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  Biography Review    

My Mother's Witness:
The Peggy Morgan Story
by Carolyn Haines
River City Publishing, 2003
Hardcover $27.95 (368 pages)
ISBN: 1-57966-042-8




Peggy Albritton was born into a cycle of poverty, neglect, and abuse. In the Mississippi of her childhood, women were little more than chattel and men could mistreat their wives without interference from the local authorities. Even her maternal grandparents couldn't protect her mother (Inez) when her father (Gene) decided to have her locked up in the state "home" after a particularly brutal turn of events.

Gene owned a small store where he sold groceries and the fish he caught legally and the moonshine he made illegally. The store also served as a meeting place for the local Klan. Inez picked cotton, raised a garden, canned vegetables, made jellies and jams, and tried to keep her family together.

Inez, mistreated by her husband and broken down by life, knew the identities of the men who killed Emmett Till and was aware of her husband's connection with the Till murders. Her attempts to report what she knew to the proper authorities were thwarted or ignored. Peggy, who grew up witnessing her mother's physical, emotional, and mental abuse was haunted by her mother's reminders to tell the truth. When she "got too nosey" during a Klan meeting, she was shown postmortem photographs of Emmitt Till and threatened with a similar fate if she didn't stay quiet. 

In 1964, hoping to escape her father's violence and her mother's fate, the teenaged Peggy married Lloyd Morgan. Like her mother, she had selected a man who left her for extended periods of time, abused her when he was home, and didn't provide a stable income for Peggy and their children. Her husband also had Klan connections and was a friend to Byron de la Beckwith. 

When her mother died, Peggy decided the time had come to tell the truth and break her own silence. She served as a witness at the retrial of Byron de la Beckwith despite threats and the opening of old wounds. Thirty-one years after the assassination of Medgar Evers, Byron de la Beckwith was finally convicted and Peggy's healing and vindication of her mother had begun. 

After the trial, Peggy Morgan also found the courage to contact Mamie Till-Mobley, the mother of Emmett Mobley, to talk with her about her mother's attempts to tell what she knew about the murder and her own desire for justice for Mrs. Till-Mobley's son. 

Peggy Morgan decided to tell her story to Carolyn Haines in the hopes that women who find themselves in abusive marriages will find the courage to move on and rebuild their lives. She wants to vindicate her mother's live. And, while she understands nothing can undo the past, she wants to tell the "truth of a time and place and a way of life," because, "Only truth holds the power of healing."

This is Carolyn Haines' first work of non-fiction. A native of Lucedale, Mississippi, she's the author of the "Bones" series of mysteries. Crossed Bones was published by Delacorte in 2003.


Pam Kingsbury
Southern Scribe Reviews

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