Q&A With Marcia Herman-Giddens, Author of "Unloose My Heart" Who Speaks at Central Library February 25

Central Library hosts author talk Saturday, February 25
Author Marcia Herman-Giddens

Birmingham, Ala. - Growing up in Birmingham during the volatile civil rights movement, Marcia Herman-Giddens was profoundly affected by her exposure to the wrongs of racist Jim Crow laws. As a young white mother, she and her then-husband attended the Unitarian Church and she got involved in the fight for civil rights for Blacks in Birmingham. 

Now a  retired professor from the University of North Carolina, Herman-Giddens, 81,  recently turned her medical research and writing skills into a memoir - "Unloose My Heart: A Personal Reckoning with the Twisted Roots of My Southern Family Tree" that explores her family's ancestral history including their involvement as slave owners. 

At 3:00 p.m. on Saturday, February 25, in the Central Library Research Building's Arrington Auditorium, Herman-Giddens will talk about her new book. "Unloose My Heart" interweaves Herman-Giddens' experiences as a white woman watching Birmingham's perilous apartheid world with an examination and acknowledgement of her maternal ancestors' slaveholding history.    

"The most powerful sections of her first book detail her unhappy childhood at the hands of a cruel and mentally ill mother and her growing awareness of the plight of Black Americans despite the rampant segregation in Birmingham, Alabama, during the 1950s and 1960s, wrote Katharine Armbrester in a Southern Review of Books article on January 25, 2023. 

In a Q & A with BPL PR Director Roy Williams, Herman-Giddens talks about what inspired her book and what attendees can expect. At the end of her presentation Saturday, Herman-Giddens cousin PJ will perform a musical vignette she performed. PJ is mentioned in the book.

BPL: For those unfamiliar give brief description of the book.

Herman-Giddens: "Unloose my Heart" is an  introspective journey of my descendance from my  maternal family of enslavers interwoven with the backdrop of my mother's mental health issues and growing up in Jim Crow Birmingham as my understanding of the horrors of racism increased. 

BPL: What inspired you to write this memoir?

Herman-Giddens:  My children and my realization that I had some important stories to share as one of the fewer and fewer living people who experienced Jim Crow and the horrors in Birmingham during the 1960s. My being haunted by my ancestors being enslavers, and my quest for the truth. 

BPL: Your book title reminds me of the powerful bestseller "Carry Me Home: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution" by Diane McWhorter about a white woman's family struggles with race in Birmingham - Is your family story similar or different from hers?

Herman-Giddens: Diane McWhorter is a professional journalist and a scholar in her field. I am not. Her personal experiences of growing up clearly seemed to inspire all her work on civil rights. "Carry Me Home" is deeply researched and richly developed as an historical work, though she does include parts of her personal story which included a racist father. 

I am 11 years older than McWhorter. My book describes both my lived experience growing up as a white girl in Jim Crow Birmingham with a racist mother and my participation in the Civil Rights Movement braided together with an examination of my enslaver ancestors. 

I was particularly driven to learn how that history may have personally benefited me. I was an adult by the time the world knew Birmingham as Bombingham. I was also mother, a worker, and a wife. Living in Southside, I could sometimes hear the bombs. We both record a personal reckoning.

BPL: What can attendees of your book talk expect on Saturday?

Herman-Giddens:  I will discuss how much this library meant to me, what inspired me to write my book, share a few readings, and look forward to a frank and respectful discussion. At the end, my cousin will share her on-topic work which involves music and singing with us.

BPL: What has been the reaction from people who have read your book or heard you speak? 

Herman-Giddens: Many have shared how something touched them in a way that gave them more understanding or comfort about some aspect of their life. Some told me they had no idea about what kind of experiences occurred during slavery or Jim Crow. 

For the people that are like minded, the book supports the hope that openly acknowledging the wounds that affect this county will help the road to healing. One of the most touching experiences I had was a father who had me sign a book for his ten month old daughter. He was building a collection because he wanted her to know and to understand this country's fraught history. 

BPL: Anything else to add? 

Herman-Giddens: Because the Birmingham Public Library meant so much to me as a child, I am honored to be presenting here.

About the author Marcia Herman-Giddens

Marcia Edwina Herman-Giddens was born in Washington, DC and soon moved to New York and then in 1946 to Birmingham. As Marcia grew up, she was profoundly affected by her exposure to the wrongs of Jim Crow, the ongoing atrocities, and pervasive injustice. Later, as a young mother, she and her then-husband attended the Unitarian Church and participated in Birmingham’s Civil Rights Movement. 


Herman-Giddens attended St John's College in Annapolis, Duke University, and the University of North Carolina, receiving her DrPH there in 1994. Dr. Herman-Giddens spent her career years in North Carolina, in the areas of medicine, public health, research, scientific writing, and advocacy, primarily involving children. Her scientific papers have been published in numerous medical journals and books.


More recently, Herman-Giddens turned her research and writing skills to her family ancestral history. Her debut book, Unloose My Heart: A Personal Reckoning with the Twisted Roots of My Southern Family Tree, interweaves her experiences in Birmingham’s perilous apartheid world with an examination and acknowledgement of her maternal ancestors’ slaveholding history.


She writes and gardens beside a canopy of trees outside her office window, and cherishes her large family, which now includes two great-grandchildren. 

You can check out Unloose My Heart from BPL by clicking here 

Purchase Unloose My Heart, published by the University of Alabama Press, in your local bookstore and online including Amazon.com

\Facebook page: www.facebook.com/Marcia.E.HermanGiddens 

Website and blog: www.marciahermangiddens.com 

Goodreads: www.goodreads.com/book/show/60771703-unloose-my-heart