Every good story has a beginning, and the memoir about racism and self-realization by Eastern Michigan University alumna Gloria Ewing Lockhart is no exception.
It all starts with the well-chosen cover of “Unmasking: A Woman’s Journey.” Half-concealed behind a stark white mask, Lockhart, with deep gold curls, chocolate eyes and a smattering of freckles, nearly blends into the high yellow of the book’s background. An obvious nod toward the struggle of self-identity, the book has already given away so much. But the contents are cleanly summed up for the reader as “a memoir of courage, hope, forgiveness and healing.”
This couldn’t be a fairer warning, as Lockhart’s story is filled with incredible and horrifying events, and when your life has been filled with incredible and horrifying events, you move forward or die.
Gloria Ewing Lockhart is, without a doubt, a survivor.
Everything has a beginning, so it is fitting Lockhart would start her memoir with her mother’s recounting of her birth. “’Even in the womb, you were a feisty, little thing-a ball of energy, kicking and nudging and poking.’” We get a premature character summary of our protagonist and a taste of the pending adventures, alighting from “separate but equal” Arkansas.
Just a single paragraph later, we get our first sour taste of racism, when Lockhart makes a point to note that a white doctor delivered her into the world, and that his face is, regrettably, probably the first thing she saw as an infant. She also mentions that it was a home delivery because an African-
American couldn’t step into a white hospital, “where they would wheel a pregnant Negro woman into a back room and forget about her.”
As Lockhart grew up, she encountered many moments of hardship, including abandonment of her family, molestation by her adopted father, obvious racial discrimination and bullying, failed dreams as an Olympic runner, divorce and a firsthand view of violent and riotous protests.
But through this all, she persevered, graduating from EMU with a bachelor of science degree, moving on to a master’s degree in social work from the University of Michigan and making a permanent stamp in the world as a social service advocate for the less fortunate. Lockhart also visited Africa three separate times, was one of the first African-American women to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro and was named Woman of the Year.
Much of her memoir touches on the contributions of such strong and influential African-American men as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X and even Marvin Gaye, but she is careful to include her admiration for white men like John Sinclair, co-founder of the White Panther Party, and Robert Kennedy. Lockhart is refreshingly honest when she admits her own racism against whites during a recall of her experience in a freedom march in Raleigh, NC: “My shock at seeing whites marching in solidarity with blacks, arm-in-arm, made me realize that my bias toward whites was steeped in the bad experiences I’d had during my childhood.”
I found the reading of “Unmasking: A Woman’s Journey” hard to swallow, but only because it was so close to home. Many of the riots and blatant inequality occurred right here on EMU’s campus, and it’s difficult to reconcile that picture with the (relatively) peaceful campus today.
As far as the actual story, Lockhart has a certain charm in the way she spins a tale. Everything is trimmed in a sense of beauty – even the most horrific details. It is clear in her writing how optimistic Lockhart really is, despite her hardships, and it’s no surprise her memoir ended on a positive and hopeful note:
“When I learned how to forgive, my mind was no longer encumbered by all the negative thoughts that had held me in bondage. No longer would I have a heavy heart filled with blame, shame and regrets. I’m continuously determined to be all I’m created to be because now I’m free.”
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