Category Archives: History & Current Events

New books on history, culture, society, and current events

Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families who Share the Tomlinson Name – One White, One Black

Tomlinson Hill: The Remarkable Story of Two Families who Share the Tomlinson Name – One White, One Black by Chris Tomlinson
Thomas Dunne Books
July 22, 2014
Hardcover

Tomlinson Hill is the stunning story of two families — one white, one black — who trace their roots to a slave plantation that bears their name.

Internationally recognized for his work as a fearless war correspondent, award-winning journalist Chris Tomlinson grew up hearing stories about his family’s abandoned cotton plantation in Falls County, Texas. Most of the tales lionized his white ancestors for pioneering along the Brazos River. His grandfather often said the family’s slaves loved them so much that they also took Tomlinson as their last name.

LaDainian Tomlinson, football great and former running back for the San Diego Chargers, spent part of his childhood playing on the same land that his black ancestors had worked as slaves. As a child, LaDainian believed the Hill was named after his family. Not until he was old enough to read an historical plaque did he realize that the Hill was named for his ancestor’s slaveholders.

A masterpiece of authentic American history, Tomlinson Hill traces the true and very revealing story of these two families. From the beginning in 1854 — when the first Tomlinson, a white woman, arrived — to 2007, when the last Tomlinson, LaDainian’s father, left, the book unflinchingly explores the history of race and bigotry in Texas. Along the way it also manages to disclose a great many untruths that are latent in the unsettling and complex story of America.

Tomlinson Hill is also the basis for a film and an interactive web project. The award-winning film, which airs on PBS, concentrates on present-day Marlin, Texas and how the community struggles with poverty and the legacy of race today, and is accompanied by an interactive web site called Voice of Marlin, which stores the oral histories collected along the way.

Chris Tomlinson has used the reporting skills he honed as a highly respected reporter covering ethnic violence in Africa and the Middle East to fashion a perfect microcosm of America’s own ethnic strife. The economic inequality, political shenanigans, cruelty and racism — both subtle and overt — that informs the history of Tomlinson Hill also live on in many ways to this very day in our country as a whole. The author has used his impressive credentials and honest humanity to create a classic work of American history that will take its place alongside the timeless work of our finest historians

The Root’s Summer Reading List

The Root’s book selections for the Summer of 2014, featuring “Book of Hours” by Kevin Young, “Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson” by Barbara Ransby, “Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II” by Farah Jasmine Griffin:

Book of Hours: Poems by Kevin Young

A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems written by a man, describing “her face / full of fire, then groaning your face / out like a flower, blood-bloom,/ crocused into air.” Ending this book of both birth and grief, the gorgeous title sequence brings acceptance, asking “What good/are wishes if they aren’t / used up?” while understanding “How to listen / to what’s gone.” Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.

Eslanda: The Large and Unconventional Life of Mrs. Paul Robeson by Barbara Ransby

Eslanda “Essie” Cardozo Goode Robeson lived a colorful and amazing life. Her career and commitments took her many places: colonial Africa in 1936, the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, the founding meeting of the United Nations, Nazi-occupied Berlin, Stalin’s Russia, and China two months after Mao’s revolution. She was a woman of unusual accomplishment — an anthropologist, a prolific journalist, a tireless advocate of women’s rights, an outspoken anti-colonial and antiracist activist, and an internationally sought-after speaker. Yet historians for the most part have confined Essie to the role of Mrs. Paul Robeson, a wife hidden in the large shadow cast by her famous husband. In this masterful book, biographer Barbara Ransby refocuses attention on Essie, one of the most important and fascinating black women of the twentieth century.

Chronicling Essie’s eventful life, the book explores her influence on her husband’s early career and how she later achieved her own unique political voice. Essie’s friendships with a host of literary icons and world leaders, her renown as a fierce defender of justice, her defiant testimony before Senator Joseph McCarthy’s infamous anti-communist committee, and her unconventional open marriage that endured for over 40 years—all are brought to light in the pages of this inspiring biography. Essie’s indomitable personality shines through, as do her contributions to United States and twentieth-century world history.

Harlem Nocturne: Women Artists and Progressive Politics During World War II
by Farah Jasmine Griffin

As World War II raged overseas, Harlem witnessed a battle of its own. Brimming with creative and political energy, the neighborhood’s diverse array of artists and activists took advantage of a brief period of progressivism during the war years to launch a bold cultural offensive aimed at winning democracy for all Americans, regardless of race or gender. Ardent believers in America’s promise, these men and women helped to lay the groundwork for the Civil Rights Movement before Cold War politics and anti-Communist fervor temporarily froze their dreams at the dawn of the postwar era.

In Harlem Nocturne, esteemed scholar Farah Jasmine Griffin tells the stories of three black female artists whose creative and political efforts fueled this historic movement for change: choreographer and dancer Pearl Primus, composer and pianist Mary Lou Williams, and novelist Ann Petry. Like many African Americans in the city at the time, these women weren’t native New Yorkers, but the metropolis and its vibrant cultural scene gave them the space to flourish and the freedom to express their political concerns. Pearl Primus performed nightly at the legendary Cafe Society, the first racially integrated club in New York, where she debuted dances of social protest that drew on long-buried African traditions and the dances of former slaves in the South. Williams, meanwhile, was a major figure in the emergence of bebop, collaborating with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Bud Powell and premiering her groundbreaking Zodiac Suite at the legendary performance space Town Hall. And Ann Petry conveyed the struggles of working-class black women to a national audience with her acclaimed novel The Street, which sold over a million copies — a first for a female African American author.

A rich biography of three artists and the city that inspired them, Harlem Nocturne captures a period of unprecedented vitality and progress for African Americans and women, revealing a cultural movement and a historical moment whose influence endures today.


The Cutting Season: A Novel by Attica Locke

Attica Locke‘s breathtaking debut novel, Black Water Rising, won resounding acclaim from major publications coast-to-coast and from respected crime fiction masters like James Ellroy and George Pelecanos, earning this exciting new author comparisons to Dennis Lehane, Scott Turow, and Walter Mosley. Locke returns with The Cutting Season, a second novel easily as gripping and powerful as her first — a heart-pounding thriller that interweaves two murder mysteries, one on Belle Vie, a historic landmark in the middle of Lousiana’s Sugar Cane country, and one involving a slave gone missing more than one hundred years earlier. Black Water Rising was nominated for a Los Angeles Times Book Prize, an Edgar Award, and an NAACP Image Award, and was short-listed for the Orange Prize in the U.K. The Cutting Season has been selected by bestselling author Dennis Lehane as the first pick for his new line of books at HarperCollins.

Men We Reaped: A Memoir by Jesmyn Ward

“We saw the lightning and that was the guns; and then we heard the thunder and that was the big guns; and then we heard the rain falling and that was the blood falling; and when we came to get in the crops, it was dead men that we reaped.” — Harriet Tubman

In five years, Jesmyn Ward lost five young men in her life — to drugs, accidents, suicide, and the bad luck that can follow people who live in poverty, particularly black men. Dealing with these losses, one after another, made Jesmyn ask the question: Why? And as she began to write about the experience of living through all the dying, she realized the truth — and it took her breath away. Her brother and her friends all died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that fostered drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Jesmyn says the answer was so obvious she felt stupid for not seeing it. But it nagged at her until she knew she had to write about her community, to write their stories and her own.

Jesmyn grew up in poverty in rural Mississippi. She writes powerfully about the pressures this brings, on the men who can do no right and the women who stand in for family in a society where the men are often absent. She bravely tells her story, revisiting the agonizing losses of her only brother and her friends. As the sole member of her family to leave home and pursue higher education, she writes about this parallel American universe with the objectivity distance provides and the intimacy of utter familiarity. A brutal world rendered beautifully, Jesmyn Ward’s memoir will sit comfortably alongside Edwidge Danticat’s Brother, I’m Dying, Tobias Wolff’s This Boy’s Life, and Maya Angelou’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.

March: Book One by John Lewis

Georgia Congressman John Lewis is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper’s farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president.

Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole).

March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis‘ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

Book One spans John Lewis‘ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book “Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story.” Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations.

Ebony Magazine cover, March 2014

Ebony Magazine’s Book Choices for March 2014

Ebony Magazine’s March 2014 book selections:

Red Now and Laters: A Novel
Marcus J. Guillory

In this impressive debut Marcus J. Guillory brilliantly weaves together the many obstacles of a young man growing into adulthood, the realities of urban life, the history of Louisiana Creole culture, the glory of the black cowboy, and the role of religion in shaping lives.

South Park, Houston, Texas, 1977, is where we first meet Ti’ John, a young boy under the care of his larger-than life father — a working-class rodeo star and a practitioner of vodou—and his mother — a good Catholic and cautious disciplinarian — who forbids him to play with the neighborhood “hoodlums.” Ti’ John, throughout the era of Reaganomics and the dawn of hip-hop and cassette tapes, must negotiate the world around him and a peculiar gift he’s inherited from his father and Jules Saint-Pierre “Nonc” Sonnier, a deceased ancestor who visits the boy, announcing himself with the smell of smoke on a regular basis. In many ways, Ti’ John is an ordinary kid who loses his innocence as he witnesses violence and death, as he gets his heart broken by girls and his own embittered father, as he struggles to live up to his mother’s middle-class aspirations and his father’s notion of what it is to be a man. In other ways, he is different — from his childhood buddies and from the father who is his hero.

The question throughout this layered and complex coming-of-age story is will Ti’ John survive the bad side of life — and his upbringing — and learn how to recognize and keep what is good.

Pageants, Parlors, and Pretty Women: Race and Beauty in the Twentieth-Century South
Blain Roberts

From the South’s pageant queens to the importance of beauty parlors to African American communities, it is easy to see the ways beauty is enmeshed in southern culture. But as Blain Roberts shows in this incisive work, the pursuit of beauty in the South was linked to the tumultuous racial divides of the region, where the Jim Crow-era cosmetics industry came of age selling the idea of makeup that emphasized whiteness, and where, in the 1950s and 1960s, black-owned beauty shops served as crucial sites of resistance for civil rights activists. In these times of strained relations in the South, beauty became a signifier of power and affluence while it reinforced racial strife.

Roberts examines a range of beauty products, practices, and rituals–cosmetics, hairdressing, clothing, and beauty contests–in settings that range from tobacco farms of the Great Depression to 1950s and 1960s college campuses. In so doing, she uncovers the role of female beauty in the economic and cultural modernization of the South. By showing how battles over beauty came to a head during the civil rights movement, Roberts sheds new light on the tactics southerners used to resist and achieve desegregation.

Saint Monkey: A Novel
Jacinda Townsend

A stunning debut novel of two girls raised in hardship, separated by fortune, and reunited through tragedy.

Fourteen-year-old Audrey Martin, with her Poindexter glasses and her head humming the 3/4 meter of gospel music, knows she’ll never get out of Kentucky — but when her fingers touch the piano keys, the whole church trembles. Her best friend, Caroline, daydreams about Hollywood stardom, but both girls feel destined to languish in a slow-moving stopover town in Montgomery County.

That is, until chance intervenes and a booking agent offers Audrey a ticket to join the booming jazz scene in Harlem — an offer she can’t resist, not even for Caroline. And in New York City the music never stops. Audrey flirts with love and takes the stage at the Apollo, with its fast-dancing crowds and blinding lights. But fortunes can turn fast in the city — young talent means tough competition, and for Audrey failure is always one step away. Meanwhile, Caroline sinks into the quiet anguish of a Black woman in a backwards country, where her ambitions and desires only slip further out of reach.

Jacinda Townsend’s remarkable first novel is a coming-of-age story made at once gripping and poignant by the wild energy of the Jazz Era and the stark realities of segregation. Marrying musical prose with lyric vernacular, Saint Monkey delivers a stirring portrait of American storytelling and marks the appearance of an auspicious new voice in literary fiction.

The Secret of Magic
Deborah Johnson

In 1946, a young female attorney from New York City attempts the impossible: attaining justice for a black man in the Deep South.

Regina Robichard works for Thurgood Marshall, who receives an unusual letter asking the NAACP to investigate the murder of a returning black war hero. It is signed by M. P. Calhoun, the most reclusive author in the country.

As a child, Regina was captivated by Calhoun’s The Secret of Magic, a novel in which white and black children played together in a magical forest.

Once down in Mississippi, Regina finds that nothing in the South is as it seems. She must navigate the muddy waters of racism, relationships, and her own tragic past.The Secret of Magic brilliantly explores the power of stories and those who tell them.

The Rise: Creativity, the Gift of Failure, and the Search for Mastery
Sarah Lewis

It is one of the enduring enigmas of the human experience: many of our most iconic, creative endeavors — from Nobel Prize-winning discoveries to entrepreneurial inventions and works in the arts — are not achievements but conversions, corrections after failed attempts.

The gift of failure is a riddle. Like the number zero, it will always be both a void and the start of infinite possibility. The Rise — a soulful celebration of the determination and courage of the human spirit — makes the case that many of our greatest triumphs come from understanding the importance of this mystery.

This exquisite biography of an idea is about the improbable foundations of creative human endeavor. The Rise begins with narratives about figures past and present who range from writers to entrepreneurs; Frederick Douglass, Samuel F. B. Morse, and J. K. Rowling, for example, feature alongside choreographer Paul Taylor, Nobel Prize-winning physicists Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov, Arctic explorer Ben Saunders, and psychology professor Angela Duckworth.

The Rise explores the inestimable value of often ignored ideas — the power of surrender for fortitude, the criticality of play for innovation, the propulsion of the near win on the road to mastery, and the importance of grit and creative practice. From an uncommonly insightful writer, The Rise is a true masterwork.

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

The Harlem Hellfighters
by Max Brooks (Author), Caanan White (Illustrator)

Broadway Books, April 1, 2014, Paperback

From bestselling author Max Brooks, the riveting story of the highly decorated, barrier-breaking, historic black regiment — the Harlem Hellfighters

In 1919, the 369th infantry regiment marched home triumphantly from World War I. They had spent more time in combat than any other American unit, never losing a foot of ground to the enemy, or a man to capture, and winning countless decorations. Though they returned as heroes, this African American unit faced tremendous discrimination, even from their own government. The Harlem Hellfighters, as the Germans called them, fought courageously on — and off — the battlefield to make Europe, and America, safe for democracy.

In THE HARLEM HELLFIGHTERS, bestselling author Max Brooks and acclaimed illustrator Caanan White bring this history to life. From the enlistment lines in Harlem to the training camp at Spartanburg, South Carolina, to the trenches in France, they tell the heroic story of the 369th in an action-packed and powerful tale of honor and heart.

Essence Magazine Cover, February 2014

Essence Magazine’s Black History Month Book Choices — February 2014

Essence Magazine’s February 2014 book selections for Black History Month:

Searching for Sarah Rector: The Richest Black Girl in America

Tonya Bolden

Sarah Rector was once famously hailed as “”the richest black girl in America.” Set against the backdrop of American history, her tale encompasses the creation of Indian Territory, the making of Oklahoma, and the establishment of black towns and oil-rich boomtowns. Rector acquired her fortune at the age of eleven. This is both her story and that of children just like her: one filled with ups and downs amid bizarre goings-on and crimes perpetrated by greedy and corrupt adults. From a trove of primary documents, including court and census records and interviews with family members, author Tonya Bolden painstakingly pieces together the events of Sarah’s life and the lives of those around her.

American Cocktail: A Colored Girl in the World
Anita Reynolds

This is the rollicking, never-before-published memoir of a fascinating woman with an uncanny knack for being in the right place in the most interesting times. Of racially mixed heritage, Anita Reynolds was proudly African American but often passed for Indian, Mexican, or Creole. Actress, dancer, model, literary critic, psychologist, but above all free-spirited provocateur, she was, as her Parisian friends nicknamed her, an American cocktail. One of the first black stars of the silent era, she appeared in Hollywood movies with Rudolph Valentino, attended Charlie Chaplin’s anarchist meetings, and studied dance with Ruth St. Denis. She moved to New York in the 1920s and made a splash with both Harlem Renaissance elites and Greenwich Village bohemians. An émigré in Paris, she fell in with the Left Bank avant garde, befriending Antonin Artaud, Man Ray, and Pablo Picasso. Next, she took up residence as a journalist in Barcelona during the Spanish Civil War and witnessed firsthand the growing menace of fascism. In 1940, as the Nazi panzers closed in on Paris, Reynolds spent the final days before the French capitulation as a Red Cross nurse, afterward making a mad dash for Lisbon to escape on the last ship departing Europe.

The Wars of Reconstruction: The Brief, Violent History of America’s Most Progressive Era
Douglas R. Egerton

By 1870, just five years after Confederate surrender and thirteen years after the Dred Scott decision ruled blacks ineligible for citizenship, Congressional action had ended slavery and given the vote to black men. That same year, Hiram Revels and Joseph Hayne Rainey became the first African-American U.S. senator and congressman respectively. In South Carolina, only twenty years after the death of arch-secessionist John C. Calhoun, a black man, Jasper J. Wright, took a seat on the state’s Supreme Court. Not even the most optimistic abolitionists had thought such milestones would occur in their lifetimes. The brief years of Reconstruction marked the United States’ most progressive moment prior to the civil rights movement. This history explores the state and local politics and tracing the struggles of some fifteen hundred African-American officeholders, in both the North and South, who fought entrenched white resistance.

Without Mercy: The Stunning True Story of Race, Crime, and Corruption in the Deep South
David Beasley

On December 9, 1938, the state of Georgia executed six black men in eighty-one  minutes in  Tattnall Prison’s electric chair. The executions were a record for the state that still stands today. The new prison, built with funds from FDR’s New Deal, as well as the fact that the men were tried and executed rather than lynched were thought to be a sign of progress. They were anything but. While those men were arrested, convicted, sentenced, and executed in as little as six weeks—E. D. Rivers, the governor of the state, oversaw a pardon racket for white killers and criminals, allowed the Ku Klux Klan to infiltrate his administration, and bankrupted the state. Race and wealth were all that determined whether or not a man lived or died. There was no progress. There was no justice. A harrowing true story of the Great Depression, the New Deal, and the violent death throes of the Klan, but most of all it is the story of the stunning injustice of these executions and how they have seared distrust of the legal system into the consciousness of the Deep South.

Down to the Crossroads: Civil Rights, Black Power, and the Meredith March Against Fear
Aram Goudsouzian

In 1962, James Meredith became a civil rights hero when he enrolled as the first African American student at the University of Mississippi. Four years later, he would make the news again when he reentered Mississippi, on foot. His plan was to walk from Memphis to Jackson, leading a “March Against Fear” that would promote black voter registration and defy the entrenched racism of the region. But on the march’s second day, he was shot by a mysterious gunman, a moment captured in a harrowing and now iconic photograph.
What followed was one of the central dramas of the civil rights era. With Meredith in the hospital, the leading figures of the civil rights movement flew to Mississippi to carry on his effort. They quickly found themselves confronting southern law enforcement officials, local activists, and one another. In the span of only three weeks, Martin Luther King, Jr., narrowly escaped a vicious mob attack; protesters were teargassed by state police; Lyndon Johnson refused to intervene; and the charismatic young activist Stokely Carmichael first led the chant that would define a new kind of civil rights movement: Black Power. 
Aram Goudsouzian’s Down to the Crossroads is the story of the last great march of the King era, and the first great showdown of the turbulent years that followed. Depicting rural demonstrators’ courage and the impassioned debates among movement leaders, Goudsouzian reveals the legacy of an event that would both integrate African Americans into the political system and inspire even bolder protests against it. Full of drama and contemporary resonances, this book is civil rights history at its best.

Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr.
David L. Chappell

A sweeping history of the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and to realize King’s vision of an equal society.   In this arresting and groundbreaking account, David L. Chappell reveals that, far from coming to an abrupt end with King’s murder, the civil rights movement entered a new phase. It both grew and splintered. These were years when decisive, historic victories were no longer within reach—the movement’s achievements were instead hard-won, and their meanings unsettled. From the fight to pass the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to debates over unity and leadership at the National Black Political Conventions, to the campaign for full-employment legislation, to the surprising enactment of the Martin Luther King holiday, to Jesse Jackson’s quixotic presidential campaigns, veterans of the movement struggled to rally around common goals. Chappell chronicles the difficulties the movement encountered while working to build coalitions, pass legislation, and mobilize citizens in the absence of King’s galvanizing leadership. Could the civil rights coalition stay together as its focus shifted from public protests to congressional politics? Did the movement need a single, charismatic leader to succeed King, and who would that be? As the movement’s leaders pushed forward, they continually looked back, struggling to define King’s legacy and harness his symbolic power.

Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-first Century
Monique W. Morris

A comprehensive guide filled with contemporary facts and figures on African Americans—is an essential reference for anyone attempting to fathom the complex state of our nation. With fascinating and often surprising information on everything from incarceration rates, lending practices, and the arts to marriage, voting habits, and green jobs, the contextualized material in this book will better attune readers to telling trends while challenging commonly held, yet often misguided, perceptions. A compilation that at once highlights measures of incredible progress and enumerates the disparate impacts of social policies and practices, this book is a critical tool for advocates, educators, and policy makers.

Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music
Angelique Kidjo

Grammy Award-winning singer Angélique Kidjo is known for her electrifying voice and fearless advocacy work. In this intimate memoir, she reveals how she escaped Communist Africa to make her dreams a reality, and how she’s prompting others all around the world to reach for theirs as well. Born in the West African nation of Benin, Angélique Kidjo grew up surrounded by the rich sounds, rhythms, and storytelling of traditional Beninese culture. When the Communists took over, they silenced her dynamic culture and demanded that she sing in praise of them. Angélique reveals the details of her dangerous escape into France, and how she rose from poverty to become a Grammy Award–winning artist and an international sensation at the top of Billboard’s World Albums chart. She also explains why it’s important to give back by sharing stories from her work as a UNICEF ambassador and as founder of the Batonga Foundation, which gives African girls access to education.
Desmond Tutu has contributed the foreword to this remarkable volume; Alicia Keys has provided an introduction. Her eloquent, inspiring narrative is paired with more than one hundred colorful photographs documenting Angélique’s life and experiences, as well as a sampling of recipes that has sustained her on her remarkable odyssey.

Suspicion Nation by Lisa Bloom



Counterpoint,
February 25, 2014,
Hardcover

Suspicion Nation: The Inside Story of the Trayvon Martin Injustice and Why We Continue to Repeat It by Lisa Bloom

What went wrong behind the scenes in the Trayvon Martin case? Why does America endure so many tragic shootings like this one? These are the questions at the heart of Suspicion Nation.

Bestselling author, trial attorney, and NBC News analyst Lisa Bloom covered the murder trial and was appalled by what she witnessed. Bloom now exposes the injustice, conducting new in-depth interviews with key trial participants and digging deeper into the evidence. Suspicion Nation outlines the six biggest mistakes made by the state of Florida that guaranteed it would lose this “winnable case,” and the laws and biases that created the conditions for this tragedy.

The only nonwhite juror tells her story of painful isolation in the jury room. Rachel Jeantel, the state’s star witness, reveals how poorly the state prepared her to testify and what went through her mind on the stand. The medical examiner reveals scientific evidence he wasn’t allowed to present. And a new examination of Trayvon’s school suspensions raises questions about racial profiling, all in a country divided over issues of race, gun laws, and violence.

Suspicion Nation is a riveting courtroom drama that shines a bright light on a case we only thought we knew.

The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross by Henry Louis Gates Jr., Donald Yacovone



Hardcover
October 1, 2013
SmileyBooks
The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross is the companion book to the six-part, six hour documentary of the same name, airing on national, primetime public television in the fall of 2013. The series is the first to air since 1968 that chronicles the full sweep of 500 years of African American history, from the origins of slavery on the African continent and the arrival of the first black conquistador, Juan Garrido, in Florida in 1513, through five centuries of remarkable historic events right up to today—when Barack Obama is serving his second term as President, yet our country remains deeply divided by race and class.

The book explores these topics in even more detail than possible in the television series, and examines many other fascinating matters as well, such as the ethnic origins — and the regional and cultural diversit — of the Africans whose enslavement led to the creation of the African American people. It delves into the multiplicity of cultural institutions, political strategies, and religious and social perspectives that African Americans have created in the half a millennium since their African ancestors first arrived on these shores. Like the television series, this book guides readers on an engaging journey through the Black Atlantic world — from Africa and Europe to the Caribbean, Latin America, and the United States — to shed new light on what it has meant, and means, to be an African American.

By highlighting the complex internal debates and class differences within the Black Experience in this country, readers will learn that the African American community, which black abolitionist Martin R. Delany described as a “nation within a nation,” has never been a truly uniform entity, and that its members have been debating their differences of opinion and belief from their very first days in this country. The road to freedom for black people in America has not been linear; rather, much like the course of a river, it has been full of loops and eddies, slowing and occasionally reversing current. Ultimately, this book emphasizes the idea that African American history encompasses multiple continents and venues, and must be viewed through a transnational perspective to be fully understood.

Negroes and the Gun: The Black Tradition of Arms by Nicholas Johnson



Paperback
January 14, 2014
Prometheus Books
Chronicling the underappreciated black tradition of bearing arms for self-defense, this book presents an array of examples reaching back to the pre-Civil War era that demonstrate a willingness of African American men and women to use firearms when necessary to defend their families and communities. From Frederick Douglass‘s advice to keep “a good revolver” handy as defense against slave catchers to the armed self-protection of Monroe, North Carolina, blacks against the KKK chronicled in Robert Williams’s Negroes with Guns, it is clear that owning firearms was commonplace in the black community.

Nicholas Johnson points out that this story has been submerged because it is hard to reconcile with the dominant narrative of nonviolence during the civil rights era. His book, however, resolves that tension by showing how the black tradition of arms maintained and demanded a critical distinction between private self-defense and political violence.

Johnson also addresses the unavoidable issue of young black men with guns and the toll that gun violence takes on many in the inner city. He shows how complicated this issue is by highlighting the surprising diversity of views on gun ownership in the black community. In fact, recent Supreme Court affirmations of the right to bear arms resulted from cases led by black plaintiffs.

Surprising and informative, this well-researched book strips away many stock assumptions of conventional wisdom on the issue of guns and the black freedom struggle.

White Girls by Hilton Als


Hardcover
McSweeney’s
November 12, 2013
White Girls, Hilton Als’s first book since The Women fourteen years ago, finds one of The New Yorker‘s boldest cultural critics deftly weaving together his brilliant analyses of literature, art, and music with fearless insights on race, gender, and history. The result is an extraordinary, complex portrait of “white girls,” as Als dubs them—an expansive but precise category that encompasses figures as diverse as Truman Capote and Louise Brooks, Malcolm X and Flannery O’Connor. In pieces that hairpin between critique and meditation, fiction and nonfiction, high culture and low, the theoretical and the deeply personal, Als presents a stunning portrait of a writer by way of his subjects, and an invaluable guide to the culture of our time.
The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson

The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins: Justice, Gender, and the Origins of the LA Riots by Brenda Stevenson

Hardcover:
Helicopters thwopped low over the city, filming blocks of burning cars and buildings, mobs breaking into storefronts, and the vicious beating of truck driver Reginald Denny. For a week in April 1992, Los Angeles transformed into a cityscape of rage, purportedly due to the exoneration of four policemen who had beaten Rodney King. It should be no surprise that such intense anger erupted from something deeper than a single incident.

In The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins, Brenda Stevenson tells the dramatic story of an earlier trial, a turning point on the road to the 1992 riot. On March 16, 1991, fifteen-year-old Latasha Harlins, an African American who lived locally, entered the Empire Liquor Market at 9172 South Figueroa Street in South Central Los Angeles. Behind the counter was a Korean woman named Soon Ja Du. Latasha walked to the refrigerator cases in the back, took a bottle of orange juice, put it in her backpack, and approached the cash register with two dollar bills in her hand-the price of the juice. Moments later she was face-down on the floor with a bullet hole in the back of her head, shot dead by Du. Joyce Karlin, a Jewish Superior Court judge appointed by Republican Governor Pete Wilson, presided over the resulting manslaughter trial. A jury convicted Du, but Karlin sentenced her only to probation, community service, and a $500 fine. The author meticulously reconstructs these events and their aftermath, showing how they set the stage for the explosion in 1992.

An accomplished historian at UCLA, Stevenson explores the lives of each of these three women-Harlins, Du, and Karlin-and their very different worlds in rich detail. Through the three women, she not only reveals the human reality and social repercussions of this triangular collision, she also provides a deep history of immigration, ethnicity, and gender in modern America. Massively researched, deftly written, The Contested Murder of Latasha Harlins will reshape our understanding of race, ethnicity, gender, and-above all-justice in modern America.

Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement by Simeon Booker

Within a few years of its first issue in 1951, Jet, a pocket-size magazine, became the “bible” for news of the civil rights movement. It was said, only half-jokingly, “If it wasn’t in Jet, it didn’t happen.” Writing for the magazine and its glossy, big sister Ebony, for fifty-three years, longer than any other journalist, Washington bureau chief Simeon Booker was on the front lines of virtually every major event of the revolution that transformed America.Rather than tracking the freedom struggle from the usually cited ignition points, Shocking the Conscience begins with a massive voting rights rally in the Mississippi Delta town of Mound Bayou in 1955. It’s the first rally since the Supreme Court’s Brown decision struck fear in the hearts of segregationists across the former Confederacy. It was also Booker’s first assignment in the Deep South, and before the next run of the weekly magazine, the killings would begin.

Booker vowed that lynchings would no longer be ignored beyond the black press. Jet was reaching into households across America, and he was determined to cover the next murder like none before. He had only a few weeks to wait. A small item on the AP wire reported that a Chicago boy vacationing in Mississippi was missing. Booker was on it, and stayed on it, through one of the most infamous murder trials in U.S. history. His coverage of Emmett Till’s death lit a fire that would galvanize the movement, while a succession of U.S. presidents wished it would go away.

This is the story of the century that changed everything about journalism, politics, and more in America, as only Simeon Booker, the dean of the black press, could tell it.

Shocking the Conscience: A Reporter’s Account of the Civil Rights Movement
Simeon Booker (Author), Carol McCabe Booker (Contributor)
University Press of Mississippi
February 25, 2013
Hardcover

Devil in the Grove by Gilbert King

* Nominated for a 2013 Edgar Award
* Book of the Year (Non-fiction, 2012) The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor

Arguably the most important American lawyer of the twentieth century, Thurgood Marshall was on the verge of bringing the landmark suit Brown v. Board of Education before the U.S. Supreme Court when he became embroiled in a case that threatened to change the course of the civil rights movement and cost him his life.

In 1949, Florida’s orange industry was booming, and citrus barons got rich on the backs of cheap Jim Crow labor with the help of Sheriff Willis V. McCall, who ruled Lake County with murderous resolve. When a white seventeen-year-old girl cried rape, McCall pursued four young blacks who dared envision a future for themselves beyond the groves. The Ku Klux Klan joined the hunt, hell-bent on lynching the men who came to be known as “the Groveland Boys.”

Associates thought it was suicidal for Marshall to wade into the “Florida Terror,” but the young lawyer would not shrink from the fight despite continuous death threats against him.

Drawing on a wealth of never-before-published material, including the FBI’s unredacted Groveland case files, as well as unprecedented access to the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund files, Gilbert King shines new light on this remarkable civil rights crusader.

Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America
Gilbert King
Harper Perennial
February 19, 2013
Paperback

News: Grandfather of African literature, Chinua Achebe, dies

By Tim Cocks LAGOS (Reuters) –
Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, widely seen as the grandfather of modern African literature, has died at the age of 82. From the publication of his first novel, “Things Fall Apart”, over 50 years ago, Achebe shaped an understanding of Africa from an African perspective more than any other author. As a novelist, poet, broadcaster and lecturer, Achebe was a yardstick against which generations of African writers have been judged. For children across Africa, his books have for decades been an eye-opening introduction to the power of literature. …

For more, see Yahoo News.

Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles by Vincent Brook

Unlike the more forthrightly mythic origins of other urban centers — think Rome via Romulus and Remus or Mexico City via the god Huitzilopochtli — Los Angeles emerged from a smoke-and-mirrors process that is simultaneously literal and figurative, real and imagined, material and metaphorical, physical and textual. Through penetrating analysis and personal engagement, Vincent Brook uncovers the many portraits of this ever-enticing, ever-ambivalent, and increasingly multicultural megalopolis. Divided into sections that probe Los Angeles’s checkered history and reflect on Hollywood’s own self-reflections, the book shows how the city, despite considerable remaining challenges, is finally blowing away some of the smoke of its not always proud past and rhetorically adjusting its rear-view mirrors.

Part I is a review of the city’s history through the early 1900s, focusing on the seminal 1884 novel Ramona and its immediate effect, but also exploring its ongoing impact through interviews with present-day Tongva Indians, attendance at the 88th annual Ramona pageant, and analysis of its feature film adaptations.

Brook deals with Hollywood as geographical site, film production center, and frame of mind in Part II. He charts the events leading up to Hollywood’s emergence as the world’s movie capital and explores subsequent developments of the film industry from its golden age through the so-called New Hollywood, citing such self-reflexive films as Sunset Blvd., Singin’ in the Rain, and The Truman Show.

Part III considers LA noir, a subset of film noir that emerged alongside the classical noir cycle in the 1940s and 1950s and continues today. The city’s status as a privileged noir site is analyzed in relation to its history and through discussions of such key LA noir novels and films as Double Indemnity, Chinatown, and Crash.

In Part IV, Brook examines multicultural Los Angeles. Using media texts as signposts, he maps the history and contemporary situation of the city’s major ethno-racial and other minority groups, looking at such films as Mi Familia (Latinos), Boyz N the Hood (African Americans), Charlotte Sometimes (Asians), Falling Down (Whites), and The Kids Are All Right (LGBT).

Land of Smoke and Mirrors: A Cultural History of Los Angeles
Vincent Brook
Rutgers University Press
January 22, 2013
Hardcover

The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies by Jonathan Alter



A narrative thriller about the battle royale surrounding Barack Obama’s quest for a second term amid widespread joblessness and one of the most poisonous political climates in American history.

In this sequel to his bestselling The Promise, Jonathan Alter digs into the back story of the campaign and Obama’s performance as president. This will be the most penetrating account of how Obama won or lost the election and how he confronted the implacable forces arrayed against him — a sluggish economy, vicious partisan opposition, his own failures as a politician and communicator.

The book will bring to life today’s climactic clash over the fate of the middle class and the future of the American Dream. On the ground and in the air, the 2012 election pits Obama’s still-formidable citizens’ army versus Mitt Romney’s Super PAC moneyed elite.

Alter takes readers deep inside Obama’s Chicago headquarters and Romney’s Boston-based campaign, as the candidates battle over jobs, their records, and who is more out of touch.

Alter explains why the 2012 election will be long remembered as a pivotal contest. At stake, he writes, is not just the presidency but the role of government and our definition of what we owe each other.

Obama has always believed he could hit the three-point shot at the buzzer. Alter takes us on the court with the president as he tries to nail the last big shot of his political career.

The Center Holds: Obama and His Enemies
Jonathan Alter
Simon & Schuster
June 4, 2013
Hardcover

Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora by Emily Raboteau



Audiobook:
A decade in the making, Emily Raboteau‘s Searching for Zion takes readers around the world on an unexpected adventure of faith. Both one woman’s quest for a place to call “home” and an investigation into a people’s search for the Promised Land, this landmark work of creative nonfiction is a trenchant inquiry into contemporary and historical ethnic displacement.

At the age of twenty-three, award-winning writer Emily Raboteau traveled to Israel to visit her childhood best friend. While her friend appeared to have found a place to belong, Raboteau could not yet say the same for herself. As a biracial woman from a country still divided along racial lines, she’d never felt at home in America. But as a reggae fan and the daughter of a historian of African-American religion, Raboteau knew of “Zion” as a place black people yearned to be. She’d heard about it on Bob Marley’s Exodus and in the speeches of Martin Luther King. She understood it as a metaphor for freedom, a spiritual realm rather than a geographical one. Now in Israel, the Jewish Zion, she was surprised to discover black Jews. More surprising was the story of how they got there. Inspired by their exodus, Raboteau sought out other black communities that left home in search of a Promised Land. Her question for them is same she asks herself: have you found the home you’re looking for?

On her ten-year journey back in time and around the globe, through the Bush years and into the age of Obama, Raboteau wanders to Jamaica, Ethiopia, Ghana, and the American South to explore the complex and contradictory perspectives of Black Zionists. She talks to Rastafarians and African Hebrew Israelites, Evangelicals and Ethiopian Jews, and Katrina transplants from her own family — people that have risked everything in search of territory that is hard to define and harder to inhabit. Uniting memoir with historical and cultural investigation, Raboteau overturns our ideas of place and patriotism, displacement and dispossession, citizenship and country in a disarmingly honest and refreshingly brave take on the pull of the story of Exodus.

Searching for Zion: The Quest for Home in the African Diaspora
Emily Raboteau
Atlantic Monthly Press
January 8, 2013
Hardcover

How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston

Have you ever been called “too black” or “not black enough”?
Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person?
Have you ever heard of black people?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you. Raised by a pro-black, Pan-Afrikan single mother during the crack years of 1980s Washington, DC, and educated at Sidwell Friends School and Harvard University, Baratunde Thurston has more than over thirty years’ experience being black. Now, through stories of his politically inspired Nigerian name, the heroics of his hippie mother, the murder of his drug-abusing father, and other revelatory black details, he shares with readers of all colors his wisdom and expertise in how to be black. Beyond memoir, this guidebook offers practical advice on everything from “How to Be the Black Friend” to “How to Be the (Next) Black President” to “How to Celebrate Black History Month.”

Harper Paperbacks
Available October 30, 2012 in Paperback

The Black Count: Glory, Revolution, Betrayal, and the Real Count of Monte Cristo by Tom Reiss

Here is the remarkable true story of the real Count of Monte Cristo — a stunning feat of historical sleuthing that brings to life the forgotten hero who inspired such classics as The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers.

The real-life protagonist of The Black Count, General Alex Dumas, is a man almost unknown today yet with a story that is strikingly familiar, because his son, the novelist Alexandre Dumas, used it to create some of the best loved heroes of literature.

Yet, hidden behind these swashbuckling adventures was an even more incredible secret: the real hero was the son of a black slave — who rose higher in the white world than any man of his race would before our own time.

Born in Saint-Domingue (now Haiti), Alex Dumas was briefly sold into bondage but made his way to Paris where he was schooled as a sword-fighting member of the French aristocracy. Enlisting as a private, he rose to command armies at the height of the Revolution, in an audacious campaign across Europe and the Middle East — until he met an implacable enemy he could not defeat.

The Black Count is simultaneously a riveting adventure story, a lushly textured evocation of 18th-century France, and a window into the modern world’s first multi-racial society. But it is also a heartbreaking story of the enduring bonds of love between a father and son.

Black Images in the Comics by Fredrik Stromberg

Endlessly browsable illustrated journey through comics’ history of radical portrayals both good and bad, now in softcover.

This book spotlights over 100 comic strips, comic books, and graphic novels to feature black characters from all over the world over the last century, and the result is a fascinating journey to, if not enlightenment, then at least away from the horrendous caricatures of yore.

The book begins with the habitually appalling images of blacks as ignorant “coons” in the earliest syndicated strips (Happy Hooligan, Moon Mullins, and The Katzenjammer Kids); continues with the almost-quaint colonialist images of the often-suppressed Tintin album Tintin in the Congo and such ambiguous figures as Mandrake the Magician’s “noble savage” assistant Lothar in the ’30s (not to mention Torchy Brown, the first syndicated black character), moving on to such oddities as the offensive Ebony character in Will Eisner’s otherwise classic The Spirit from the ’40s and ’50s.

We then continue into the often earnest attempts at ’60s integration in such strips as Peanuts (and comic books such as the Fantastic Four), as well as the first wave of “black strips” like Wee Pals, juxtaposed with the shocking satire of underground comics such as R. Crumb’s incendiary Angefood McSpade. Also investigated is the increased use of blacks in super-hero comic books as well as syndicated strips. Black Images in the Comics wraps up from the ’80s to now, with the increased visibility of blacks, often in works actually produced by blacks, all the way to the South African strip Madam & Eve, Aaron McGruder’s pointed daily The Boondocks, and more — including over a dozen new entries added to the out-of-print hardcover edition.

Each strip, comic, or graphic novel is spotlighted via a compact but instructive 200-word essay and a representative illustration. The book is augmented by a context-setting introduction, an extensive source list and bibliography, and a foreword by Charles R. Johnson, the recipient of a MacArthur Foundation fellowship and winner of the National Book Award for his 1990 novel Middle Passage.

Black & white throughout