- “You want me to talk about my family and here I been dead to them for fifty years” (Chpt. 1, p. 1).This begins Ruth McBride Jordan’s account of her past, recorded by her son, James McBride. Rachel, or Ruth as she calls herself, fled her Jewish family when she was eighteen to marry a black man, Andrew McBride. Her Jewish family performed the ceremony of the dead for her, treating her as dead to them and never spoke to her again.
- “She and my father brought a curious blend of Jewish-European and African-American distrust and paranoia into our house” (Chpt. 4, p. 28).Ruth McBride came from a Jewish immigrant family who had to flee the Holocaust. They lost several family members to pogroms. Andrew McBride was a black man who fled persecution in the South. Marrying a white woman was a life-threatening act for an African American man in the 1940s. Both Jews and blacks had marginal status in American society in the early twentieth century. Ruth and her black husband were often afraid for their lives and taught their children not to mix with outsiders.
- “She couldn’t stand racists of either color” (Chpt. 4, p. 30).The subject of persecution both as a Jew and then as a white wife in a mixed marriage, Ruth taught her children to ignore racism. Some of her children worked in the civil rights movement. Their mixed white and black heritage and strong educational background led to their ability to transcend the color line in America.“As a grown man, I understand now, understand how her Christian principles and trust in God kept her going through all her life’s battles” (Chpt. 4, p. 33).Ruth converted from Judaism to Christianity when she was consumed with guilt over her mother’s death. She found love and forgiveness in her husband’s church and helped him to found a Baptist church. When her husband died and left her poor, she had only her trust in God to help her raise her eight children. “I belong to the world of one God, one people. But as a kid, I preferred the black side, and often wished that Mommy had sent me to black schools like my friends” (Chpt. 10, p. 104)James explains what it was like as a mixed race child. Ruth insisted her children have a rigorous education so they could escape the ghetto. She sent them to Jewish schools, and often, like James, they were the only black student in class.
- “Mommy staggered about in an emotional stupor for nearly a year. But while she weebled and wobbled and leaned, she did not fall” (Chpt. 16, p. 163). Ruth’s grief at the death of those closest to her—her mother, her first husband, Andrew (Dennis), and her second husband, Hunter, almost unhinges her so she cannot function, but she always manages to get up again and carry on.
- “See, a marriage needs love. And God. And a little money. That’s all. The rest you can deal with. It’s not about black or white” (Chpt. 23, p. 233). Ruth explains her first ideal marriage to her son James. Though she and Dennis had everything against them, they were happy together and in love. This is more important to her than the social consequences of an interracial marriage.
- “The man died without a penny, yet his children grew up to graduate from college, to become doctors, professors, teachers, and professionals all (Chpt. 24, p. 251).James describes the legacy his father left to his eight children after he died at the age of forty-five. He left them no money but a home filled with love and vision. His wife carried out the vision of getting them out of the ghetto by getting them educated through scholarships.
- “She wipes her memory instantly and with purpose; it’s a way of preserving herself” (Chpt. 25, p. 271). James explains how her mother bore her tragic past, the loss of her family, and the constant insults to herself and her children because of the racial issue. She had an iron purpose to protect and raise her children, to be strong and overcome whatever happened. Thus, James was not able to pry out her Jewish history from her until she was an old woman. She did not want to look back.
- “In running from her past, Mommy has created her own nation, a rainbow coalition . . . “ (Chpt. 25, p. 277). Ruth had twelve children from two marriages to black men and raised them all. In her old age, she is a grand matriarch with dozens of grandchildren of all skin shades.
The Color of Water: Top Ten Quotes