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James McBride was born in 1957 to an African-American father and a Polish Jewish immigrant mother. McBride's biological father, Andrew Dennis McBride, died of lung cancer while his mother, Ruth McBride, was pregnant with James. Therefore James regarded his stepfather, Hunter Jordan, as "Daddy." James's mother eventually had twelve children, eight from her first marriage and four from her second. James grew up in New York City and Delaware. James's mother Ruth was not forthcoming about the past. James struggled to understand his sibling's behaviour about the civil rights and black power movements. Being a mixed-race child, James struggled to find his identity in a very culturally stratified America.