Author recalls civil rights era in memoir
By Deb Silverthorn
Author Jo Ivester recalls that the two years her family lived in Mississippi were short on time but long on impact. “That time defined me and directly influenced so much of my life,” she said.
She will share her novel, “The Outskirts of Hope: A Memoir of the 1960s Deep South,” beginning at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, June 22. The Zoom presentation is hosted by the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas’ Center for Jewish Education Tycher Library in partnership with the ADL’s Texoma regional office.
“The Outskirts of Hope,” published in 2015 and dedicated to teachers everywhere, is based on journals by Ivester and her mother, Aura Kruger of blessed memory. Following the family’s move from suburban Boston to Mound Bayou for her father to work as the town’s medical director, the family’s experiences during the height of the civil rights movement were powerful.
“Mom was, and always will be, my hero,” she said of her mother, who became a high school English teacher after they moved. “We had our ups and downs in Mississippi but I’m forever grateful for the decisions my parents made. I was once asked if I ever forgot my friends were Black. You couldn’t forget it, but it wasn’t in my consciousness,” said Ivester. “What I did forget was that I was different because on my first day there I was declared ‘okay’ by Clarence Holmes, who is still dear to me. I was welcomed and that’s what mattered,” said Ivestor, explaining that her family was one of two white families in the town and the only Jews.
The daughter of Aura and Dr. Leon Kruger, also of blessed memory, Ivester is the sister of Charles, Connie, Leondra, Philip and Ruth. She now lives in Austin and is married to Jon, with whom she shares a passion for justice and equality.
“It’s haunting we’re in many ways still fighting the same fights. They didn’t go away but with videos and cellphones it’s all in front of a worldwide audience,” said Ivester. “The awakening is loud but it’s overwhelming to me that we haven’t fixed it yet.”
“We’re excited to have Jo share her story, the essence of the life we are to live as Jews, which is to make our world a better place,” said CJE Coordinator of Projects and Administration Karen Schlosberg. “The evidenced turmoil, through Jo’s engaging pages, has the reader enamored with her parents’ courage and passion.”
The author is the mother of Ben (Jen) Ivester, Elizabeth (Dustin) Norman, Jeremy and Sammy (fiancée, Leah Weidmann) Ivester and grandmother of Ava and Tyler Ivester and Eli, Ellie and Emma Norman. Last year, she published “Once a Girl, Always a Boy,” about her son Jeremy’s journey from childhood through coming out as transgender and eventually emerging as an advocate for the transgender community. Ivester has also adapted the book for the stage, now being readied by Austin’s Ground Floor Theatre.
Ivester notes that her parents set an example of equality and inclusiveness, and that she and her family try to live up to their ideals as well. Her parents’ practice of tikkun olam, of repairing and bettering the world, has also been passed on through the generations.
“There are many good memories from my time in Mound Bayou, and I certainly had some very hard moments, but I was made stronger by the whole experience,” she said. “I was relieved on my first visit back, while preparing this book, to realize my memory of that impact was real and true,” she added. “From my parents, from our lives, we learned that one family, one person, could have an impact and make a difference for generations.”
The Ivesters lived in the Dallas-Fort Worth area from October 2016 to June 2018 while their first grandchildren were infants. They were students of the JCC’s Melton Program and board members of the ADL’s Texoma regional office.
“The choices Jo’s parents made gave her, and to all of us through her telling the story, are a toolbox of coping skills and firsthand lessons on how to meet life challenges,” said Cheryl Drazin, ADL vice-president, Central Division. “Jo and Jon, they are a team who brought enthusiasm and a willingness to share their family’s stories in a way that is so real. Care and concern is who they are. While their time here was short, their impact remains a long-lasting privilege.”
Drazin is working with co-chairs, Susie Carp and Wendy Stanley, to organize the Sunday, Oct. 10, ADL Walk Against Hate, scheduled at press time as an in-person event in Dallas. “For those moved by Jo’s book, and it’s all but impossible not to be, the ADL’s Walk Against Hate is an action step to walk together and to shout that hate has no place in our community,” she said. “The conversations our country is having about race right now are so important.”
Jane Manaster, a book reviewer and longtime patron of the Tycher Library, will moderate the event. “Jo’s writing brings out the pride she has in her mother and shares Aura’s love and respect for teaching and for her students. Jo is smart, she writes smart and her book is exceptional. I look forward to our conversation.”
In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson said: “Many Americans live on the outskirts of hope, some because of their poverty and some because of their color, and all too many because of both. Our task is to help replace their despair with opportunity.”
Visit tinyurl.com/TYCHER-ADL-6-22-JO-IVESTER to register for the event, which is free and open to the public.