A fine account of a little-known milestone in the battle for civil rights.




In July 1944, hundreds of seaman, mostly black, died in an explosion while loading ammunition aboard ships at Port Chicago, in northern California, while mostly white American troops battled on Saipan across the Pacific.

Using diaries, memoirs, transcripts and interviews, Campbell (The Ghost Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New Guinea—The Forgotten War of the South Pacific, 2007, etc.) jumps back and forth between both stories. Saipan does not lack competent histories, but Campbell’s description of the explosion revives a little-known landmark in race relations. He reminds readers that, after Pearl Harbor, black Americans yearned to fight and demanded equality in the rigidly segregated military. Franklin Roosevelt had no objection but refused to oppose his entire cabinet, and readers will squirm as otherwise admirable figures (Marshall, Stimson, Knox, Eisenhower) deliver unctuous homilies on black inferiority. As always, only Eleanor got it right. Yielding slightly, the Navy expanded black job categories from one (messman) to include shore-based labor. At Port Chicago they worked under white officers, most of whom knew little about handling explosives, and the Navy refused to heed warnings from the stevedore’s union. After the disaster, hundreds refused to resume work. Many reconsidered after threats from superiors; the Navy charged the remainder with mutiny, a far more serious offense than refusal to obey orders. The trial generated sympathetic headlines, but the court convicted all defendants, sentencing them to long prison terms. Both senior admirals and the Defense Department considered this overkill, and the Navy released everyone within six months. It also abolished its Jim Crow policy, two years before President Truman did the same for other services.

A fine account of a little-known milestone in the battle for civil rights.

Pub Date: May 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-46121-6

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: March 13, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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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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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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