An unsettling yet important historical excavation and true-crime narrative.



A compact, jolting, account of the shameful execution of a 14-year-old Black boy in the Jim Crow South.

Beyond the riveting narrative, this book has a poignant backstory: Faber pursued it as both academic study and passion project, ultimately racing a cancer diagnosis to complete it. Before his death in 2020, he tasked colleague and friend Carol Berkin with shepherding it to publication. “I knew Eli had been right,” writes Berkin in the foreword. “I had in my keeping an important story that needed to be shared.” The story of George Junius Stinney Jr., convicted of murdering two young girls in a South Carolina mill town, is puzzling and tragic. “Bitter memories of this double murder and the execution that followed…endured for decades,” not least because a desultory investigation and arguably coerced confession leave open the question of culpability. Faber develops the story meticulously, with rewarding detours into the odd “company town” of Alcolu, where a sternly benevolent founding family dominated life, encouraging relatively benign treatment of Black citizens prior to the murder; and the horrific role of lynching as social control in the South. Recalling a memory from Stinney’s brother, the author writes that “until things unraveled after the murder of two White girls, overt tension between the races did not exist.” When the girls were found murdered, a state constable received a tip from an unnamed “colored man” that George Stinney was “the meanest” boy in the town. Although he’d been in sight of family members the whole day, Stinney’s guilt was quickly presumed. As people heard about his purported confession, “rumors of rape quickly destroyed the relative civility between the races that had long defined Alcolu.” A lynching was narrowly averted. Faber ably documents Stinney’s perfunctory trial and quick march toward execution, giving a rich sense of the daily, pervasive brutality of the Jim Crow South.

An unsettling yet important historical excavation and true-crime narrative.

Pub Date: June 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64336-194-9

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Univ. of South Carolina

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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