"Have to keep that smile," said Booker Wright in the 1966 NBC documentary Mississippi: A Self-Portrait. At the time, Wright was a waiter in a whites-only restaurant and a local business owner who would become an unwitting icon of the civil rights movement. For he did the unthinkable: before a national audience, he described what life was truly like for the black people of Greenwood, Mississippi.
Shortly after these remarks aired on television, life for Booker took a turn for the worst.
And so began the story that has inspired Yvette Johnson to explore her grandfather's life—as well as her own feelings on race—in this fascinating memoir. Born a year after Wright's death and raised in a wealthy San Diego neighborhood, Johnson admits she never had to confront race the way southern blacks did in the 1960s. Compelled to learn more about her roots, she travels back to Greenwood, Mississippi, a beautiful southern town steeped in secrets and a scarred past, to interview family members about the real Booker Wright. As she uncovers her grandfather's fascinating story and gets closer to the truth behind his murder, she also confronts her own conflicted feelings surrounding race, family, forgiveness, and faith.
Told with powerful insights and harrowing details of civil rights–era Mississippi, The Song and the Silence is an amazing chronicle of one woman's five-year journey in pursuit of the past—and hope for tomorrow.