PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK by Melissa Fay Greene

PRAYING FOR SHEETROCK

KIRKUS REVIEW

 In 1971, McIntosh County, N.C., was a tiny hamlet of 1800 souls--half of them black--that the civil-rights movement, played out in cities, had passed by: a hard-scrabble setting for Greene's powerful book debut. Greene describes the black community--so isolated that they spoke Gullah--as having no plumbing, telephones, hot water, paved roads, electricity, gas heat, or air conditioning. Presiding over all of this in benevolent despotism was High Sheriff Tom Poppel (who inherited the job from his father, Ad). He tossed blacks a carrot by allowing them to carry off the contents of tractor- trailers in wrecks, and got out his stick in refusing to help them with store credit or food from local stores during the disastrously wet year of 1953. ``One way you can control Negroes is to keep them hungry,'' he was heard to say. Poppel also controlled the northern end of McIntosh; there, around his flagship business, the S&S truck stop, were narcotics, counterfeiting, fencing, and white-slavery operations. When Poppel decided civil rights was an idea whose time had come, he conceived a community organization, named it (McIntosh County Civic League) and its goals (to have a black man seated on the county commissions), and had his candidate (a frail 78-year-old man) elected. Poppel then applied for federal revenue-sharing monies and made out handsomely. Days of reckoning came shortly when one of Poppel's deputies, for no apparent reason other than annoyance at hearing loud banter, told a man to shut up, then shot him in the jaw and threw him in lockup without medical attention. In one day, the black community evolved from Gandhi to King to Huey P. Newton when two hundred men with guns marched into city hall. In this confrontation and the many subsequent lies Greene's tale. Perhaps too discursive for some, with scenes of evocation before and after every piece of action; still, a beautifully written and absolutely authentic picture of the rural South.

Pub Date: Oct. 3rd, 1991
ISBN: 0-201-55048-2
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: Addison-Wesley
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1991




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