An imperfect but worthy perspective on a critical period of American history.




An earnest account of abolitionism’s forgotten “poster child.”

In 1855, when she was only 7 years old, Mary Mildred Williams experienced two life-altering events: Her family was freed from slavery, and her photograph was taken for the abolitionist cause. The resulting daguerreotype, circulated widely by white anti-slavery leaders, depicted a light-skinned child whose features were deemed “indisputab[ly] white” by the press. Billed as a “white slave,” Williams was eagerly exhibited by Charles Sumner, an abolitionist senator, to sold-out audiences, making her a living prop on the main stage of the anti-slavery movement. Rhetoric used by such leaders succeeded in igniting white American sympathy, a “selective solidarity” that was otherwise uninspired by dark-skinned black people’s well-documented traumas. In a spirited narrative, photographer Morgan-Owens (Dean of Studies/Bard Early Coll. New Orleans) highlights Williams’ trajectory into the spotlight. Along the way, the author confronts a range of often unspoken realities, including the anti-black sentiments that permeated the white abolitionist community, the rampant sexual enslavement that black women endured, and the subsequent dynamic of colorism employed in so-called progressive white America. Though the author occasionally struggles to convey the complex web of Williams’ life and historical context, her passionate investigation notably uplifts Williams’ true surname, rebuking the historical record for identifying Williams by the family name of her slave father’s owner. Morgan-Owens ambitiously attempts “to name, and correct” the “myopic failures of white sympathy” that she documents in her book, succeeding mainly in the former. Self-aware as she strives to be, white gaze is conspicuous, from the author’s overconfident fictionalizations of Williams’ behaviors and emotional responses to her dramatic indictment of “us,” the “future readers, who might not remember the tragedies borne.” Since people of color are not likely to forget such history, perhaps Morgan-Owens is speaking to her own. Still, the book is a valuable contribution to abolitionist history.

An imperfect but worthy perspective on a critical period of American history.

Pub Date: March 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-393-60924-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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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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