Patterson guides us with consummate skill through a hall of social heroes populated by courageous parents and students,...



A prize-winning historian (Grand Expectations, not reviewed) revisits the 1954 school-desegregation decision and traces its effects on American social history.

Patterson (History/Brown Univ.) argues convincingly that race remains at the center of many of America’s social problems and that “[t]he complicated issues that Brown tried to resolve in 1954 still torment Americans half a century later.” Patterson begins with a sad snapshot of American life before Brown, when the nation maintained a dual system of education for whites and blacks that kept the races separate and unequal(especially in the South. In the early 1950s, the NAACP and its principal attorney, Thurgood Marshall, decided to attack school segregation. Patterson humanizes Marshall, showing his playfulness, his doggedness, his patience, and—toward the end—his bitterness at the glacial progress of social justice. The author reminds readers that Brown was a constellation of cases, not a single one: the Supreme Court first heard arguments in 1952 but delayed ruling and ordered a rehearing in 1953. By then, Earl Warren was on the court, and Patterson shows how he worked skillfully behind the scenes to gain a consensus on the decision, which he delivered on May 17, 1954. Southern whites employed three principal strategies to deal with the decision (and with the 1955 order containing the now-classic phrase “with all deliberate speed”): violence, delay, and deception. Patterson argues that it was the civil-rights movement rather than Brown, however, that prompted the most spectacular advances (viz., the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act). Patterson then chronicles the continuing efforts to achieve equality in education—with discussions of court-ordered busing, magnet schools, affirmative action, school finance, and the slow turn to the right taken by the Rehnquist court.

Patterson guides us with consummate skill through a hall of social heroes populated by courageous parents and students, tireless attorneys, and resolute judges. (39 b&w photos; 1 map, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-19-512716-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Oxford Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2000

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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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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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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