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Truevine

Cover of Truevine

Truevine

Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South
by Beth Macy
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The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars." Back home, their mother never accepted that they were "gone" and spent 28 years trying to get them back.Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
The true story of two African-American brothers who were kidnapped and displayed as circus freaks, and whose mother endured a 28-year struggle to get them back.The year was 1899 and the place a sweltering tobacco farm in the Jim Crow South town of Truevine, Virginia. George and Willie Muse were two little boys born to a sharecropper family. One day a white man offered them a piece of candy, setting off events that would take them around the world and change their lives forever.Captured into the circus, the Muse brothers performed for royalty at Buckingham Palace and headlined over a dozen sold-out shows at New York's Madison Square Garden. They were global superstars in a pre-broadcast era. But the very root of their success was in the color of their skin and in the outrageous caricatures they were forced to assume: supposed cannibals, sheep-headed freaks, even "Ambassadors from Mars." Back home, their mother never accepted that they were "gone" and spent 28 years trying to get them back.Through hundreds of interviews and decades of research, Beth Macy expertly explores a central and difficult question: Where were the brothers better off? On the world stage as stars or in poverty at home? Truevine is a compelling narrative rich in historical detail and rife with implications to race relations today.
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About the Author-
  • Beth Macy won the J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, a joint project of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard, for "her extraordinary reporting and narrative skills" and her work on Factory Man. The daughter of a factory worker, she writes about outsiders and underdogs. Her articles have appeared in national magazines and the Roanoke Times, where she has won more than a dozen national awards for her reporting, including a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard. She lives in Roanoke, Virginia.

Reviews-
  • Publisher's Weekly

    June 20, 2016
    The lives and fortunes, or misfortunes, of Willie and George Muse—two black albino brothers who were better known by their circus names, Eko and Ito—constitute the underpinning of this ramshackle book by journalist Macy (Factory Man). In 1899 the brothers, both under the age of 10, were at work in a tobacco field in Virginia, when they were kidnapped. They were displayed as freaks for the following 13 years and exhibited in various circuses and sideshows. They were labeled sheep-headed men from Ecuador, ministers from the African kingdom of Dahomey, Ethiopian monkey men, and, most famously, ambassadors from Mars found in a wrecked spaceship. In 1927 the brothers were reunited with their mother after years of her strenuous efforts to get them back. They returned as side-show performers under better, though often disputatious, contractual conditions. There’s a page-turner buried in Macy’s meandering account, but multiple backstories—circus history, Roanoke history, Jim Crow life for blacks and whites, Macy’s personal memoir (growing up in Roanoke, writing this book, building a relationship with a surviving Muse family member), and snippets from scholarly writing—disrupt the reader’s focus.

  • AudioFile Magazine Narrator Suzanne Toren brings an understated and lucid voice to this strange but true story of the Jim Crow South. In 1899, brothers George and Willie Muse lived and worked with their sharecropping family on a tobacco farm in Truevine, Virginia. At ages 6 and 9 the brothers--both African-American albinos with golden hair--were kidnapped by circus agents and displayed as "freaks" for the next 13 years. As George and Willie traveled worldwide with the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey circuses, their mother tirelessly worked to bring them home. Toren's poised, sophisticated narration makes for enjoyable listening while still allowing author Beth Macy's impressive journalistic efforts to take center stage. A.N. � AudioFile 2016, Portland, Maine
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Truevine
Truevine
Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South
Beth Macy
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