Michele Norris, journalist and writer, appeared at the Unity Temple on September 28 to talk about her memoir, The Grace of Silence. Norris is African-American and her memoir discusses the impact of racism on her family from the perspective of what wasn’t said.
For example, her father never talked about being shot by a Birmingham policeman just after being discharged from the Navy at the end of WWII. Apparently, in 1946, there were many instances of black solders having confrontations with local law enforcement that resulted in injury and death to the solders.
Her father had died before she learned of the incident, so she did not have the opportunity to ask him why he never shared that story, not even with his wife. But Norris believes that part of the reason her parents’ generation kept overtly racist incidents from their children was to “arm the next generation with hope.” They wanted their children to strive for education, good jobs and stable families and not be unduly burdened with anger.
Norris said that when she began to probe into her family’s history, she found that there many secrets about her parents and grandparents. Secrets the older generation did not want to share with her even as an adult. She said, “I had to keep knocking on the door,” to get the stories.
Norris said she believes that anyone, from any ethnic or cultural background, will find something of themselves in her book. Her family’s history is unique and particular but also reflects something universal—the impact of race on the American cultural landscape. She urged her listeners to use their personal experiences as a “starting point for great discussions.”
Norris has a web site: michele-norris.com which provides a forum for readers to discuss race and their own personal stories. Her book is available at The Book Table on Lake Street.