I HEAR THEM CALLING MY NAME: A Journey Through the New South by Chet Fuller

I HEAR THEM CALLING MY NAME: A Journey Through the New South

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Fuller, a black Atlanta Journal reporter, starts with a grabber: his assignment to travel around the South, in work pants and a beat-up car, ""to see what had changed in twenty years."" Shades of John Howard Griffin, as Fuller reflects, taking the heat to write Black Like Me. But Fuller gave up on the role-playing after a month, and reverted to straight reporting--so we have only a few episodes of reverse ""passing"" (can he speak the street-comer lingo in ""tough"" Charlotte, N.C.? are rednecks about to beat up on him in ""hillbilly"" Salisbury? who, black or white, can stomach being a restaurant floor-mopper/toilet-scrubber/tray-carrier--at $2.85 an hour?); and then Fuller shifts into the stories told him by people who ""ain't seen no difference,"" and never expect to. Meanwhile, he's trying to track his own feelings: fear, resentment, anger at the assignment; the unthinking, mistaken assumption that the Salisbury rednecks mean him harm; ""pity for the people who lived there""--on Americus, Ga.'s, stinking Beale Street; depression during a weekend reprieve at his ""storybook"" suburban Atlanta home. And, back in the white-run newsroom, a sense that color still matters--everywhere. Fuller's personal voice has a second-hand, copybook quality. It would be easy, too, to say that he sounds naive. But he's trying, however awkwardly, to deal with his own middle-class black condition, his own privileged, near-powerless situation. The rest of the book goes off in all directions and seldom connects. Fuiler's ten-part series appears, making him a celebrity; the paper's elated management, eager to ""show me off again,"" sends him to Mississippi to cover the renascent Klan--""much to my fear and displeasure."" (That connects.) In Tupelo, Miss., he concludes--not quite convincingly--that both the black protesters and the Klan are anachronisms. Then he spotlights three local self-help projects--without looking very closely or very deeply--as ""examples of the good that I feel can be done on a large scale in this country."" Finally, after intermittent (mostly downbeat) comments from black leaders, he goes to Washington, The Source--where Sargent Shriver warms to the achievements of the War on Poverty and Carter aide Stuart Eizenstat talks platitudes. The last Fuller reproduces at length, and there are other times too when his tapes might have been edited more rigorously. But for all the book's failings, Fuller does put across how much hasn't changed and how uncomfortable it is for someone black-like-him to live with it.

Pub Date: June 25th, 1981
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin