Meridian is another choice for the 1976 Club. It is about the life of a Southern black woman who becomes an activist during the 1960’s Civil Rights movement.
Meridian is hard to describe as a novel. Although it covers the teen and adult years of its heroine, Meridian Hill, it does so in a patchy, nonlinear way, at first seeming to be a series of nonsequential short stories. Meridian grows up with an uninvolved mother, who says things she doesn’t understand, like “Be nice,” as a code for her behavior with boys. So, it’s not surprising that she becomes pregnant at a young age and has to drop out of high school to get married.
However, the bulk of the story is about relationships formed after her marriage is over and she gives up her son so that she can accept a scholarship to a black girls’ college in Atlanta. She meets and falls for Truman Held, who encourages her to become more involved in the Civil Rights movement, demonstrating and signing up black adults to vote.
It is Meridian’s complex relationship with Truman and his white activitist wife from the North, Lynne, that is the focus of much of the novel. Truman and Lynne are involved in a black/white love/hate relationship that is familiar to me from reading other black authors of the time. At first, the Civil Rights movement is composed of a mixture of black and white activists. Then some of the groups shut out the white activists and then the women, so that only the black men have a voice. Meridian continues to adopt any cause she can find, but as Lynne is shut out, her relationship with Truman sours, as it does over his frequent infidelities.
Walker’s prose is lovely, although she seems detached from her characters. Meridian herself seems to have to remove herself from personal relationships before she can serve humanity. I had mixed feelings about this novel and wasn’t sure I understood everything.