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 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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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. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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