BOOKS: Was the Picnic Ruined?

A leading black scholar recalls the bittersweet effects of the civil rights movement on his tiny, segregated hometown

Albert Murray, the black social critic, once wisecracked, "Sure we got our troubles, but if white folks could be black for just one Saturday night, they wouldn't never want to be white folks no more." Henry Louis Gates Jr. does not go nearly that far in Colored People (Knopf; 216 pages; $22), his memoir of growing up in a West Virginia mill town during the 1950s and '60s. But his beguiling elegy for the exuberant society blacks created for themselves under the veil of segregation provides one explanation of why few African Americans, even if they had the power to change,...

Want the full story?

Subscribe Now


Get TIME the way you want it

  • One Week Digital Pass — $4.99
  • Monthly Pay-As-You-Go DIGITAL ACCESS$2.99
  • One Year ALL ACCESSJust $30!   Best Deal!
    Print Magazine + Digital Edition + Subscriber-only Content on

Learn more about the benefits of being a TIME subscriber

If you are already a subscriber sign up — registration is free!