Beth Macy is the author of Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South.
From the transcript of her Fresh Air interview with Terry Gross:
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. And if you're just joining us, my guest is Beth Macy, author of the new book "Truevine." And it's the true story of two albino African-American brothers, George and Willie Muse, who spent much of their lives in freak shows in the first half of the 20th century. And the larger story she's telling here is about race, class and entertainment in the first half of the 20th century. So at some point they're reunited with their mother by accident. They're performing in a - was it a carnival or a circus? - in Roanoke, where their mother now lived.--Marshal Zeringue
MACY: Right. It's 1927. Roanoke is this - was once a really booming city, and it's now big enough that it can play host to the big one or the Greatest Show on Earth, which was Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey. And somehow it came to her attention that the circus was in town. Remember, she couldn't read. She told relatives that it came to her in a dream that the circus was in town and her boys were on it. And she was going to go get them.
GROSS: And she did. How did she do it?
MACY: So she found her way to the fairgrounds in Roanoke, Va., which was just in the southern part of downtown. It was also the site of a roaring KKK rally soon before. And during that era when a carnival would come and play a show for a week, there would be one day that African-Americans would be allowed to attend. But on circus day, a big circus like Ringling would only stay one day and they'd go to the next location. And so there was seating in the back of the big top for African-Americans to sit.
And the side sideshow was the one place I was told where segregation codes would sort of break down because...[read on]