by Anthony Conty (Parkville, MD): “Chasing Me to My Grave: An Artist’s Memoir of the Jim Crow South” by Winfred Rembert has a difficult job right out of the gate: writing a biography about an artist or writer is challenging because most of the brilliance comes from within their mind. Luckily, Rembert told most of his story to Erin I. Kelly, so we receive more of a glance inside his mind. A close friend told me he was “sick” of these ex-slave stories, but they need to read this and see how many new stories exist.

In a way, Rembert’s stories remind us of how the tales of the Jim Crow era have stood the test of time. We remember the past as a way of appreciating what we have now. If you grew up with the rules that only apply to people with your skin color, you have a different outlook than others. His art is his memory, from courthouses to jails to pool halls. He manages to have nostalgia for a period that he would never what to repeat.

The book is primarily a memoir about his experiences with racism and Jim Crow, but many pages contain pictures of his artwork; therefore, it is a rapid read but not easy. For example, describing a near-lynching in matter-of-fact detail is a feat. Like most stories about civil rights, it shocks me how recently all this was still going down. It makes me feel bad for stressing about little things in my life. At least I am not working five jobs for the right to live.

From an art perspective, it amazes me that Rembert used leather as his primary medium, with damp leather combined with paper and tracing. When I studied Art History as an elective in college, I remember not to judge art as better or worse based on available materials. You have to remind yourself about this way of thinking often.

To say that it is never too late to become who you want to be is incredibly cliché; nonetheless, Rembert lives as an enslaved person, laborer, and criminal before he discovers his true talent as an artist. Nevertheless, his experiences made him who he is. Like the antiheroes we have come to love in various series, he had a heck of a life leading to one unique story. His art lets him pass on parts of his life that would have disappeared.