In the book, one of the most recent examples is Dr. Robert Joseph Foster, who made a treacherous drive across the mountains from Louisiana to California. He faced many experiences which were heartbreaking. He had not told his children anything. They knew he was from Monroe, Louisiana. That was about all they knew. He had not told them how difficult life had been and nothing about the drive, which was a seminal passage in the book. People who had read the book the first few months it was out, they knew more about these people than their own children knew. It was too painful. They had suppressed it from their memories and identities. They didn’t want to burden their children. They wanted their children to start fresh.

I try to connect with every individual I’m interviewing. I have experiences when I so enjoy talking to a person, like Dr. Foster out of LA. I love talking to him. He was brilliant, for one thing. He had ways of looking at the world where you were always learning.
Being able to sit at the knee of a person as they’re sharing this allows the reporter to be a student and teacher, by sharing what they have told you with the wider world. Foster was a character. I sat down to talk to him the first time and he said, “I love to talk and I’m my favorite subject.” The people in this book are extraordinary human beings. They had been through things and lived to tell it with forethought and consideration, prayer and deliberation, and were assessing me in their own way. So I just loved talking to them. It was like going to school, but you’re majoring in this individual.

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Pamela Newkirk is a professor of journalism at New York University and the author of Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media.