The color of water – a black man’s tribute to his white mother

James McBride


I love this book. I read it years ago and found it again when sorting out my books recently. I decided not to release it until i had read it again. And i am glad.


The book tells two stories – that of Ruth McBride Jordan who was born Ruchel Dwajra Zylska and became Rachel Deborah Shilsky when her Jewish parents immigrated to America in the early 1930s, and that of James McBride, her 5th son.


Rachel was a Jewish girl, the daughter of a rabbi living n the South on America in the 30s. She moved to New York in the late 30s, away and from her family. They sat shiva for her and she was considered dead to them forever. This because she lived with and then married a black man. She changed her name to Ruth and she and Dennis had eight children, all of whom considered themselves black.


When her first husband died, she married another black man and had a further 4 children. All 12 of her children have degrees and are professional people.


What is amazing is that white Ruth married black men in America in the 30s and then again in the 50s. Inter-racial relationships were illegal in many parts of America still then and she went to the South with her first husband once only, to bury him. Had they returned during their marriage, he would have been lynched by the KKK for his relationship with her.


But Ruth thought all the nonsense about race was just silly; that people were people and that she had more kindness shown to her by blacks than by whites her whole life.


A feisty woman even into her 70s Ruth is the kind of mother more kids in this time need.


James, her 8th child wrote the book together with his mother. Alternate chapters tell his life story and so reveal his mother. He struggled as do many teenagers, but he had the added burden of a white mother in Harlem. She took no shit and expected her kids not to either. She had them bussed to far afield schools where they would get a better education. Her attitude was that if James was the only black kid at school that was the white kids’ problem not his.


It must have been unbelievably hard for all of them in the racially tense 50s and 60s. The Black Panthers and Malcolm X were encouraging revolution and these 12 black kids went home to a white mother. Talk about a breeding pit for confusion. This book is emotive and filled with love, both affectionate and scratchy.


Ruth is a hard woman who survived a multitude of challenges in her life. She achieved a huge amount too including establishing a church with her first husband. From Judaism to Christianity, from Europe to Harlem, New York, from family to friends, from white to black, from confusion to academic success, Ruth McBride Jordan dragged her family along with her, her bowlegged gait strong enough to get them all to the other side.


This is a very readable book about a remarkable women. We need more of her in this world!