May 22, 1998 at 04:00 AM EDT

In 1875, Malinda Rice, a black teenager working in the household of retired Virginia brigadier general John R. Jones, gave birth to his daughter, Mary. Surprisingly, in what became quite the local scandal, the married general bucked Southern tradition by not only publicly acknowledging Mary but also financing her college education. In Freedom’s Child, author McCray, Malinda’s 84-year-old granddaughter, unearths her family’s long-buried secrets in a quest to understand her mother’s rich, tumultuous life as a teacher, housewife, and civil rights activist. McCray is neither historian nor biographer, and it shows. But what her writing lacks in professional polish, it makes up for in emotion. B

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