An unflinching look at America’s disengagement with civil rights.



The U.S. Civil Rights Commission’s former chairperson cheers what it once was and laments what it has become.

Berry (American Social Thought/Univ. of Pennsylvania; My Face is Black is True, 2005, etc.) set out to document the commission rather than write a memoir of her time as a member. Still, the book works best when it combines her personal story with the institution’s history. Amid worsening racial conflict, the Civil Rights Act of 1957 established the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights as an independent, bipartisan fact-finding agency with the power to subpoena. Intended only as temporary window-dressing for the Eisenhower administration, the commission resolutely stuck around and established itself as the nation’s conscience on civil rights. Initially focused on the plight of African-Americans in the South, it produced reports and recommendations that drove the key civil-rights legislation of the mid-’60s. It took on discrimination more broadly in the ’70s, battling the Nixon administration along the way. Although the 1976 election of Jimmy Carter promised a new era of cooperation, the commission remained underappreciated. Appointed by Carter in 1980, Berry soon faced President Reagan’s attempts to pack the committee with his own supporters. She was fired in 1983, then reinstated under pressure, although Reagan continued to assault the commission’s independence. Civil-rights advocates were resilient enough to secure passage of the Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Civil Rights Act of 1991. President Clinton appointed Berry chairperson of the commission in 1993. Even with minimal funding, her commission produced numerous reports and recommendations, and investigated the voting-rights violations that occurred in Florida during the 2000 presidential election. In 2004, however, the White House and Congress united to undermine the commission once again, and President Bush effectively fired Berry that year. At that point, she decided to write this book. Both a history and a call for a new offensive against discrimination, it ends by recommending a revitalized commission on civil and human rights.

An unflinching look at America’s disengagement with civil rights.

Pub Date: Jan. 21, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-26320-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2008

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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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