Why Aunt Maggie squelched talk of slavery

“Because Aunt Maggie hailed from Asheville, North Carolina, and was born near the turn of the century, my brother reasoned that she could likely recall members of the family who were born into slavery….

“Aunt Maggie, who had been sharing her memories willingly… suddenly snapped: ‘We don’t talk about that in this family.’ She added that there were stories he didn’t need to know, that she did not intend to share and that would accompany her to the grave. She then turned away, stared off into some unseen place and with her body language and stony silence marked the end of the conversation…..

“My grand-aunt was participating in a longstanding practice of editing her memory, an artful forgetting for the sake of affirming her family’s social position. Hers was a logic that middle- and upper-class blacks consistently relied on in the early years of the civil rights movement…. By narrating a history that was only about good breeding, [they] could preserve their respectability in black America during a era of profound social, economic and political change. They could also retain their positions as the interpreters of blackness for the white community.”

— From “Jim Crow Wisdom: Memory and Identity in Black America since 1940”  by Jonathan Scott Holloway (2013)