Synopses & Reviews
is a masterful memoir. As he leads the reader through the awful history of American race relations, Henry narrates the search for his ancestry with lyrical wonder and honesty. His voice is neither cynical nor romantic, but pulses with the mystery of human behavior, a sociological detective transforming his singular quest into a universal one. What emerges inevitably along the way is the secret of Henry's own amazing grace."and#151;David Maraniss, author of First In His Class
and When Pride Still Mattered
"Neil Henry combines an investigative journalist's zeal for fact-digging with a talented writer's insight and sensitivity to produce an extraordinarily moving portrayal of his own racially-divided family."and#151;James V. Risser, two-time Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
"Pearl's Secret is a haunting, boldly conceived memoir that explores the warped complexities of Black-White relations in the United States with a compassionate grace. A seasoned journalist and artful storyteller, Henry jars the reader into contemplating the idiocy of racism by bringing us along on his geneological journey of poignant discovery."and#151;Douglas Brinkley, Professor of History and Director of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans
"Pearl's Secret is rivetingand#151;I couldn't stop turning pages. Neil Henry's extraordinary racial journey takes him through fascinating terrainand#151;both personal and historical. His relentless search for his white roots is both engaging and moving. As he traces the migration of his English great great grandfather from Kent to a small backwater town in the American South, Henry uncovers a wealth of surprising details. His family history and the remarkable climax to his search make this an unforgettable story."and#151;Gordon Parks, author of The Learning Tree
"With this book, Neil Henry, an outstanding newspaper journalist who has become an influential academician, joins the growing ranks of African-American authors in newsrooms and the academy who are generously sharing their lives and experiences in vivid examinations of the realities of race in a changing world. It is a moving American story with poignant lessons for all of us."and#151;Leonard Downie Jr., executive editor of The Washington Post
"Pearl's Secret is an elegant, intimate journey through the American past and present. It slides effortlessly among genresand#151;detective story, memoir, historyand#151;and succeeds at every level. Its revelations about race and identity lie at the wounded heart of American culture."and#151;Steve Coll, managing editor of The Washington Post
"Neil Henry's journey to find the truth of his roots is a remarkable mix of investigative and personal journalism at its most courageous and compelling."and#151;Tom Goldstein, Dean, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University
"This fine book tells an unusual and surprising story. It also introduces a remarkable writer. I read it with great interest and pleasure and I expect that you will too."and#151;Donald E. Graham, Chairman, The Washington Post
"A kind of real life detective story where what's been lost and what's finally found is part of the author's identity. Henry is a dogged, civilized sleuth. What he finds is revealing, ugly, and fascinating. Pearl's Secret deals with the racial divide not as the subject for a treatise on hate but for one on healing. That, in itself, is news."and#151;John Lahr, author of Prick Up Your Ears: The Biography of Joe Orton
"I love Neil Henry and his work. Pearl's Secret is a beauty and his best work. He has found the narrative lineand#151;and humanityand#151;in the generations. Like all great books it is a tale of self-discovery and surprise."and#151;Bob Woodward, co-author of All the President's Men
A black professor of journalism and award-winning correspondent takes an investigative look into his family's past in this autobiography and family story, as he pieces together the murky details of his family's past in search of the white branch of his family tree. Photos & illustrations.
is a remarkable autobiography and family story that combines elements of history, investigative reporting, and personal narrative in a riveting, true-to-life mystery. In it, Neil Henryand#151;a black professor of journalism and former award-winning correspondent for the Washington Post
and#151;sets out to piece together the murky details of his family's past. His search for the white branch of his family becomes a deeply personal odyssey, one in which Henry deploys all of his journalistic skills to uncover the paper trail that leads to blood relations who have lived for more than a century on the opposite side of the color line. At the same time Henry gives a powerful and vivid account of his black family's rise to success over the twentieth century. Throughout the course of this gripping story the author reflects on the part that racism and racial ignorance have played in his daily lifeand#151;from his boyhood in largely white Seattle to his current role as a parent and educator in California.
The contemporary debate over the significance of Thomas Jefferson's longtime romantic relationship with his slave, Sally Hemings, and recent DNA evidence that points to his role as the father of black descendants, have revealed the importance and volatility of the issue of dual-race legacies in American society. As Henry uncovers the dramatic history of his great-great-grandfatherand#151;a white English immigrant who fought as a Confederate officer in the Civil War, found success during Reconstruction as a Louisiana plantation owner, and enjoyed a long love affair with Henry's great-great-grandmother, a freed black slaveand#151;he grapples with an unsettling ambivalence about what he is trying to do. His straightforward, honest voice conveys both the pain and the exhilaration that his revelations bring him about himself, his family, and our society. In the book's stunning climax, the author finally meets his white kin, hears their own remarkable story of survival in America, and discovers a great deal about both the sting of racial prejudice as it is woven into the fabric of the nation, and his own proud identity as a teacher, father, and black American.
About the Author
Neil Henry is Associate Professor in the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: Search
1. Clues in Microfilm
2. Road Maps
4. Jim Crow's Shadow
PART TWO: Discovery
5. The Chase
6. 'Welcome to the Family'
7. Tenth Man Classic