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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The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the...


Elie Wiesel spent his early years in a small Transylvanian town as one of four children. 

He was the only one of the family to survive what Francois Maurois, in his introduction, calls the "human holocaust" of the persecution of the Jews, which began with the restrictions, the singularization of the yellow star, the enclosure within the ghetto, and went on to the mass deportations to the ovens of Auschwitz and Buchenwald. There are unforgettable and horrifying scenes here in this spare and sombre memoir of this experience of the hanging of a child, of his first farewell with his father who leaves him an inheritance of a knife and a spoon, and of his last goodbye at Buchenwald his father's corpse is already cold let alone the long months of survival under unconscionable conditions. 

The author's youthfulness helps to assure the inevitable comparison with the Anne Frank diary although over and above the sphere of suffering shared, and in this case extended to the death march itself, there is no spiritual or emotional legacy here to offset any reader reluctance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2006

ISBN: 0374500010

Page Count: 120

Publisher: Hill & Wang

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2006

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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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