This is history most fundamental, the kind that forces us to ponder the very nature of humanity.

AT THE HANDS OF PERSONS UNKNOWN

THE LYNCHING OF BLACK AMERICA

The ghastly story of lynching, by the coauthor of We Are Not Afraid: The Story of Goodman, Schwerner, Chaney, and the Civil Rights Campaign for Mississippi.

“Is it possible for white America to really understand blacks’ distrust of the legal system, their fear of racial profiling and the police, without understanding how cheap a black life was for so long a time in our nation’s history?” asks Dray (African-American History/New School), who suggests the answer is no and draws on recent scholarship that sees lynching as a systematic means of maintaining white power. The text begins with an account of the 1899 lynching of Sam Hose, a particularly brutal case—Hose was chained to a tree, tortured, emasculated, and burned alive before a cheering crowd—which so profoundly disgusted W.E.B. Du Bois that he resolved to devote himself to the anti-lynching cause. Dray’s narrative then moves back to 1835, year of the first widely publicized lynching, and proceeds chronologically to summarize some of the darkest moments in the annals of human depravity, ending with a brief account of the 1998 murder of James Byrd Jr. in Jasper, Texas. Interspersed are accounts of the heroes of the anti-lynching movement (some of whom had close encounters with lynch mobs themselves), including Du Bois, Ida B. Wells, Booker T. Washington, James Weldon Johnson, Lillian Smith, Walter White, and Thurgood Marshall. Dray does a particularly effective job relating the scandalous behavior of legislative, law-enforcement, and judiciary systems in the South and North, providing a much-needed historical and psychosocial context for the lynching phenomenon.

This is history most fundamental, the kind that forces us to ponder the very nature of humanity.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2002

ISBN: 0-375-50324-2

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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

NIGHT

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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