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

ECONOMY HALL

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: today

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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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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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