At the Tennessee Children’s Home Society in Memphis, Georgia Tann operated a black market baby business from the 1920s through the 1950s. She presented almost five thousand orphans to anxious parents, concealing the reality that many were not orphans but rather the kidnapped children of low-income families, single moms in need, and pregnant women who were told their kids had died in hospitals.
A new generation of people learned of Tann’s successful child trafficking business after reading Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate. Those who had been adopted and knew very little about their origins learned some shocking information about their families. Many of the survivors of the Tann concentration camp who got in touch with Wingate and award-winning writer Judy Christie (who chronicled the experiences of fifteen adoptees in this book) were inspired to seek their biological relatives.
The circumstances in which adoptees were taken from their biological families are described in Before and After are both heartbreaking and frightening. Many of these people were raised alone but have happily reconnected with their siblings in their latter years.
Christie and Wingate describe families from very diverse socioeconomic situations reaching out to embrace better-late-than-never brothers, sisters, and cousins, and how those reunions are all the sweeter and more passionate for the time missed. Many of the silent victims of the tragically corrupt system return to Memphis with the authors to reclaim their stories at a Tennessee Children’s Home Society reunion… with extraordinary results.
— Judy Christie (@judypchristie) September 23, 2022
Before We Were Yours was one of the most profound works of nonfiction that I have ever read, and that was two years ago. While Georgia Tann and the Tennessee Adoption Scandal were real people, the characters in the story were made up.
In shedding light on tragic chapters of history that were previously unknown to the general public, books like Before We Were Yours have the potential to make a profound impact. Furthermore, this book assumed an even greater significance for a group of people who came forward as children and claimed to have been affected by these actual events.
Twelve victims’ personal stories are told in Before and After, along with photographs and other mementos from their time at the Tennessee Children’s Home Society Orphanage, which are presented as fact rather than fiction. Authors Judy Christie and Lis Wingate played a pivotal role in reuniting the victims and introducing them to relatives they may have never known they had.
While I find Georgia Tann’s actions to be unfathomably horrible, I did enjoy reading about the bright spots that existed amidst the overall darkness of the stories. Baby Lillian’s story, in which her adoptive parents picked her out of a group of healthy boys because they found her sick and covered in a rash in a corner of the room on their way to pick up their baby, was particularly moving.
Her life was spared because her adoptive parents pushed aside Tann and picked Lillian. Over 500 children are thought to have died while in Tann’s care because she would abandon sick kids to die because she considered them “worthless.”
Before We Were Yours was a great read because it provided insight into a tragic period in recent U.S. history. The fact that these survivors have found each other and are able to share their experiences and strength is inspiring. Although the stories in Before and After are sad, I found that they also contained a great deal of optimism, so I would recommend it to anyone, though I would advise you to read Before We Were Yours first.
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