Another Way Home: The Tangled Roots of Race in One Chicago Family

by Ronne Hartfield
University of Chicago Press, 2004
Cloth: 978-0-226-31821-9 | Paper: 978-0-226-31823-3


In her prologue to Another Way Home, Ronne Hartfield notes the dearth of stories about African Americans who have occupied the area of mixed race with ease and harmony for generations.  Her moving family history is filled with such stories, told in beautifully crafted and unsentimental prose. Spanning most of the twentieth century, Hartfield’s book celebrates the special occasion of being born and reared in a household where miscegenation was the rule rather than the exception—where being a woman of mixed race could be a fundamental source of strength, vitality, and courage.

Hartfield begins with the early life of her mother, Day Shepherd.  Born to a wealthy British plantation owner and the mixed-race daughter of a former slave, Day negotiates the complicated circumstances of plantation life in the border country of Louisiana and Mississippi and, as she enters womanhood, the quadroon and octoroon societies of New Orleans.  Equally a tale of the Great Migration, Another Way Home traces Day’s journey to Bronzeville, the epicenter of black Chicago during the first half of the twentieth century.  Here, through the eyes of Day and, ultimately, her daughter, we witness the bustling city streets and vibrant middle-class culture of this iconic black neighborhood.  We also relive crucial moments in African American history as they are experienced by the author’s family and others in Chicago’s South Side black community, from the race riots of 1919 and the Great Depression to the murder of Emmett Till and the dawn of the civil rights movement.

Throughout her book, Hartfield portrays mixed-race Americans navigating the challenges of their lives with resilience and grace, making Another Way Home an intimate and compelling encounter with one family’s response to our racially charged culture.

Ronne Hartfield is a senior research fellow in religion and art at the Harvard University Center for the Study of World Religions and an international museum consultant. She is the former Woman’s Board Endowed Executive Director of Museum Education at the Art Institute of Chicago and was executive director of Chicago-based Urban Gateways: The Center for Arts in Education.


Another Way Home tells the story of all of us looking to be warm and dry. It is a story to share. A story to pass along.”— Nikki Giovanni
“A major accomplishment of Another Way Home is to demonstrate how a woman of mixed race could live a life that does not conform to all of the stereotypes promulgated by popular fiction and traditional perceptions. Ronne Hartfield’s mother, fondly known as Day, was not a tragic mulatto. She knew how, as Hartfield puts it so well, to live with who she was and with who all of her people were. This is a loving and honest book.” — Robert B. Stepto, author of Blue as the Lake: A Personal Geography
“In this lyrical, riveting account of her mother’s life and history, Ronne Hartfield underscores the importance and permanence of our families’ legacies. You’ll be so enriched by reading it.”— Marian Wright Edelman, author of The Measure of Our Success
“A poignant, powerful, and soulful narrative, Another Way Home captures the layers of life, the mixing of cultures, the crossing of boundaries, and the complex history of Day Shepherd, a mulatto woman—born at the turn of the last century—who looked white and lived colored. Blending the imagination of a storyteller, the heart of a poet, the lens of a social historian, and the devotion of a daughter, Ronne Hartfield weaves an inspiring intergenerational tale of an American family; a tale of ambition and compassion, anguish and hope; a tale filled with welcome warmth and earthy humor.”— Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot, author of Balm in Gilead: Journey of a Healer
“This is a warm and touching memoir of a close-knit family as well as a record of the tumultuous history of race relations in the U.S.”— Vanessa Bush, Booklist
“Bad mothers make for good books; so goes the conventional thinking. So go book sales and book-review headlines. Now along comes Ronne Hartfield’s Another Way Home to turn conventional thinking (thank goodness) on its head. Graceful, intelligent, full-hearted and searching, Hartfield’s memoir tells the story of her mother’s journey from a Southern plantation to the clamor of New Orleans to the bustle of Chicago’s Bronzeville. . . . Hartfield’s purpose in writing this memoir is to paint a portrait of mixed-race America by using the particulars of her mother’s life. What choices did a woman who looked white but considered herself to be black have, in the early decades of the American Century? What was expected of her? Was her skin color a subterfuge?”— Beth Kephart, Chicago Tribune

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