BROTHERLY LOVE

MURDER AND THE POLITICS OF PREJUDICE IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY RHODE ISLAND

An intriguing account of a New England rush to judgment in the Jacksonian Era. The murder of textile manufacturer Amasa Sprague on New Year's Eve 1843 in Spragueville, Rhode Island, launched an enthusiastic but careless manhunt led by the victim's brother William (US senator from Rhode Island) and carried out by longtime residents of town. Within 24 hours, even though no physical evidence was found to tie them to the crime, three Irish brothers were arrested. The theory was that Nicholas Gordon, furious over Amasa Sprague's opposition to his renewal of a liquor license, had retaliated by enlisting brothers John and William in a murder conspiracy. The Hoffmanns (both English/University of Rhode Island) carefully explain the political tensions that colored the case (Yankee farmers in remote rural areas felt threatened by Irish immigrants, as well as by reformers who sought to change the state's constitution in order to institute universal adult white-male suffrage). The prosecution charged that John and William Gordon had killed at their brother's request because ``the tie of kindred is to an Irishman almost an indissoluble bond,'' while the judge urged jurors to weigh the character of prosecution witnesses versus that of Irish defense witnesses. Nevertheless, the evidence against the brothers was so weak that one was acquitted, a second was freed after two hung juries, and the third was convicted in what came to be seen as a miscarriage of justice. John Gordon's execution—the last in the state—caused so much guilt that seven years later it contributed to Rhode Island's abolition of capital punishment. The conclusion here—that William Sprague had conspired to kill his senior business partner, the overly cautious Amasa—is supported only by speculation about motive and opportunity, but the authors have little doubt that William helped engineer the death of an innocent man. Well-researched local history on a still timely issue: the effect of class and ethnicity on criminal justice. (Seven b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 1993

ISBN: 0-87023-852-3

Page Count: 240

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1993

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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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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