McMahon’s family history is a slide show of the turbulent South: a thwarted lynch mob on a Georgia preacher’s front porch; the integration of Mercer University and Macon, Georgia’s Vineville Baptist Church; Birmingham, 1963; Martin Luther King, Jr.’s march to Selma; Koinonia Farm and the germination of Habitat for Humanity; inner-city activism and counter-culture communities in the woods.
After a lifetime of hearing these stories but never fully understanding them, McMahon set out with a map and tape recorder to learn three things: (1) how the Civil Rights Movement and its aftermath shaped—or misshaped—her father; (2) how growing up in a family with this embittered, violent, and then absent father shaped her; and (3) how she survived it all remarkably intact. The result is Fresh Water from Old Wells. It weaves together the regional and national events of the volatile 1960s and 70s, her family’s tumultuous Southern saga, and the stories of her own quest, which finally allows her to unclench her fist and release years of resentment and anger.
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