GHOSTS OF MISSISSIPPI

THE MURDER OF MEDGAR EVERS, THE TRIALS OF BYRON DE LA BECKWITH, AND THE HAUNTING OF THE NEW SOUTH

The third entry in the current ``Evers/Beckwith: What It All Means About the South'' derby, following Adam Nossiter's Of Long History and Reed Massengill's Portrait of a Racist (both 1994). Vollers, a freelance journalist, is a stylish writer and a good researcher. She gets plenty of factual detail and psychological insight into her biographical portraits of the main players: Medgar Evers, the Mississippi civil rights leader murdered in 1963; Byron De La Beckwith, the outspoken racist finally convicted of the murder in 1994 after two earlier mistrials; and others, such as Justice Department attorney John Doar and Hinds County, Miss., investigators Charlie Crisco and Bobby DeLaughter, who unearthed the evidence that brought Beckwith to trial for the third time. Her accounts of all three trials illuminate how the criminal justice system is dependent on the idiosyncrasies of prosecutors, judges, and defense attorneys. The opening chapter describing an uninvited visit to Beckwith—high-spirited despite his incarceration, casually spouting racist epithets against Jews as well as blacks—sets the stage nicely, although anyone who has read Nossiter's account of a similar encounter will have a sense of dÇjÖ vu. Vollers slips in only two major respects: She portrays Beckwith as typical of white Southern bigotry, when in fact he was beyond the pale; and she succumbs to the temptation to offer well- worn generalizations about the tormented south that add nothing to our understanding of the case. The last sentence of the book is typical of her overreaching: Afer the trial, ``...what remained was still Mississippi, haunted ground: a place at war with its own history and destined to repeat its past, like a soul being reborn again and again until it gets it right.'' For those who know little about the Evers-Beckwith story, a book worth reading; for those familiar with earlier works or the more than 30 years of media coverage, not much revelatory here.

Pub Date: April 1, 1995

ISBN: 0-316-91485-1

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1995

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A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

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WHY WE'RE POLARIZED

A sharp explanation of how American politics has become so discordant.

Journalist Klein, co-founder of Vox, formerly of the Washington Post, MSNBC, and Bloomberg, reminds readers that political commentators in the 1950s and ’60s denounced Republicans and Democrats as “tweedledum and tweedledee.” With liberals and conservatives in both parties, they complained, voters lacked a true choice. The author suspects that race played a role, and he capably shows us why and how. For a century after the Civil War, former Confederate states, obsessed with keeping blacks powerless, elected a congressional bloc that “kept the Democratic party less liberal than it otherwise would’ve been, the Republican Party congressionally weaker than it otherwise would’ve been, and stopped the parties from sorting themselves around the deepest political cleavage of the age.” Following the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, many white Southern Democrats became Republicans, and the parties turned consistently liberal and conservative. Given a “true choice,” Klein maintains, voters discarded ideology in favor of “identity politics.” Americans, like all humans, cherish their “tribe” and distrust outsiders. Identity was once a preoccupation of minorities, but it has recently attracted white activists and poisoned the national discourse. The author deplores the decline of mass media (network TV, daily newspapers), which could not offend a large audience, and the rise of niche media and internet sites, which tell a small audience only what they want to hear. American observers often joke about European nations that have many parties who vote in lock step. In fact, such parties cooperate to pass legislation. America is the sole system with only two parties, both of which are convinced that the other is not only incompetent (a traditional accusation), but a danger to the nation. So far, calls for drastic action to prevent the apocalypse are confined to social media, fringe activists, and the rhetoric of Trump supporters. Fortunately—according to Klein—Trump is lazy, but future presidents may be more savvy. The author does not conclude this deeply insightful, if dispiriting, analysis by proposing a solution.

A clear, useful guide through the current chaotic political landscape.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4767-0032-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Avid Reader Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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Not an easy read but an essential one.

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HOW TO BE AN ANTIRACIST

Title notwithstanding, this latest from the National Book Award–winning author is no guidebook to getting woke.

In fact, the word “woke” appears nowhere within its pages. Rather, it is a combination memoir and extension of Atlantic columnist Kendi’s towering Stamped From the Beginning (2016) that leads readers through a taxonomy of racist thought to anti-racist action. Never wavering from the thesis introduced in his previous book, that “racism is a powerful collection of racist policies that lead to racial inequity and are substantiated by racist ideas,” the author posits a seemingly simple binary: “Antiracism is a powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” The author, founding director of American University’s Antiracist Research and Policy Center, chronicles how he grew from a childhood steeped in black liberation Christianity to his doctoral studies, identifying and dispelling the layers of racist thought under which he had operated. “Internalized racism,” he writes, “is the real Black on Black Crime.” Kendi methodically examines racism through numerous lenses: power, biology, ethnicity, body, culture, and so forth, all the way to the intersectional constructs of gender racism and queer racism (the only section of the book that feels rushed). Each chapter examines one facet of racism, the authorial camera alternately zooming in on an episode from Kendi’s life that exemplifies it—e.g., as a teen, he wore light-colored contact lenses, wanting “to be Black but…not…to look Black”—and then panning to the history that informs it (the antebellum hierarchy that valued light skin over dark). The author then reframes those received ideas with inexorable logic: “Either racist policy or Black inferiority explains why White people are wealthier, healthier, and more powerful than Black people today.” If Kendi is justifiably hard on America, he’s just as hard on himself. When he began college, “anti-Black racist ideas covered my freshman eyes like my orange contacts.” This unsparing honesty helps readers, both white and people of color, navigate this difficult intellectual territory.

Not an easy read but an essential one.

Pub Date: Aug. 13, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-50928-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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