A welcome addition to the literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and important for students of the civil-rights...

CAPITOL MEN

THE EPIC STORY OF RECONSTRUCTION THROUGH THE LIVES OF THE FIRST BLACK CONGRESSMEN

Impeccably written study of the brief post–Civil War period in which African-Americans were admitted to Congress—with the door subsequently closed to them for the next century.

From a white Southern loyalist’s point of view, writes Dray (Stealing God’s Thunder: Benjamin Franklin’s Lightning Rod and the Invention of America, 2005, etc.), military defeat was bad enough, let alone what a Union sympathizer called “the elevation of the free negro to equal political power.” The first to be so elevated, at the local and then national level, were a fascinating lot. Some of them, such as South Carolinian Robert Smalls, had engaged in acts of resistance during the secession and courted death for their crimes of sedition; others were of mixed race and comparatively well educated, such as the Mississippian reformer John Roy Lynch, “distinguished in appearance, possessing an innate gentlemanly reserve”; others were freed slaves with few advantages aside from a willingness to take on the job. None were the illiterate sock puppets of anti-Reconstructionist myth. Bringing them into power was a complex and daunting task, opposed by many in both the North and the South. In that light, Dray writes sympathetically but critically of Andrew Johnson, the Unionist Southerner, “a stubborn loner never adept at conciliatory politics,” under whose watch Reconstruction disintegrated. The denouement of Dray’s story is dispiriting. It finds Smalls, that great hero, ordered to sit in a segregated Jim Crow train cabin, a “dirty coach with cigar stubs on the floor and broken windows,” and the other freshmen congressmen not much better treated. The humiliation of Smalls took place in South Carolina in 1904. But then, as Dray notes, the same had happened to him in Philadelphia during the war—racism was not the exclusive domain of the South.

A welcome addition to the literature of the Civil War and Reconstruction Era, and important for students of the civil-rights movement and its origins.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-618-56370-8

Page Count: 496

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2008

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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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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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