WE HAD A DREAM by Howard Kohn


The Tale of the Struggles for Integration in America
Email this review


A tale of black and white relations in one American county 30 years after the modern civil rights movement. Thirty years on, how have we done? Are blacks and whites now being judged solely by the content of their character? Has integration succeeded? Investigative journalist and Rolling Stone contributor Kohn (The Last Farmer, 1988, etc.) finds that in Prince George’s County, Md., the answers to these questions are complex and often perplexing. Once a poor and segregated place that twice voted for George Wallace for president, the county has experienced a heavy influx of successful and affluent blacks. Together with their equally successful and affluent white neighbors, they have made Prince George’s County the ideal of integration. Yet much remains beneath the surface. In Rashomon-like fashion, various residents describe the county and what happens there in very different ways, depending on the color of their skin. A white police officer kills a black male teenager in his, the officer’s, home. Is it murder, precipitated by the officer’s rage at this black teenager being his daughter’s boyfriend? Or had the teenager, fulfilling the stereotype of the dangerous black male, invaded the home and threatened to kill the officer and his wife? A black woman lawyer has her career in the county public defender’s office ruined. Was she too proud, too loud for a black woman in the white-controlled office? Or was she incompetent and dishonest? The county elects its first black county commissioner. Is this a fulfillment of Martin Luther King’s dream, or is it the end of white position and power in the county? Kohn records the actions and thoughts of a large number of characters, and this may be the book’s only problem. It’s too long, too often depicting events in too much detail, to no clear purpose. This is, nevertheless, a disturbing if tenuously hopeful look at how “we” get along in the post—civil rights era.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0-684-80874-9
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1998