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

TO POISON A NATION

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

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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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BETWEEN THE WORLD AND ME

NOTES ON THE FIRST 150 YEARS IN AMERICA

The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

WILLIE NELSON'S LETTERS TO AMERICA

An epistolary grab bag of memories, lyrics, jokes, and homespun philosophy from the legendary musician.

As an indefatigable touring artist, Nelson (b. 1933) has had a lot of time on his hands during the pandemic. Following his collaboration with his sister, Me and Sister Bobbie, the road warrior offers a loose collection of lessons from a full life. If you’ve never read a book by or about Nelson, this one—characteristically conversational, inspirational, wise, funny, and meandering—is a good place to start. The book is filled with lyrics to many of his best-known songs, most of which he wrote but others that he has made his own as well. For those steeped in The Tao of Willie (2006), some of the stories will be as familiar as the songs—e.g., the origin story of his nicknames, including Booger Red and Shotgun Willie; his time as a DJ and a door-to-door Bible and encyclopedia salesman; early struggles in Nashville with “all the record executives who only see music as a bottom-line endeavor”; and return to his home state of Texas. Many of the personal stories about family and friends can be found in Me and Sister Bobbie, but they are good stories from a rich life, one of abundance for which Nelson remains profoundly grateful. So he gives thanks in the form of letters: to Texas, America, God, golf, and marijuana; the audiences who have supported him and the band that has had his back; those who have played any part in Farm Aid or his annual Fourth of July concert bashes; and departed friends and deceased heroes, one of whom, Will Rogers, answers him back. Nelson even addresses one to Covid-19, which looms over this book, making the author itchy and antsy. Even at 87, he can’t wait to be on the road again.

Another amiable book that is just what you’d expect from Willie.

Pub Date: June 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7852-4154-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper Horizon

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2021

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