Focusing on one of the themes of his interview collection The Great Divide (1988), Pulitzer-winner Terkel (The Good War, 1984, etc.) elicits from dozens of blacks and whites a kaleidoscope of emotions on how they have been affected by race.
The voices of nearly one hundred ordinary (and a few extraordinary) people, largely Chicagoans, are heard, running the gamut from a 26-year-old white construction worker ("I think this city would be a much better place if there wasn't a majority of black people living here'') to a black domestic outraged at the Statue of Liberty centennial ("What are you celebrating? You came here in chains in the bottom of ships and half-dead and beaten''). Raw, reasonable, and every gradation between, the subjects include the mother of Emmett Till, a 14-year-old black youth lynched for allegedly whistling at a white woman in 1954; a white federal criminal investigator whose liberalism has been shaken by the crimes she sees in the inner city; psychologist Kenneth B. Clark, bemoaning the past few decades' stalling of black progress; a black street hustler yearning for a job laying carpets; and a Ku Klux Klansman who has renounced racism and embraced his former black foes. Several leitmotifs are sounded--including the black male's plight, Rev. Louis Farrakhan, black sexual myths, crimes, the equity of affirmative action, and continuing racial animosity despite economic injustices suffered by blacks and poor whites alike. For all their differences, the interviewees are in virtually unanimous agreement that the gap between the races has widened during the Reagan-Bush years.
Through these vivid, searching voices, Terkel depicts, in all their complexity and humanity, people grappling with dilemmas posed in Andrew Hacker's Two Nations.