Mary Herring Wright's second memoir charts her life as a government employee in Washington, DC during World War II, and her eventual return home to Iron Mine, NC.
“She’s got no more business there than a pig has with a Bible.” That’s what her father said when Mary Herring announced that she would be moving to Washington, DC, in late 1942. Recently graduated from the North Carolina School for Black Deaf and Blind Students, Mary had been invited to the nation’s capital by a cousin to see a specialist about her hearing loss. Though nothing could be done about her deafness, Mary quickly proved her father wrong by passing the civil service examination with high marks. Far from Home: Memories of World War II and Afterward, the second installment of her autobiography, describes her life from her move to Washington to the present.
Mary soon became a valued employee for the Navy, maintaining rosters for the many servicemen in war theaters worldwide. Her remarkable gift for detail depicts Washington in meticulous layers, a sleepy Southern town force-grown into a dynamic geopolitical hub. Life as a young woman amid the capital’s Black middle class could be warm and fun, filled with visits from family and friends, and trips home to Iron Mine for tearful, joyous reunions. But the reality of the times was never far off. On many an idyllic afternoon, she and her friends found somber peace in Arlington Cemetery, next to the grave of the sole Unknown Soldier at that time. During an evening spent at the U.S.O., one hearing woman asked how people like her could dance, and Mary answered, “With our feet.” She became a pen pal to several young servicemen, but did not want to know why some of them suddenly stopped writing.
Despite the close friends and good job that she had in Washington, the emotional toll caused Mary to return to her family home in Iron Mine, NC. There, she rejoined her family and resumed her country life. She married and raised four daughters, and recounts the joys and sorrows she experienced through the years, particularly the loss of her parents. Her blend of the gradual transformation of Southern rural life with momentous events such as Hurricane Hazel creates an extraordinary narrative history. The constant in Far from Home remains the steady confidence that Mary Herring Wright has in herself, making her new memoir a perfect companion to her first.
Mary Herring Wright (1923–2018) grew up in Iron Mine, North Carolina. She began losing her hearing at the age of eight, and was completely deaf by age ten. In 1935, her family sent her to the North Carolina School for the Deaf and Blind, where she was both a student and a teacher. She then moved to Washington, DC and became a clerk for the US Department of the Navy. She later returned to her roots in North Carolina and raised a family. Mary Herring Wright was awarded an honorary degree from Gallaudet University in 2004.
Herring Wright participated as an informant in the Black ASL Project, which researched the linguistic features that make Black ASL recognizable as a distinct variety of American Sign Language. The research was published in The Hidden Treasure of Black ASL, and her interviews can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/GallaudetUniversityPress.