The Road South: A Memoir

Shelley Stewart, Author, Nathan Hale Turner, Jr., With
Shelley Stewart, Author, Nathan Hale Turner, Jr., With Warner Books $38 (336p) ISBN 978-0-446-53027-9
Reviewed on: 01/07/2002
Release date: 07/01/2002
Paperback - 316 pages - 978-0-446-69088-1
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In this riveting memoir, Stewart, a prominent African-American businessman and radio personality for more than 50 years, tells a harrowing, inspiring story rivaling any of the current hard-bitten chronicles heralding triumph over poverty and other social obstacles. He opens by recollecting a racial incident during his days on the radio as ""Shelley the Playboy,"" in which several of his white teenaged fans serve as an unlikely buffer between their idol and some irate Birmingham Klansmen, Stewart withstands the constant wrath of a father who gambles, drinks excessively and steals, and eventually kills his dutiful wife while his children watch. Spurned by relatives, the children reside briefly with a malicious aunt, who feeds them fried rats and makes them sleep on bedbug-infested mattresses, while they scavenge in the streets for survival. Vicious beatings, deprivation and sexual abuse inflicted upon the children drive them to seek refuge with a white man named Papa Clyde and his family, who treat them with a kindness that defies the era's racial code. If the lows of Stewart's remarkable life are depicted with frank, clear-eyed potency, then his recovery from depression and alcoholism come off as almost miraculous. In the author's fairly low-key narrative, he weathers a troubled military tour, a stint in a mental ward, a start-and-stop marriage and run-ins with the law. Through the years of struggle and short-term success, Stewart's determination and resourcefulness propel him to radio stardom and ownership of a multimillion dollar music business empire, something the author nearly underplays in this powerful, moving rags-to-riches tale. (July 10) Forecast: Warner is backing this stand-out memoir with a national print campaign and media blitz, as well as nationwide radio telephone interviews and a Southern tour. At a time when tolerance, tenacity and heroism are being touted, the popularity of a book like this is almost assured.
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