The Literary Hill: Race and Reckoning


Reckoning and Reconciliation
Two new books from Georgetown University Press deal with the powerful and timely issue of racial reckoning in the nation’s capital.

Two new books from Georgetown University Press deal with slavery and racial reconciliation in Washington, D.C.

In 2015, Georgetown joined with a number of American colleges and universities to acknowledge its ties with slavery and to pursue “a path of memorialization and reconciliation.” One step on that path is the publication of “Facing Georgetown’s History: A Reader on Slavery, Memory, and Reconciliation.” Edited by Adam Rothman and Elsa Barraza Mendoza, the compendium includes historical documents, articles, speeches and scholarly essays (including Ta-Nehisi Coates’s landmark piece on reparations), that explore the university’s role in the history of slavery in Washington as well as its more recent efforts toward redress.

Founded in 1789 by John Carroll, a Catholic slave holder, Georgetown University was fed by a network of plantations in Maryland that supplied hundreds of enslaved men and women who worked on campus for seventy years. In 1838, 272 of Georgetown’s “human property” were sold to bail the school out of debt. The book focuses on this “calamitous” incident as well as the ongoing controversy regarding reparations to the descendants of the group that became known as the GU272.

In “Between Freedom and Equality: The History of an African American Family in Washington, D.C.,” researchers Barbara Boyle Torrey and Clara Myrick Green trace the family of Captain George Pointer, who was born enslaved in 1773 and, through his work for George Washington’s Potomac Company, was able to purchase his freedom at age 19.

Using census data, company records, legal documents, and a remarkable 11-page letter written by Pointer himself to the directors of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal Company, the authors compile a thoroughgoing history of a family whose hard work and accomplishments could not preserve them from the effects of racism and segregation. Their history was all but lost, in part because the DC farm that the family owned for 80 years was seized by eminent domain and razed to make way for a white school in 1928, effectively expunging all record of the family who had lived there for four generations.

Now, thanks to Torrey and Green, we all know this valuable story of a family that “emerged from an era of slavery…only to face the withering of hope and increasing segregation for nearly a hundred years,” but whose descendants are now inspired to “dream of a better future for themselves and all their descendants.”  As one of Pointer’s descendants, James Fisher, writes, “If you don’t know where you’ve come from, it’s more difficult to know where you’re capable of going.”

Together, these two groundbreaking books represent a worthy contribution to the history of Washington as well as an acknowledgment of Georgetown University’s ongoing effort to come to terms with its roots and move toward atoning for its past.

In “A Son From the Mountains,” a memoir by Andrew Mossin, a little Greek boy is adopted and comes to live in DC.

Piecing Together the Shards
In 1959, a 14-month-old boy named Antonios was adopted from a children’s home in Greece. His mother was a farm girl named Angeliki whose lover would not marry her, forcing her to give up her baby. For the rest of her life, she thought about her “son from the mountains” and wondered what had become of him. But that was something he would not know about until many years later.

In “A Son From the Mountains,” Andrew Mossin tells the story of that little boy who began his life in Athens and was raised here in DC by Richard and Iris Mossin, Polish and British immigrants who “were part of the wave that came to America after the war looking for something better.” What they brought with them—and what the now renamed Andrew found himself enmeshed in—was “a relationship charged by misunderstandings and conflicts.”

Motherhood did not come naturally to Iris, a former journalist and volatile alcoholic who agreed to the adoption only because Richard wanted a son. As Mossin writes, “One [mother] claimed but didn’t want me; the other wanted but couldn’t keep me.” His father was a distant figure, absent much of the time for reasons the young Andrew couldn’t understand.

Mossin became a “troubled” boy, his behavioral problems landing him in a hospital for clinical psychiatric observation and then on a farm with other boys whose parents were unable to handle them. “It was like a journey was being taken without me,” he writes of those times, “and what I meant to know, what I needed to know, was where I fit, what I could do to be part of some family.”

During the nearly two decades it took to write his memoir, Mossin came to terms with his past—or at least as much as anyone can. “There seemed…no one reality any of us could share,” he writes. “There were always these shards, these dislocated pieces. You got them handed to you and had to figure out a way to make them whole again.” In “A Son From the Mountains,” Mossing combines a compassionate honesty and a unique poetic voice to share a painful story of rejection, love, and ultimate acceptance.

Andrew Mossin has published six books of poetry, most recently “The Fire Cycle,” and a collection of critical essays. He is currently an associate professor in the Intellectual Heritage Program at Temple University in Philadelphia.

Hill staffer Kit Marshall takes to the beach in Colleen Shogan’s latest Washington Whodunit, “Dead as a Duck.”

Beach Reading
Kit Marshall sure could use a vacation. She just spent three weeks shepherding her boss, a Congresswoman from North Carolina, on a “listening tour” and she’s more than ready to kick back at the seaside house she’s rented with her friends in the “sleepy little beach town” of Duck. Unfortunately, things there are not as idyllic as she had hoped.

In “Dead as a Duck,” Collen J. Shogan’s seventh book in her Washington Whodunit series, Marshall once again finds herself with a mystery to solve after she stumbles upon Duck’s mayor, who has been conked on the head with a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from his organic wine bar. “You discovered a dead body, again?” asks her beleaguered husband.

The police already have their suspect. Unfortunately, it happens to be Kit’s brother. “’Murder’ and ‘relaxation’ didn’t exactly go hand-in-hand,” she sighs, “but I couldn’t leave my little brother hanging, especially with an eager detective looking for a convenient tourist as a scapegoat.” It’s not as if there isn’t a raft of local possibilities, including the mayor’s less-than-grieving wife, his political rival, a zealous environmentalist, and a pizza parlor owner displaced by his wine bar.

So Kit and her “Scooby gang” once again roll into action, dogging suspects, checking alibis, and even conducting an interrogation from a kayak. “Solving a murder, I’d learned, required a team effort,” she says. But never fear. In between sleuthing, the gang has plenty of time to sample the local delicacies (seafood! pizza! donuts!) and consume copious amounts of prosecco. Be sure to tuck a copy of “Dead as a Duck” into your beach bag—right next to the champagne glass.

Colleen Shogan has been reading mysteries since she was six and writing her own since 2015. She has worked as a Senate staffer and as a senior executive at the Library of Congress, and is currently Senior Vice President at the White House Historical Association and Director of the David Rubenstein Center for White House History.