Mystery writer Gail Lukasik tells the story of her mother's mixed race ancestry in her memoir White Like Her. This is an excerpt of a 2017 article about her book from The Washington Post. I found it so fascinating, I ordered the memoir and have since read the heartbreaking account. I love family histories, especially when a secret is involved. An excerpt of the article is below:
I’d never seen my mother so afraid.
“Promise me,” she pleaded, “you won’t tell anyone until after I die. How will I hold my head up with my friends?”
For two years, I’d waited for the right moment to confront my mother with the shocking discovery I made in 1995 while scrolling through the 1900 Louisiana census records. In the records, my mother’s father, Azemar Frederic of New Orleans, and his entire family were designated black.
The discovery had left me reeling, confused and in need of answers. My sense of white identity had been shattered.
My mother’s visit to my home in Illinois seemed like the right moment. This was not a conversation I wanted to have on the phone.
Author Gail Lukasik
But my mother’s fearful plea for secrecy only added to my confusion about my racial identity. As did her 1921 birth certificate that I obtained from the state of Louisiana, which listed her race as “col” (colored),and a 1940 Louisiana census record, which listed my mother, Alvera Frederic, as Neg/Negro, working in a tea shop in New Orleans. Four years later, she moved north and married my white father.
Reluctantly, I agreed to keep my mother’s secret. For 17 years I told no one, except my husband, my two children and two close friends that my mother was passing as white. It was the longest and most difficult secret I’d ever held.
My mother’s pale, olive skin and European features appeared to belie the government documents defining her as African American, allowing her to escape that public designation for most of her adult life.
In the silence of those 17 years, I tried to break through my mother’s wall of silence. But every time I tried, she politely but firmly changed the subject. Her refusal to talk about her mixed race only fueled my curiosity. How had she deceived my racist white father? Why was she so fearful and ashamed of her black heritage?
Using my skills as a seasoned mystery author, I started sifting through the details of her life, looking for clues that would help me understand her. But this real-life mystery only intensified as I tried to sort truth from fiction.
I am eagerly waiting for my copy of White Like Her to arrive! Any secrets in your family?