Fifteen illuminating feature pieces published last year by the New York Times in their series on race relations, with supplementary dialogues, commentaries, and an opinion poll.
In a sometimes self-congratulatory introduction, Times executive editor Lelyveld describes the intent of the series: “We would simply find real stories of real people—maybe no more than two or three in each narrative—whose lives and circumstances spanned this great and enduring fault line in American life.” And so they did. In venues ranging from public schools to a Seattle ferry, from a pork-processing plant to a Pentecostal church, from Fort Knox to Harlem street corners, the Times reporters dug deeply, their research sometimes lasting as long as a year, and produced a remarkable series that recorded a rich variety of voices. A black man hugs a white woman in an Atlanta church: “Man,” he says, “thirty or forty years ago I would have been hung for just touching this lady.” Although the series focuses principally on black-white relations, there are exceptions. Mirta Ojito writes sensitively about two refugees in Miami, men who had been close friends in their native Cuba but who find themselves now in different worlds because one is light, one dark. Timothy Egan profiles Gary Locke, the Chinese-American governor of Washington. And Tamar Lewin follows three teenage girls, each with a different racial history, and watches their childhood friendship disintegrate as they enter high school’s harsher world. One of the difficulties faced by virtually all the reporters was the reluctance of Americans—especially whites—to talk openly about race. As Dana Canedy comments in an afterword: “But who knows better than a journalist the consequences of unintentionally saying the wrong thing?” Some of the supplementary material—comprising nearly one-fourth of the text—is superfluous, some self-serving, some merely muddling; the most engaging and useful are the retrospective, introspective pieces by the writers and photographers.
Powerful, troubling essays on the most urgent and significant of subjects. (16 b&w photos)