“You’re every bit as judgmental as other white women in America. You write your pieces in equality, on women’s rights, and civil liberties, but you know what, Jessie? It’s all written from a white woman’s perspective, with only white women in mind, in a white girl’s language.” So Jessie is told by her soon-to-be sister-in-law, Annie Chase Downing, soon-to-be First Lady of the United States.
As children, the two girls meet serendipitously, though Jessie is white and Annie lives with her dark-skinned Maman in the colored part of town. They become blood sisters and make vows of friendship. Annie is exotically beautiful, not dark in appearance. When they grow up, Jessie, having become a successful writer, is hired to find out whether there is a hint of racial scandal in Annie’s background as she lives out her very public life as a white woman.
The two women’s paths cross and re-cross as Jessie first discovers and then covers up Annie’s hidden truth: her mother was the lover of prominent Judge Jeffrey Bradley, a white man. After Maman’s death, Annie seeks out her father by means of a letter left to her, the only clue to her mother’s past and her parentage. The Judge tells Annie, “Love doesn’t have a color, Annie, it doesn’t know color, and this is what I kept telling your mother, but I’m afraid to no avail.” He offers his daughter a chance to live in a fantasy world, the world of whites, and to follow her dreams of education, success and recognition.
But will the secrets of a previous generation be revealed when a child is born to Annie and her devoted husband, President John Elliot Downing?
If any of this sounds familiar, it may be because it harkens back to the theme of Band of Angels, the novel/film by Robert Penn Warren about a pale-skinned mulatto, played by Yvonne de Carlo, and her swashbuckling lover, portrayed by Clark Gable. There is a fascination in the mythology of mixed-race people forced to choose one world or the other and the sufferings and joys they experience as a result. The pre-Civil War South gave rise to many such stories, some of them all too true and all too tragic. The time-frame for The Annie Chase Story is post-WWII, the setting a country just beginning to grapple with issues of color.
The Annie Chase Story has its triumphs and its sorrows. Annie is an empathic character and Jessie will appeal to strong women trying to find their role in society. It’s race and romance with attitude, expressing some of the clichés and some of the truths of life in the shadows of the Spanish moss. An enjoyable read.