Ashamed to Die
Silence, Denial, and the AIDS Epidemic in the South
By Andrew J. Skerritt
(Lawrence Hill Books, Hardcover, 9781569768143, 320pp.)
Publication Date: November 2011
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Even as the tragic African AIDS epidemic fills the headlines, the United States has failed to address the HIV/AIDS crisis in the South, where people are dying because of a shame that leads to silence. In Ashamed to Die, author Andrew J. Skerritt focuses on a small town in South Carolina, a microcosm of this national tragedy, and examines how the tenacious disease ravaged the black community. The heartbreak of America’s failure comes alive through Carolyn, a wild child whose rebellion coincided with the advent of AIDS; Girard, a dreadlocked bank executive; Nita, a young woman searching for love; and others whose moving stories reveal hard truths about the consequences of our nation’s neglect.
These are impoverished people who struggled with racial oppression for generations but whose lives were dramatically changed by the civil rights movement. Sadly, their hard-won freedoms were subverted by the problems arising from overwhelming poverty and ingrained inequities--drugs, illicit sex, despair, and, finally, death from AIDS. Skerritt contends that taboos about love, race, and sexuality—combined with Southern conservatism, white privilege, and black oppression—continue to create an unacceptable death toll and that, despite AIDS awareness programs and medical breakthroughs, the epidemic is not lessening in the Deep South.
This true story of how persons of faith, enduring love, and limitless forgiveness can inspire others is not only a call to action and awareness but also a guide for poor communities facing a public health threat burdened with conflicting moral and social consequences.
Andrew Skerritt is a longtime journalist who has contributed to publications including the St. Petersburg Times, Charlotte NC Observer, and the Tallahassee Democrat. A native of London, England, he grew up on the Caribbean island of Montserrat. He lives in Tallahassee, Florida, where he teaches journalism at Florida A&M University.
Mr. Skerritt’s book is both poignant and beautiful, even as the subject is tragic. His writing evokes an immediate and powerful reaction from the reader. . . . It is a must read for anyone concerned with HIV/AIDS or social justice.” Paul Kawata, Executive Director, National Minority AIDS Council
A compassionate and beautifully written account of the arrival and devastation caused by AIDS in the poor, rural South. [. . .] This is a history worth telling, a story deftly crafted by an excellent journalist.” Patrice Gaines, author of Laughing in the Dark, former reporter for the Washington Post
"Powerful and beautifully written...Skerritt's book succeeds not only as an excellent work journalism, but a powerful story of the damaged lives of the men and women as well as the families left behind in the wake of this awful disease." —The Post & Courier
"A powerful debut...The author makes a strong case that the shame is not with the dying but with those who turn away from the reality of this epidemic."—Kirkus Reviews
"Skerritt is skillful in showing the complex feelings and traditions that tragically keep many southern AIDS sufferers from seeking help; his portraits of the group of health care pros who do wonderful work, trying to deal with the crisis in the face of pervasive death, is moving nearly beyond words. This is the kind of book you wish you could place in a lot of people's hands and suggest they read it." —Creative Loafing Charlotte