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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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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The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics,...

HOW DEMOCRACIES DIE

A provocative analysis of the parallels between Donald Trump’s ascent and the fall of other democracies.

Following the last presidential election, Levitsky (Transforming Labor-Based Parties in Latin America, 2003, etc.) and Ziblatt (Conservative Parties and the Birth of Democracy, 2017, etc.), both professors of government at Harvard, wrote an op-ed column titled, “Is Donald Trump a Threat to Democracy?” The answer here is a resounding yes, though, as in that column, the authors underscore their belief that the crisis extends well beyond the power won by an outsider whom they consider a demagogue and a liar. “Donald Trump may have accelerated the process, but he didn’t cause it,” they write of the politics-as-warfare mentality. “The weakening of our democratic norms is rooted in extreme partisan polarization—one that extends beyond policy differences into an existential conflict over race and culture.” The authors fault the Republican establishment for failing to stand up to Trump, even if that meant electing his opponent, and they seem almost wistfully nostalgic for the days when power brokers in smoke-filled rooms kept candidacies restricted to a club whose members knew how to play by the rules. Those supporting the candidacy of Bernie Sanders might take as much issue with their prescriptions as Trump followers will. However, the comparisons they draw to how democratic populism paved the way toward tyranny in Peru, Venezuela, Chile, and elsewhere are chilling. Among the warning signs they highlight are the Republican Senate’s refusal to consider Barack Obama’s Supreme Court nominee as well as Trump’s demonization of political opponents, minorities, and the media. As disturbing as they find the dismantling of Democratic safeguards, Levitsky and Ziblatt suggest that “a broad opposition coalition would have important benefits,” though such a coalition would strike some as a move to the center, a return to politics as usual, and even a pragmatic betrayal of principles.

The value of this book is the context it provides, in a style aimed at a concerned citizenry rather than fellow academics, rather than in the consensus it is not likely to build.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5247-6293-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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