If you recall Columbia landmarks such as the Miracle movie theater, Colonial grocery stores and the Top Hat Club, you’ll recognize one of the main characters in “Journey Proud” by Salley McAden McInerney.
The former columnist for The State and The Columbia Record grew up here, and she dug into the tenor of the times during her childhood for her first novel.
If you’re of a certain age, you’ll also recognize the tensions of race and class in the South in the 1960s. A biracial child is at the heart of the storyline.
But even if you’re young and never set foot in South Carolina’s capital city, you’ll recognize the emotions of childhood innocence and secrets kept for years.
The story follows four white children growing up in a middle-class neighborhood in Columbia in the early 1960s. The aforementioned biracial baby is born to one of them, and a black housekeeper agrees to raise the child as her own. It’s hardly a spoiler to reveal that the biracial child grows up to be the first black man to run for governor in South Carolina. (It’s strongly hinted at in the first chapter.)
McInerney, who acknowledges the book carries the scarlet letter of being self-published, thinks Columbia readers will appreciate the familiar places as well as the local, state and national history from the 1960s. They’ll also get some of the inside jokes, such as the TV weatherman named Beau Finner.
One of the inspirations for the book was a black woman named Pearl who worked in McInerney’s home during her childhood. Black maids were common in those days in white Columbia households.
Years later, McInerney wondered what became of Pearl and did an Internet search for her name. She found an obituary from Sept. 30, 2011.
She realized how clueless she had been as a child to the racial turmoil in the South.
“I did not wonder why Pearl spent more waking hours at our house than she did her own, a withered clapboard cabin on a dirt street in downtown Columbia. I did not wonder why she used a bathroom in our basement. I did not wonder why she often brought her girls’ laundry into our house to be washed and dried when my mother was not about,” McInerney said.
Like so many white children of that era, she looks back now and thinks of the maid as a member of her family. And that makes her feel guilty.
“Why did I not keep up with her through her old age? Why did I miss her funeral? Why did I not even know she had died until I went searching for her name on the Internet?” McInerney said.
Those sorts of complicated emotions help drive “Journey Proud.”
The book is available on amazon.com. McInerney will read from and sign copies of the book Friday from 5:30-8 p.m. at the Robert Mills House and Gardens, 1616 Blanding St.