Summary and book reviews of Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred Rembert

Chasing Me to My Grave

An Artist's Memoir of the Jim Crow South

by Winfred Rembert

Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred  Rembert X
Chasing Me to My Grave by Winfred  Rembert
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  • Published:
    Sep 2021, 304 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Ian Muehlenhaus
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About this Book

Book Summary

Winfred Rembert grew up in a family of Georgia field laborers and joined the Civil Rights Movement as a teenager. He was arrested after fleeing a demonstration, survived a near-lynching at the hands of law enforcement, and spent seven years on chain gangs.

During that time he met the undaunted Patsy, who would become his wife. Years later, at the age of fifty-one and with Patsy's encouragement, he started drawing and painting scenes from his youth using leather tooling skills he learned in prison.

Chasing Me to My Grave presents Rembert's breathtaking body of work alongside his story, as told to Tufts Philosopher Erin I. Kelly. Rembert calls forth vibrant scenes of Black life on Cuthbert, Georgia's Hamilton Avenue, where he first glimpsed the possibility of a life outside the cotton field. As he pays tribute, exuberant and heartfelt, to Cuthbert's Black community and the people, including Patsy, who helped him to find the courage to revisit a traumatic past, Rembert brings to life the promise and the danger of Civil Rights protest, the brutalities of incarceration, his search for his mother's love, and the epic bond he found with Patsy.

Vivid, confrontational, revelatory, and complex, Chasing Me to My Grave is a searing memoir in prose and painted leather that celebrates Black life and summons readers to confront painful and urgent realities at the heart of American history and society.

Excerpt

Illustrated by Winfred Rembert. All artworks made with dye on carved and tooled leather.

It was 1961 or 1962. I was working in Jeff's poolroom. One day I was surprised to see all these Black folk, especially adult Black men, coming in the poolroom. They were all sitting around, having a meeting and talking about civil rights. I never heard people talking about civil rights before. They were NAACP people, though I didn't know it at the time. I thought they were coming in there to shoot pool, but, lo and behold, they were talking about civil rights. It turned out, if I got it right, that Buddy Perkins, the funeral home director, was the headman of the NAACP in Cuthbert. Jeff was some kind of official too, and Jeff's poolroom became the meeting place for talking about ideas, businesses, and civil rights.

Jeff's Cafe
Jeff's Cafe, 1997

Black people in Cuthbert had to sacrifice to make a change. In the 1950s, Ben Shorter Sr. was president of a voters' league in Randolph County. The ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

This book was co-written with journalist Erin I. Kelly, who sat down with Winfred every two weeks from 2018 through 2020 and transcribed his memories from biographical interview questions. She then read the pages back to him to make sure she had captured his voice accurately. The result is a masterpiece. The text is raw, candid and blunt. Kelly's organization and faithful transcription allow Rembert's stories to roll off the page as fluidly as they likely did from his mouth. This combination of armchair storytelling with fascinating life events makes Chasing Me to My Grave a compulsive read...continued

Full Review (668 words).

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(Reviewed by Ian Muehlenhaus).

Media Reviews

Chicago Review of Books
[A] stunning piece of visual truth-telling...Chasing Me To My Grave documents racial and economic violence under white supremacy as a living history. It also gives us an example of how to live without bitterness or seeking revenge. From Rembert's abandonment by his birth mother to the forced labor on the cotton fields and the abuses of the prison wardens, he remembers his struggle with acceptance, forgiveness, and often gratitude for the lessons he learned from his mistakes.

BookPage (starred review)
Chasing Me to My Grave is a testament to the ways one man used his art to educate, delight and depict the trauma that arises out of memory.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
In this posthumous work, artist Rembert (1945–2021) offers a powerful, unfiltered look at life growing up in Jim Crow Georgia...This is a stunning portrait of hope in the face of evil, barbarity, and racism.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The oral history, as told to co-author Kelly, is thoughtful and honest...An ultimately uplifting journey from the ugliness of virulent racism to the beauty of art.

Booklist (starred review)
This is a book like no other, from Winfred Rembert's unique and uniquely powerful autobiographical paintings to his disturbing and courageous life story...Rembert recounts diabolical abuse and violence with rare candor and precision...By using carved, tooled, and dyed leather as the medium for vibrantly patterned scenes from his life, Rembert turned the scars on his body and soul into artworks of clarion witness and reckoning. With a foreword by Bryan Stevenson and superb color reproductions, Rembert's self-portrait in word and image belongs in every library.

Author Blurb Bryan Stevenson, New York Times bestselling author of Just Mercy and founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative
Rembert's art expresses the legacy of slavery, the trauma of lynching, and the anguish of racial hierarchy and white supremacy while illuminating a resolve to fight oppression and injustice. He has the ability to reveal truths about the human struggle that are transcendent, to evoke an understanding of human dignity that is broad and universal.

Author Blurb Carol Anderson, New York Times bestselling author of White Rage and One Person, No Vote
The power of Rembert's Chasing Me to My Grave is in the unvarnished truth, in the writing, the storytelling, the artwork, his life. Unvarnished literary and visual power.

Author Blurb Albert Woodfox, author of Solitary
Winfred Rembert paints a world too little depicted and a reality we can't afford to forget. While testifying to this nation's long history of racial injustice, Chasing Me to My Grave is also a must-read story of Black struggle, solidarity, and love.

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Beyond the Book

The 13th Amendment and Contemporary Slavery in the US Prison System

Black and white photo of men wearing white and black striped prison uniforms working on a chain gang in 1915As we all know, slavery was abolished in the United States after the Civil War when Congress passed the 13th Amendment. What many might not recognize is that the 13th Amendment did not ban slavery entirely. In fact, it explicitly states an instance in which slavery and involuntary servitude are permitted — when people are incarcerated. Prisoners can be forced to participate in penal labor without pay.

The 13th Amendment is succinct:

Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.

Since the end of the Civil War, the 13th Amendment has been used to persecute ...

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