By: Candida Pugh
Publisher: Langdon Street Press
Publication Date: August 2011
Reviewed by: Ellen Feld
Review Date: August 2011
This powerful Civil Rights era novel, written by a former “Freedom Rider,” brings to life the explosive and dangerous times in the early 60s when simply sitting on a bench beneath a sign that read “Whites Only” could get a person with dark skin arrested and tossed in jail.
Jeri Turner is a young white woman, living a relatively uncomplicated life in Los Angles in 1961. After attending a march for justice, she goes to the Sixth Street AME Zion Church to hear people talk about the marches and the injustices that must be stopped. It isn’t long before Jeri decides she wants to leave, but she’s stuck in the middle of a cramped pew. As one of the few white people attending the inspirational meeting, she’s too embarrassed to get up and walk out so she decides to stay. But when Dasante Mitchell gets up to talk, Jeri is moved by his descriptions of life in Monroe, NC. Boldly deciding the join the Freedom Riders and travel to the South to non-violently protest racial segregation, it isn’t long before Jeri is arrested and thrown into the Mississippi State Prison.
While in prison, Jeri experiences much of the cruelty and harsh treatment that others have only read about. She also befriends a male inmate by the name of Ellis Lee, by talking to him through the toilet vent. While Ellis is not a talkative man, Jeri comes to enjoy their brief conversations and is curious to learn as much as she can about this inmate who lives on the other side of her prison wall.
Through time, Jeri learns that Ellis is illiterate, enjoys getting food from his sister when she visits and has experienced at least one beating at the hands of the night Captain. He is also just 23 and sitting on death row. Could Ellis be one of so many Black man convicted of a crime he didn’t commit?
Jeri is eventually released from prison and promises Ellis to help him find a new lawyer and get his conviction overturned. But when she can’t find out what he was convicted of, and that the NAACP won’t help her with his case, she knows something more is at play. Is there a cover-up? And how can she keep her promise to Ellis?
Bridge of the Single Hair is an utterly mesmerizing story that I was unable to stop reading (indeed, I was late for an appointment because I had to finish this book!). The author has an amazing way of engaging the reader and bringing her into the life of Jeri. I felt as if I was there in Parchman Farm (the section of the prison where Jeri was kept) and needed to solve the mystery of Ellis’ case along with her. The horrible treatment she received at the hands of her Southern jailers, as well as the daily injustices served to Blacks both inside the prison as well as on the streets, brought home all the injustices of the Civil Rights era.
Quill says: Do NOT miss this book – you won’t be disappointed!