About the Book

Book Protagonist: Avery Stafford
Publication Date: 2017
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction

Historical Context

Before We Were Yours

By Lisa Wingate

Lisa Wingate’s ‘Before We Were Yours’ is built on the historical background of a series of child trafficking events around 1930s Memphis, Tennessee. This inhumane event was triggered by a widespread poverty resulting from The Great Depression.

Although a fiction tied around real-life historical events, the realities erected in ‘Before We Were Yours’ are quite comparable to the actual accounts of such a devastating era when child theft, abuse, and sale were becoming a lucrative business, with Georgia Tann – a real-life child trafficker – also making an appearance in the book.

As The Great Depression Crushes US Economy

Just like in John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men,’ the event of The Great Depression was the foremost antecedent serving as the catalyst for the activism and stories in ‘Before We Were Yours’. Following the event, America saw its economy fall belly-flat to the ground – resulting in companies and businesses going bankrupt, causing a mass spread of unemployment for millions of people.

Shortly, there was a sweep of poverty in the land, and Americans began searching out solutions to better their lives. Living their homes and traveling far, far away to out-of-state in search of jobs to better their lives were among some common things people did during these times.

For the people living around the Mississippi River, the norm was anchoring on a boat in the waters, as this made their traveling and moving from place to place easy. This is why in ‘Before We Were Yours’, the Foss family (and other families) lives on a shanty boat that grapnels offshore, this way it becomes easier to move in search of greener pastures.

Opportunistic Few Begin Feasting on Frailing Masses in Memphis

In Memphis, Tennessee, several families were reduced to poverty as they began grappling with enduring economic, social, and emotional hardship. However, at about the same time, there were a few people who had means that took advantage of the cataclysmic Great Depression – among them was a Memphis child orphanage administrator, Georgia Tann.

Tann saw how the mass poverty was circulating like a whirlwind and didn’t want to be sucked into it or be a part of it. For this reason, she capitalized on her authority as the orphanage head and began illegally acquiring children from their poor parents, selling them off to rich families who were willing to pay a high price for these children.

Law Enforcement is Compromised

As Tann’s illegal business boomed, more parties began getting involved – even the law enforcement agencies and local Memphis authorities weighed in. At this point, she realized that she was going to have to start covering her tracks if she was to stay out of trouble and in business.

Tann must have obviously settled the police by splitting her revenue from child sales in other to cover her tracks, this is because even when parents reported cases of their children and ward going missing, the police didn’t really do anything tangible to find the missing persons; it felt like the children never existed.

Parents Resign to the Reality of Losing Their Children

With the hope for the common man compromised, parents increasingly grew accustomed to losing their children with cases such as a child going to school and not returning, or a blatant, good old fashion breaking in and stealing of children became the norm.

Several families in Tennessee and beyond were affected by George Tann’s greed and ruthless pursuit of money, and these all took place between 1939 to 1950. Over five thousand children were reportedly trafficked by Georgia Tann and Co., and at least five hundred of those children died in the process from either physical abuse, starvation, or pure murder due to uncooperativeness.


What is the root cause of the child trafficking issue in ‘Before We Were Yours’?

The economic hardship caused by The Great Depression is the root cause of the child trafficking issue in ‘Before We Were Yours’.

Who were the victims of Georgia Tann’s malevolent practices?

In ‘Before We Were Yours’, it is mostly the poor and peasants who were either downright robbed of their children, or in some cases of child delivery, told their children were stillborn so that they lose all hope while their child is being sold for top-dollar to rich people yearning to have kids.

Is ‘Before We Were Yours’ a novel based on real-life accounts?

Before We Were Yours’ is purely historical fiction by genre, although its plot is based on real-life accounts.

Did Georgia Tann face punishment for her crimes?

Sadly, Georgia Tann can’t be said to have faced the full wrath of the law for her crimes because she passed away shortly after being found out her punitive was decided and met.

Victor Onuorah
About Victor Onuorah
Victor is as much a prolific writer as he is an avid reader. With a degree in Journalism, he goes around scouring literary storehouses and archives; picking up, dusting the dirt off, and leaving clean even the most crooked pieces of literature all with the skill of analysis.
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