Have you ever wisecracked that you’d like to escape your troubles by running off to join a circus? It was no joke for brothers George and Willie Muse at the turn of the last century. These African American brothers, born albinos to a poor sharecropper’s family, were kidnaped from the tobacco fields in rural Virginia. For decades, they were displayed as freaks in the circuses that crisscrossed America for many years.
The brothers were billed as “Ambassadors from Mars,” or Eko and Iko, the “Sheep-Headed Ecuadorian Cannibals” among other names that are shocking to modern sensibilities.
On this edition of “Two Way Street,” we're reairing our conversation with author Beth Macy, who shares the complicated and compelling story of George and Willie Muse in her book "Truevine: Two Brothers, a Kidnapping, and a Mother's Quest: A True Story of the Jim Crow South."
Among the issues we explore is the question of whether George and Willie might have been better off in their unusual world, rather than laboring as sharecroppers in the blistering sun amid crushing poverty and deep-rooted racism. You’ll also hear about Harriet Muse, the fiercely determined mother who moved Heaven, Earth, and the American court system to get her boys back from the Ringling Brothers Circus. We also discuss Nancy Saunders, the great-niece of the Muse brothers, who devoted many years of her life to protecting and caring for her famous uncles once they returned home.
It’s one of the most fascinating stories we’ve heard in a long time; we think you’ll agree.