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At the Elbows of My Elders: One Family's Journey Toward Civil Rights
Cover of At the Elbows of My Elders by Gail Milissa Grant
At the Elbows of My Elders: One Family's Journey Toward Civil Rights

While America is familiar with the modern civil rights movement begun in the 1950s, little has been published about black families, throughout the country, who had been fighting segregation in their local communities for decades. Their everyday battles (both individual and institutional) built the foundation for the more publicized crusade to follow. In this memoir, Gail Milissa Grant draws back the curtain on those times and presents touching vignettes of a life most Americans know nothing about. It recounts the battles fought by her father, David M. Grant, a lawyer and civil rights activist in St. Louis, and it describes the challenges she faced in navigating her way through institutions marked by racial prejudice. It also illuminates the culture of middle-class black families in those difficult times. Grant details how her family built a prosperous life through the operation of a funeral home, the practice of chiropody (podiatry), and work on the railroad and pleasure boats that plied the Great Lakes and the Mississippi River.

During the 1950s the Grant family home on the south side of St. Louis provided a refuge for many celebrated African American entertainers and political leaders who were refused accommodations by the major hotels. Their home was notable because it was located in a predominantly white neighborhood. St. Louis was still in the grips of Jim Crow laws, which divided blacks from whites—in schooling, housing, and most public facilities. The black community chafed under these conditions, but they also built their own institutions while fighting against the restrictions that barred them from full participation in society. It is the tension between what they could and could not do for themselves that energizes this memoir.

The Grant family is emblematic of many black middle-class and blue-collar people who, beginning at the turn of the twentieth century, went to school, paid their dues, and forced America to face its prejudices. Through one act of courage after another, they set in motion a social movement without end.

"This is a fascinating look at the struggles of one black family that mirrored the national struggle for civil rights."
Vanessa Bush, Booklist Online


"This story of one family holds lessons for all about our city, the struggle for equality in our country, and the courage and understanding we receive at the elbows of our elders."
Jennifer Alexander, West End Word


Ben Franklin Award logo

Gold-medal winner of the 2009 Benjamin Franklin Award for Autobiography and Memoir.

To read about Grant's reaction to winning the award, as well as her inspiration for writing her memoir, please click here.

2008
272 pages
60 illustrations
ISBN: 978-1-883982-66-9, $24.95, hardcover
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