A concise but flat-footed chronicle of a seminal event in civil-rights history.




Arsenault (History/Univ. of South Florida, St. Petersburg; Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, 2006, etc.) examines the life of singer Marian Anderson (1897–1993), focusing on her landmark 1939 concert at the Lincoln Memorial.

A prodigiously talented vocalist, Anderson embarked on a career in music at a time when prevailing racial prejudices hindered African-American performers from attaining national prominence. Though she gained limited notoriety in the United States during the 1920s, it was her exhaustive tours of Europe during the following decade that established her as one of the world’s most renowned vocalists. Her critical and popular success abroad enabled her to reach a wider audience in America, even though she continued to face discrimination. Notably, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to perform at Constitution Hall, which maintained a strict “white artists only” policy. The DAR’s decision sparked a nationwide controversy. First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt resigned from the DAR in protest, while several newspaper editorials drew parallels between racial discrimination in America and the rising fascist movements in Europe. With the DAR standing its ground, Anderson and her supporters staged an outdoor concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. In front of 75,000 people on Easter Sunday in 1939, Anderson gave a concert that, writes Arsenault, provided a “starting point” for the civil-rights movement. The author excels at contextualizing the concert, probing the ways in which Jim Crow laws and racial prejudices permeated all aspects of African-American life. He is less adept at humanizing Anderson’s struggle. The author’s dry prose fails to capture the emotions surrounding the historic concert, or to convey the full impact of Anderson’s performance. Looking back on the event, Anderson recognized that she had been turned into “a symbol, representing my people.” Arsenault is unable to draw out the individual behind that powerful symbol.

A concise but flat-footed chronicle of a seminal event in civil-rights history.

Pub Date: April 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-578-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2009

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


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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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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