My Childhood in the Racist South: Memoir
Sarah Baxter returns to her US childhood home to find out how much racial attitudes have changed
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was six to nine years old, too young to be fully aware of the swirling currents of history and yet I felt their pull. My father used to speak contemptuously about George Wallace, the Alabama governor, and his links to the Ku Klux Klan, the hooded white supremacists, while my mother, an American from Ohio, said you could not trust the sweet smiles and sugary accent of southerners: underneath, they were mean.
These were golden years for me of perpetual summer, a childhood lived outdoors and at the swimming pool, and also the last time that my family lived together under one roof. We scattered in 1969. My mother returned to Ohio as a graduate student, like the narrator of the femi-nist classic The Women’s Room. I went to live for a year with my paternal grandmother in France, a formidable war widow with a scary glass eye, and my brother and sister went to boarding school in England. My father travelled around the world with the RAF; the military did not know where to place a senior officer whose marriage had collapsed.
Alabama was a paradise lost, but one where I knew the serpent of rac-ism lurked. Years later in my teens and early twenties, I reflected that Britain may be grey and damp, its cars small and its streets narrow, but it had not been scarred by slavery and segregation. It was a consoling thought.