cover image Negroland: A Memoir

Negroland: A Memoir

Margo Jefferson. Pantheon, $25 (256p) ISBN 978-0-307-37845-3

Jefferson (On Michael Jackson), a former book and theater critic for the New York Times and Newsweek, writes about growing up in mid-20th-century Chicago as well as in "a small region of Negro America where residents were sheltered by a certain amount of privilege and plenty" in this eloquent and enlightening memoir. Jefferson describes how her peers thought of themselves as "the Third Race, poised between the masses of Negroes and all classes of Caucasians." Jefferson's father was a pediatrician at Provident, the nation's oldest black hospital, and her mother was a social worker turned socialite. With her family's privilege came many perks: attendance at the private, progressive, mostly white University of Chicago Laboratory School; summer camps; drama performances; an impeccable wardrobe; and membership in national black civic organizations such as Jack and Jill of America and the Co-Ettes Club. Yet much was expected; for Jefferson's generation, she says, the motto was "Achievement. Invulnerability. Comportment." In the late 1970s, though established in a successful journalism career, Jefferson contemplated suicide to escape the continued weight of these expectations. Black women, she writes, had been "denied the privilege of freely yielding to depression, of flaunting neurosis as a mark of social and psychic complexity." Perceptive, specific, and powerful, Jefferson's work balances themes of race, class, entitlement, and privilege with her own social and cultural awakening. (Sept.)