A better choice for Southern history buffs than for true-crime junkies.

THE THIBODAUX MASSACRE

RACIAL VIOLENCE AND THE 1887 SUGAR CANE LABOR STRIKE

A little-known massacre is brought to light.

In 1887, the tumultuous elements of the recent past—slavery, sharecropping, a new movement in unionizing workers, etc.—came together in Thibodaux, Louisiana, in a devastating manner, as the tension between plantation owners and poorly paid workers led to a strike on sugar plantations. Threats during the strike turned into a mass murder of black workers so hushed by the media and overlooked by society that to this day, the actual number of deaths is unknown. Journalist DeSantis (The New Untouchables: How America Sanctions Police Violence, 1994, etc.) spent more than a decade trying to peel back the layers of history to shed light on what locals referred to as the Thibodaux Massacre. The author is the first to acknowledge that in 10 years of research, he was able to learn surprisingly little about the killings, but when new information came to light in the form of direct accounts contained in a pension file, it formed the basis of the story he presents here. It is perhaps the seasoned reporter’s drive for hard facts and the bigger picture that work against DeSantis, because in the final product, they act to obscure the crime at the center of the book. Though the massacre itself lasted only hours, that is the story the author strives to impart, and details about those hours take up precious little space in the narrative. Without the pieces that lend color to the crime itself, DeSantis relies heavily on historical details instead. Some of these quite obviously lend context to the massacre, helping readers understand the tensions that existed and how the situation came to a head. Other information, though, seems tangential and distracting. Though well-written, informative, and interesting, the book lacks a clear focus on the crime at its heart.

A better choice for Southern history buffs than for true-crime junkies.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4671-3689-1

Page Count: 176

Publisher: The History Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2016

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

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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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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