The lives of four black women put author in touch with past

October 06, 1991|By Karin D. Berry | Karin D. Berry,Ms. Berry is a copy editor for The Evening Sun.


Carole Ione. Summit Books. 217 pages. $19.95. Carole Ione was raised by three women: by her grandmother, a chorus dancer during the 1920s and 1930s and owner of a restaurant in Saratoga, N.Y.; by her mother, a journalist and an actress, in Harlem; and by her great-aunt Sistonie, one of the first women to graduate from Howard University Medical School in Washington.

Ms. Ione writes lovingly of them, yet senses an unexplained undercurrent of strain among the three. Not until she explores her family's past does Ms. Ione discover some vital truths about her beloved Be-Be, Sistonie and mother, and about herself, in "Pride of Family: Four Generations of American Women of Color."

Ms. Ione married young to a Frenchman and plunged headlong into the experimental lifestyles of the 1960s: "I did not want to be limited by color or by nationality or by gender. But I was finding that it was not that simple. Every time I headed toward the concept of 'freedom,' I was brought up short, brought back to another reality."

After this failed marriage, Ms. Ione entered a second, ultimately doomed relationship with a gay Italian that resulted in her three adored young sons, and experimented with a lesbian lifestyle.

She had lived in France and Spain, then New York, struggling to maintain her writing career. Her relationships with her mother and grandmother had deteriorated. At one point in her life, Carole Ione seemed to have lost her way.

Then she found the diary of her ancestor, Frances Anne Rollin, America's first Southern black woman diarist. Ms. Rollin wrote a biography of Martin Delany, a co-founder with Frederick Douglass of the North Star newspaper. She was married to William James Whipper, who was one of the first blacks elected to the South Carolina Legislature during Reconstruction.

Ms. Ione transforms a family tree of unfamiliar names and dates into an engrossing, intriguing story. "Pride of Family" is at its best when Ms. Ione reprints passages from her great-grandmother's diaries and recounts her intense desire to know fully how this woman lived and what she felt.

Ms. Ione covers some aspects of the black experience -- slavery, miscegenation, the color-caste divisions in the black community, and other themes -- marriage and mother-daughter relationships.

She found herself drawn to her great-grandmother's story, and draws the reader in as well. In the process of reaching back through the generations, she answers some of her own questions about the women who raised her, and herself.

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