A timely contribution to the literature of civil rights.



The murder of young Emmett Till in 1955 stands today as a byword for racist injustice. How it became so is the subject of this well-conceived work of social history.

Gorn (Chair, American Urban History/Loyola Univ. Chicago; Dillinger’s Wild Ride: The Year That Made America’s Public Enemy Number One, 2009, etc.) begins his account with the end of Till’s life—that is, with the gruesome murder in which the young black man was mutilated and tossed into a Mississippi river, his body weighted down with a part from a cotton gin. “We could tell by looking at it that it was a colored person,” said a white farmer who recovered the body. Infamously, Till, visiting from Chicago, was killed for supposedly flirting with a white woman. It was one of countless lynchings, made public in good measure because Till’s mother demanded an open casket, saying, “let the people see what they did to my boy.” The woman’s husband was implicated in a tale of justice and injustice that Gorn examines from many angles: the conduct of the investigation; the reverberations of the Till case in the civil rights movement that was then gathering force, especially as reported by the black press; and, today, how the memory of the Till case is presented in history books, museum exhibits, and the like. As the author documents, the proceedings made a textbook example of Southern apartheid, with a sheriff on the stand lying (he maintained that the body was black because it was sunburned, for instance) and with white supremacists defiantly proclaiming that Till was to be just the first of countless victims. Combing archives and libraries, Gorn assembles a solid case study in how an isolated legal case spread nationally and internationally—and in how, today, the once-exultant supremacist claim that no white would ever go to jail for killing a black person in Mississippi has since been disproven, though racism is far from disappearing.

A timely contribution to the literature of civil rights.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-19-932512-2

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2018

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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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