COLOR LINES by Mike Kelly


The Troubled Dreams of Racial Harmony in an American Town
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 A lively, well-balanced, and thoroughly researched account of racial tensions in a New Jersey suburb that had prided itself on its diversity and liberalism. In April 1990 a young black man was shot in the back and killed by a white police officer in Teaneck. The riots, marches, and tensions that followed shook the facade of racial harmony that characterized the town. Bergen Record journalist Kelly provides the reader with multifaceted portraits of the teenage victim, Phillip Pannell, the officer, Gary Spath, and their friends and families. We also get a penetrating probe of the prominent clergymen and political figures who dominated news accounts in the months that followed, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Though integrated and middle-class on paper, Teaneck emerges here as two towns in one, separated by proverbial railroad tracks. Kelly reveals that the average white family's income is more than double that of the average black family. And whereas most of the white families are intact, an increasing number of black youngsters are from single- parent homes and a sizable number, abandoned by both parents, live with relatives. At the local high school, the first in the nation to voluntarily integrate, there are few black faces in the honor classes and a disproportionate number in the special education track. Phillip Pannell emerges here as a disaffected black youth who found it necessary to carry a gun (his mother's) for protection. The troubling story of his family's disintegration is all too common. Whereas nothing in Gary Spath's actions label him as racist, it is disquieting that the shot that killed Pannell was the acquitted officer's fourth firing incident. Provocative and informative, Color Lines confronts the issue of suburban race and class in all their complexities.

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1995
ISBN: 0-688-11795-3
Page count: 448pp
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1995