“Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South”

By Winfred Rembert as told to Erin I. Kelly

(284 pages, Memoir, Autobiography, Art, 2021)

Winfred Rembert was born in 1945 in a small Georgia town deeply infected with the most brutal and humiliating forms of racism.  Black people dared not speak their minds to Whites or antagonize them in any way, and even the most circumspect might be forced to abase themselves to appease a White person’s cruel whim.  His story is not ancient history but uncomfortably close to our own time.  Rembert says more than once that he’s telling his story but he doesn’t know if others – especially White people – can believe it.

Like many of his era Rembert found himself in jail after deciding to participate in civil rights activism in the 1960’s.  It was there that he learned to read, since he’d been pulled from school at an early age to pick cotton.  He also learned to work leather in jail, to draw or etch on it and to sew wallets and pocketbooks, but it was many years before he began making the painted leather pieces that made his artistic reputation.  His work is unique and powerful, and the book contains numerous color plates of his finished pictures.  In the text, Rembert explains each one, the story of his life in paintings.

Narrating his life story to Professor Erin I. Kelly of Tufts University, Rembert is unsparing in his recollections.  He shares the pains and joys of his life from being given as an infant to his great-aunt to raise to his deep and appreciative love for his wife Patsy and their children. He admits to his own failures and fears as well as to his successes.

After being released from prison Rembert left Georgia and moved to New Haven, Connecticut.  His friendship with antiquarian bookstore owners Phil and Sharon McBlain led eventually to his career in art.

Rembert’s life was difficult and it must have been hard for him to share stories that reflect poorly on himself.  Kelly has faithfully recorded his word, conveying the tone of a conversation.  After reading this book I felt I had sat down with Rembert myself to listen to his tale.  It’s worth reading this book to hear his voice and marvel at his art.

Visit Concord Public Library at concorpubliclibrary.net

Julia Miller

Author: Insider Staff

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