One man’s story is the vehicle for delving into the history of prejudice and injustice in this country.
Justice is delayed, denied and stolen from Charlie Newell. His claim to be considered a conscientious objector is denied by the draft board during World War I. After being forced into military service, Charlie runs into further trouble related to the beliefs of the African-American church he belongs to, which honors the Sabbath and calls for its followers to not work on Saturdays. As accommodations on such grounds were not made for Jewish soldiers, his commanding officer refuses to make an exception for Charlie. Although he had been assigned to tend the stables and was willing to work Sundays, the quartermaster insists on court-martialling him. Charlie is sentenced to ten years, which results in a dishonorable discharge and forfeiture of pay and benefits. Though several white officers involved in the proceedings consider the sentence unduly harsh, even unnecessary, none manage to make the situation right. While Charlie is in prison, first in New York, and later at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., he is subjected to constant, and at times brutal, hostility and prejudice. Additionally, during this time his wife is raped and murdered. After six years, Charlie is released from prison due to the belated efforts of a guilt-ridden officer in the military-justice system and an African-American law professor who takes up the case. However, just as Charlie regains freedom he gets caught up in another tragic injustice. In this thoroughly researched historical novel, Shirar, an attorney and 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army, stitches together the story of a similar court-martial that took place in 1918 with other racially motivated injustices at that time. Though Shirar’s focus on legal proceedings throughout the narrative occasionally runs dry, the book is a rewarding and engrossing read.
An eye-opening story about race and the legal system in America.