lookout for the unfortunate, deformed, and unusual for their freakshows. Sounds deplorable now, but that’s the way it was then. George and Willie were told that their mother, Harriett, had died, and they were not allowed to go home or to see any family members for more than a decade. However, Harriett was not dead and her quest to find her sons is at the heart of “Truevine”. Being poor, black, and female in the 1910's and 1920's, Harriett’s options were terribly limited. But, amazingly, she persevered and the boys were reunited with their family. However, the boys had become men and things had changed. “Truevine” is an interesting, poignant, uncomfortable look at the South, race relations, and circus life a hundred years ago.

ellensix Jan 11, 2017

An amazing true story that takes the shadiness of 1930's freak-show culture and multiplies it by the horrors of institutionalized racism.

Dec 30, 2016

It took me longer to finish it (sorry for the overdue notice!) but it was worth reading. This Non-Fiction book is about two Black brothers during the Jim Crow South era. They were born with a condition called Albinism, which was considered to be unusual during that time because there was very little knowledge on this subject. This genetic condition was difficult on the brothers because they came from a sharecropper family where they had to work out in the fields. The sun was harsh on their skin and eyes. The author explores the theory that they were not in fact kidnapped; there was an "agreement" between their mother Harriet Muse and a man from the circus. This job would somehow provide a better life for the boys instead of working out on the fields. However, this exploited them in many ways: as children (underage), black, and being displayed as "freaks" instead of simply having a rare condition. The circus man was supposedly to keep in touch with their mother, however, he took off and didn't keep in touch nor sent money that the boys earned during their "freak exhibitions" in the circus. The brothers didn't see their mother for about 15 years and thought she might be dead. But she never gave up hope and kept on looking for her sons. At the end, she found them and fought for their legal rights. This was very unusual for a black woman during that era because Black people didn't have equal rights and/or were even killed for challenging or questioning what the white man said. There were legal battles to fight for the rest of the brothers' lives because the circuses they worked with often failed to pay or took off with them instead of keeping in touch. The brothers didn't receive education so they were unable to read/write. But their mother prevailed and made sure her sons weren't taken advantage of with help of a smart white lawyer who was on her side. This is a hard subject to read in some ways because it was not that long ago when people who weren't born "normal" were considered to be freaks and put on display. They didn't have rights and were often abused or taken advantage of. There were many others displayed in those "freak exhibitions" such as giants, dwarves, missing limbs, thin/overweight, etc. They didn't have much rights during that era, however, the circus was a place where they could be "themselves" and earn money instead of struggling in the real world or being put in institutions. But life wasn't always easy in the circus too...


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ellensix Jan 10, 2017

"Discrimination! Why that is exactly what we propose." boasted constitution delegate and future senator Carter Glass when asked whether the new voting restrictions were discriminatory.
The goal, Glass explained , had been "the elimination of every Negro who can be gotten rid of, legally, without materially impairing the strength of the white electorate."
To celebrate the news constitution and the complementary Jim Crow laws that banned the mixing of races in public places, restrooms, trains, and water fountains, municipalities across Virginia planted oak saplings in courthouse squares.

Dec 30, 2016

"When he's ninety-nine, doctors install a pacemaker with a battery designed to last seven years. "God is good to me," he says, again, when the battery keeps ticking beyond seven years, then eight. And so does Willie Muse." p. 323

Dec 30, 2016

..."By sterilization and birth control we might reduce somewhat the proportion of the 'unfit,' and by stimulating births in other quarters we might increase somewhat the proportion of the 'fit.' " p. 273


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