The Life and Times of Johnny Spain
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 A moving journey through a black activist's turbulent life. Lawyer Andrews (Between Strangers: Surrogate Mothers, Expectant Fathers, Brave New Babies, 1989) chronicles the life and hard times of Johnny Spain, a Black Panther leader most famous for his part in the 1971 San Quentin Prison outbreak in which fellow Panther George Jackson was killed. Spain was the only defendant among the so-called San Quentin Six to be convicted. He had come up a hard road, the product of an affair between a black man and a married white woman in the postwar South, shunted off to live with a black couple in the Los Angeles ghetto. A bright student who ``read intensely, though rarely what was assigned in school,'' Spain fell in with a gang and began to commit ever more serious crimes, finally murdering a victim in a 1966 stick-up. At Soledad he met the charismatic George Jackson, who taught Spain martial arts and revolutionary theory. But Spain recognized Jackson for what he was: ``Johnny could read the message in his eyes: The man was a killer.'' Caught up in Jackson's intransigent politicking-- and Andrews is good at translating the Black Panther Party's program for readers now far removed from those tumultuous times- -Spain and the other ``Soledad Brothers'' were moved to San Quentin, where Jackson was gunned down trying to escape. Two guards died as well, for which murders Spain was tried and convicted in a decision overturned years later. He became a model prisoner, mediating racial tensions and negotiating for the rights of his fellow inmates. Released in 1988, Spain now works as a community organizer in San Francisco. Andrews's prose is steeped in true-crime clichÇs, and her invented dialogues read as if written for a TV movie. Still, Johnny Spain's life story is so powerful, and so inspirational, that it overcomes its narrator's limitations. (8 pages b&w photos, not seen)

Pub Date: July 10th, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-42918-2
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Pantheon
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1st, 1996


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