TO POISON A NATION

THE MURDER OF ROBERT CHARLES AND THE RISE OF JIM CROW POLICING IN AMERICA

A sturdy addition to the literature on the early period of the Jim Crow era.

An account of racial violence in 1900 New Orleans reveals a complex system of institutional racism.

Bates College history professor Baker tells the multilayered story of Robert Charles, who shot a White police officer and later died in a shootout with police. The book is a nuanced history of a Black man unable to improve his status in a racist world who was ultimately no longer willing to cower to White hostility. Charles, writes the author, was “conceived in slavery,” the son of sharecroppers with little education. After an altercation while working as a railroad laborer in Mississippi, he fled and joined the wave of laborers who left rural areas for the big city, New Orleans. Escaping not just poverty, but also the horrendous violence of Reconstruction-era Mississippi, where White terrorism was common, Charles “reached a city on the edge, suspended between a tumultuous and disappointing history and dreams of a remarkable future.” The populous former slave-market hub was a commercial capital, and the corrupt local government often caved to business concerns. All the while, racial tensions simmered. “Emancipation was a red-hot torch in the social powder keg,” writes Baker, “as struggles over the meaning of black freedom made New Orleans the most dangerous city in postwar America.” Violence erupted in July 1900, when Charles—then involved in the International Migration Society, which helped Blacks relocate to Liberia—resisted police interrogation as he waited outside a girlfriend’s apartment building with his friend. Riots shook the city for days, killing at least 28 people and culminating in Charles’ lynching, an event that served as a launching pad for the police force to reinforce and extend its extreme measures against Black citizens. In an intricate narrative, Baker also traces into the 20th century other examples of police brutality and vigilantism in the city.

A sturdy addition to the literature on the early period of the Jim Crow era.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-62097-603-6

Page Count: 480

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: April 27, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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KILLERS OF THE FLOWER MOON

THE OSAGE MURDERS AND THE BIRTH OF THE FBI

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

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  • National Book Award Finalist

Greed, depravity, and serial murder in 1920s Oklahoma.

During that time, enrolled members of the Osage Indian nation were among the wealthiest people per capita in the world. The rich oil fields beneath their reservation brought millions of dollars into the tribe annually, distributed to tribal members holding "headrights" that could not be bought or sold but only inherited. This vast wealth attracted the attention of unscrupulous whites who found ways to divert it to themselves by marrying Osage women or by having Osage declared legally incompetent so the whites could fleece them through the administration of their estates. For some, however, these deceptive tactics were not enough, and a plague of violent death—by shooting, poison, orchestrated automobile accident, and bombing—began to decimate the Osage in what they came to call the "Reign of Terror." Corrupt and incompetent law enforcement and judicial systems ensured that the perpetrators were never found or punished until the young J. Edgar Hoover saw cracking these cases as a means of burnishing the reputation of the newly professionalized FBI. Bestselling New Yorker staff writer Grann (The Devil and Sherlock Holmes: Tales of Murder, Madness, and Obsession, 2010, etc.) follows Special Agent Tom White and his assistants as they track the killers of one extended Osage family through a closed local culture of greed, bigotry, and lies in pursuit of protection for the survivors and justice for the dead. But he doesn't stop there; relying almost entirely on primary and unpublished sources, the author goes on to expose a web of conspiracy and corruption that extended far wider than even the FBI ever suspected. This page-turner surges forward with the pacing of a true-crime thriller, elevated by Grann's crisp and evocative prose and enhanced by dozens of period photographs.

Dogged original research and superb narrative skills come together in this gripping account of pitiless evil.

Pub Date: April 18, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-53424-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2017

TOMBSTONE

THE EARP BROTHERS, DOC HOLLIDAY, AND THE VENDETTA RIDE FROM HELL

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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