A lively, readable story that nicely complicates the view of racial and ethnic relations in the South of old.


Journalist and novelist Shaik blows the dust off the ancient records of an African American society, revealing a forgotten past.

The Société d’Economie et d’Assistance Mutuelle, born in 19th-century New Orleans, was dedicated to benevolent causes of tremendous political implication, including the right of education and the franchise. Its members—all men—“rejected racism and colorism,” a natural outcome of the fact that so many of them were of mixed African and European heritage, the vaunted “Creoles” of the city’s storied past. The “Economistes” who are revealed through contemporary journals kept by official recorders—and from which Shaik works—have mostly French and Spanish surnames, but it is telling that a later president of the organization bore the name Cohen; his father was Jewish and mother, Black. As one member said in the post-Reconstruction era, the Société “should be able to receive Jews and Chinese” who applied for membership. Its headquarters destroyed by hurricanes half a century ago, the Société performed many functions: It was a place for members to gather to read, smoke, drink, play billiards, and otherwise socialize, but it was also a center for a business and intellectual community that advanced the causes of “free men of color.” That advancement met with powerful resistance, particularly after the Civil War, when lynchings and other assaults on the Black community became common as a means of terrorizing it into accepting second-class status. One particularly terrible incident involved city police officers who shot African Americans who were carrying a Union flag. Soon thereafter, the organization was almost co-opted by Whites, who founded a rival organization called, misleadingly, the Economy Mutual Aid Association. In a richly detailed, fluent narrative, Shaik sadly observes that, Reconstruction having failed dismally, many of the members of the Société took their own lives. Even so, the organization carried on to make significant contributions, including giving a young musician named Louis Armstrong a start.

A lively, readable story that nicely complicates the view of racial and ethnic relations in the South of old.

Pub Date: Feb. 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-917860-80-5

Page Count: 504

Publisher: The Historic New Orleans Collection

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.



A comprehensive exploration of one of the most influential women of the last century.

The accomplishments of Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) were widespread and substantial, and her trailblazing actions in support of social justice and global peace resonate powerfully in our current moment. Her remarkable life has been extensively documented in a host of acclaimed biographies, including Blanche Wiesen Cook’s excellent three-volume life. Eleanor was also a highly prolific writer in her own right; through memoirs, essays, and letters, she continuously documented experiences and advancing ideas. In the most expansive one-volume portrait to date, Michaelis offers a fresh perspective on some well-worn territory—e.g., Eleanor’s unconventional marriage to Franklin and her progressively charged relationships with men and women, including her intimacy with newspaper reporter Lorena Hickok. The author paints a compelling portrait of Eleanor’s life as an evolving journey of transformation, lingering on the significant episodes to shed nuance on her circumstances and the players involved. Eleanor’s privileged yet dysfunctional childhood was marked by the erratic behavior and early deaths of her flighty, alcoholic father and socially absorbed mother, and she was left to shuttle among equally neglectful relatives. During her young adulthood, her instinctual need to be useful and do good work attracted the attention of notable mentors, each serving to boost her confidence and fine-tune her political and social convictions, shaping her expanding consciousness. As in his acclaimed biography of Charles Schulz, Michaelis displays his nimble storytelling skills, smoothly tracking Eleanor’s ascension from wife and mother to her powerfully influential and controversial role as first lady and continued leadership and activist efforts beyond. Throughout, the author lucidly illuminates the essence of her thinking and objectives. “As Eleanor’s activism evolved,” writes Michaelis, “she did not see herself reaching to solve social problems so much as engaging with individuals to unravel discontinuities between the old order and modernity.”

A well-documented and enlightened portrait of Eleanor Roosevelt for our times.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4391-9201-6

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2020

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