A thoroughly researched history of important black activists.



A history of how Franklin Roosevelt’s policies were decisively influenced by a group of African American advisers.

Drawing on government documents, newspapers, and an extensive number of archives, historian Watts vividly recounts an important chapter in black American history: the place of black advisers in Roosevelt’s administration. Among the many ambitious, well-educated men and women who took up government roles during the New Deal were Robert Clifton Weaver, a Harvard-educated economist; William H. Hastie, the first African American to hold a federal judgeship; Alfred Edgar Smith, the leader of the Works Progress Administration; Eugene Kinckle Jones, who had a position at the Department of Commerce; newspaper publisher Robert Vann; and, prominent among them, the outspoken, tireless mover and shaker Mary McLeod Bethune, celebrated by African Americans as the “First Lady of Our Negro Nation.” The Black Cabinet—never officially acknowledged as such by Roosevelt—came to be knowns as “her boys.” Roosevelt could be ambivalent about advancing the cause of African Americans, fearing to alienate Southern voters, and his administration, Watts reveals, “was often explicitly hostile.” Eleanor Roosevelt, however, “awakened to the brutalities of American racism” through her close friendship with Bethune, became a stalwart supporter of equality and justice for blacks. The Democratic Party saw the advantage of courting black voters once it seemed likely that they would defect from Republicans, which looked to many blacks less like the party of Lincoln than heirs of the old Confederacy. Watts chronicles rivalries, frustrations, and disillusionments among the Black Cabinet but also considerable achievements: a growing voice within the federal government; better New Deal relief for many African Americans; nondiscrimination clauses in Interior Department contracts; and documentation of the impact of racism on the black community. As much as possible, they raised Roosevelt’s awareness of the reality of life for blacks in 1930s and ’40s America. After Roosevelt’s death, his group of black advisers “came to be celebrated as yet another one of FDR’s accomplishments.”

A thoroughly researched history of important black activists.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2910-9

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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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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Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.



Rootin’-tootin’ history of the dry-gulchers, horn-swogglers, and outright killers who populated the Wild West’s wildest city in the late 19th century.

The stories of Wyatt Earp and company, the shootout at the O.K. Corral, and Geronimo and the Apache Wars are all well known. Clavin, who has written books on Dodge City and Wild Bill Hickok, delivers a solid narrative that usefully links significant events—making allies of white enemies, for instance, in facing down the Apache threat, rustling from Mexico, and other ethnically charged circumstances. The author is a touch revisionist, in the modern fashion, in noting that the Earps and Clantons weren’t as bloodthirsty as popular culture has made them out to be. For example, Wyatt and Bat Masterson “took the ‘peace’ in peace officer literally and knew that the way to tame the notorious town was not to outkill the bad guys but to intimidate them, sometimes with the help of a gun barrel to the skull.” Indeed, while some of the Clantons and some of the Earps died violently, most—Wyatt, Bat, Doc Holliday—died of cancer and other ailments, if only a few of old age. Clavin complicates the story by reminding readers that the Earps weren’t really the law in Tombstone and sometimes fell on the other side of the line and that the ordinary citizens of Tombstone and other famed Western venues valued order and peace and weren’t particularly keen on gunfighters and their mischief. Still, updating the old notion that the Earp myth is the American Iliad, the author is at his best when he delineates those fraught spasms of violence. “It is never a good sign for law-abiding citizens,” he writes at one high point, “to see Johnny Ringo rush into town, both him and his horse all in a lather.” Indeed not, even if Ringo wound up killing himself and law-abiding Tombstone faded into obscurity when the silver played out.

Buffs of the Old West will enjoy Clavin’s careful research and vivid writing.

Pub Date: April 21, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-250-21458-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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