Credible and poignant history limning the dark side of America’s racial past.




From popular historian Packard (Victoria’s Daughters, 1998, etc.), a chronicle of the growth and decline of America’s infamous Jim Crow laws, which enforced racial segregation.

Confronting the ugliness of Jim Crow, the author suggests, is an important first step toward understanding how entrenched racial attitudes function in America today. Packard attacks the foundation of these attitudes by reconstructing 19th-century biblical justifications for racially based slavery, then exposing the fallacies inherent in those arguments. Combined with a southern economic dependence on agriculture, Packard asserts, such shaky arguments were good enough to prompt uneasy acknowledgment of the “peculiar institution” in the North and enthusiastic acceptance in the South. He demonstrates how the Supreme Court’s Dred Scott decision in 1857 inflamed racial hatreds that exploded after Reconstruction into the bitter oppression of American blacks. In his exploration of this era, Packard details some of the most wicked laws ever enacted in the US, as well as the appalling fact that the federal government practically sanctioned them following the Supreme Court’s 1896 pronouncement in Plessy v. Ferguson of “separate but equal.” Only after African-Americans performed admirably through two world wars, the author states, did the hypocrisy of Jim Crow racism become visible to America’s white majority. This newfound visibility, according to Packard, made possible the reversal of Jim Crow laws launched by the Supreme Court’s 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. White moderates’ rejection of Jim Crow also assisted the modern civil-rights movement in its effort to desegregate schools in the face of southern white hostility. The author concludes this powerful volume by describing the dramatic death knell of legalized Jim Crow, rung by the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

Credible and poignant history limning the dark side of America’s racial past.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-312-26122-5

Page Count: 304

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2001

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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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