A debut memoir reflects back on an African-American man’s lifelong grappling with others’ racist hatred.
Cooper grew up in rural Alabama. From a very young age, he was keenly aware of ferocious prejudice; in 1963, when he was only 10 years old, a Baptist church in Birmingham was bombed, killing four young girls. The author’s father angrily insisted that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. shared some of the blame, due to his agitation—a sentiment that some other African-Americans shared. Cooper writes of suffering under the tyranny of his father, who beat him and his mother regularly, he says. The author decided to attend a largely white high school, despite its considerable distance, only to be confronted by ubiquitous racism there: “It astounds me the way in which Jim Crow touched every single area of black life in Birmingham when I was growing up,” he says. Later, Cooper was attracted to Catholicism, which seemed more emotionally restrained than the Baptist tradition in which he was raised, and he decided to pursue the priesthood. However, he says that in seminary he again encountered prejudice, as well as what he characterizes as “drinking, blatant homosexuality and petty bickering.” The author eventually joined the Washington Concert Singers and the National Choral Society and was given the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, a transformative event in his life. He would return there many times for extended trips, and he considered Israel a refuge from his troubles. Cooper eventually took a low-level job as a reporter at The Washington Post; there, he was able to contribute articles on controversial subjects, such as the role of African-American people during the Holocaust. Cooper’s life, as depicted in this memoir, was filled with daunting challenges, and it will be impossible for readers not to be inspired by his dogged perseverance in the face of adversity. Sometimes, however, the endless catalog of travails can also be exhausting. The author is at his best when discussing the racial tinderbox that was the Deep South during his upbringing, and he intelligently reflects on the many ways that the legacy of slavery continued to haunt the region, long after it was abolished. Overall, this is not a light read, but readers’ patience will be rewarded by its considerable insight.
An often thoughtful meditation on race in America.