In this moving memoir, Yvette Johnson travels to the Mississippi Delta to uncover true the story of her late grandfather Booker Wright whose extraordinary act of courage would change both their lives forever.
“Have to keep that smile,” Booker Wright said in the 1966 NBC documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait. At the time, Wright spent his evenings waiting tables for Whites at a local restaurant and his mornings running his own business. The ripple effect from his remarks would cement Booker as a civil rights icon because he did the unthinkable: before a national audience, Wright described what life truly was like for the Black people of Greenwood, Mississippi.
Four decades later, Yvette Johnson, Wright’s granddaughter, found footage of the controversial documentary. No one in her family knew of his television appearance. Even more curious for Johnson was that for most of her life she’d barely heard mention of her grandfather’s name.
Born a year after Wright’s death and raised in a wealthy San Diego neighborhood, Johnson admits she never had to confront race the way Southern Blacks did in the 1960s. Compelled to learn more about her roots, she travels to Greenwood, Mississippi, a beautiful Delta town steeped in secrets and a scarred past, to interview family members and townsfolk about the real Booker Wright. As she uncovers her grandfather’s compelling story and gets closer to the truth behind his murder, she also confronts her own conflicted feelings surrounding race, family, and forgiveness.
Told with powerful insights and harrowing details of civil rights–era Mississippi, The Song and the Silence is an astonishing chronicle of one woman’s passionate pursuit of her own family’s past. In the stories of those who came before, she finds not only a new understanding of herself, but a hopeful vision of the future for all of us.
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