A Mixed-Race Daughter And The Mother Who Gave her Away

What a fascinating book, and one that tells a very important story of a pivotal time in American history. June Cross was born in 1954, her father was a well known black comedian, James “Stump” Cross, and her mother was an aspiring white actress Norma Booth. Alas the relationship between Stump and Norma was a short lived one, and one fraught with prejudice from all sides.

Norma began a long relationship with TV and movie actor Larry Storch, who is perhaps best well known for his part in the old series F-Troop. The problem that the family faced though was June, by age 4 it was apparent that she could no longer “pass”, meaning that she could no longer be classed as white, her skin was darkening, and the tight dark curly hair put her clearly in the black fraternity. In todays world we would not think twice about this situation, however in the late 50’s it was indeed a different world. Segregation and racism flourished, having a dark skinned daughter could easily provide the death knell to both Norma and Larry’s careers. The solution? To farm out the upbringing of June to a black family, Aunt Peggy and Uncle Paul.

Thus began what has to be the most bizarre childhood I have ever heard of. June spent most of her time living in Atlantic City, and for a few brief weeks each year would ‘vacation’ with Norma and Larry in Los Angeles. In private she could call Norma mommy, but in public she could not! How any child could endure this torture is beyond me, but endure she did.

One would imagine that with this lack of identity the poor child would mature into a very mixed up young lady. Yet that was not the case, yes she certainly went through her fair share of identity issues, what is black, what is white, what am I, but she weathered them all. In fact following high school she went on to attend Harvard and then into a print and TV career. She has worked on many well known shows on PBS, and CBS as a news reporter and producer.

It likely is that career path that prompted June to write Secret Daughter. Times have changed, society has changed. June finally plucked up courage and confronted her mother, persuading her to go on camera for a documentary about the story. The only problem was, in her haste and nervousness she forgot to switch the microphone on! oops! It took a concerted effort to persuade her mother to do it a second time. Norma by this time was having second thoughts about revealing her past and being an outcast in her social circle.

I enjoyed Secret Daughter a great deal, it is extremely well written and edited, which should come as no surprise, it is after all on the prestigious Penguin imprint. Secret Daughter takes us into a different world. It is sobering to realize just how intolerant society was 50 years ago. I never considered my parents racist in any way, yet as a child I can distinctly recall my mother and I out shopping and we saw a black girl arm in arm with a white boy, my mother was mortified, and made the remark “Simon, I hope you will never do that.”

You can get your copy of Secret Daughter from Amazon.

Simon Barrett

http://zzsimonb.blogspot.com

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