A Novelist Dissects the Claustrophobic Evil of Jim Crow

Posted in Articles, Book/Video Reviews, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-23 04:01Z by Steven

A Novelist Dissects the Claustrophobic Evil of Jim Crow

The New York Times
2017-10-06

Ayana Mathis


Melinda Beck

Eleanor Henderson, The Twelve-Mile Straight, A Novel (New York: Ecco/HarperCollins, 2017)

Every couple of decades the nation revisits, publicly and painfully, its oldest violence. The wounds of race — still open, still weeping over the course of 400 years — preoccupy our literature for a time. This is a good thing, given that the wages of silence are most certainly death. At its best, historical fiction isn’t a stump speech or a school lesson, but it sure does illuminate the past, give soul and body to our history so we can sojourn with it a while, in privacy and contemplation. As a useful byproduct, it gives us a fighting chance at recognizing the past’s reverberations in our present. And reverberate it does.

When plunging into the bloody abyss of the American racial past, as Eleanor Henderson does in her second novel, “The Twelve-Mile Straight,” the stakes are high. The novel is set in 1930 in Cotton County, Ga. In its opening pages a black man, Genus Jackson, is lynched for raping a young white woman named Elma Jesup: “Genus dropped, his neck snapping like a chicken’s, his body falling limp.”

We suspect that Genus is innocent, and indeed, he is. We hope his luridly described murder by lynching proves more than a mere point of departure for Henderson’s sprawling Southern Gothic family drama. Genus was a field hand on the farm that Elma Jesup sharecrops alongside her father, Juke, and a mute black girl, 14-year-old Nan Smith. The girls live like sisters and, at least when they are home on the farm, the racial lines that divide them are blurred by affection and proximity…

Read the entire review here.

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Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Family/Parenting, Media Archive, Passing, United States on 2021-09-21 14:12Z by Steven

Why Did Two People So Poorly Matched Stay Together So Long?

The New York Times
2021-09-06

Eleanor Henderson


Christopher Sorrentino’s parents, Gilbert and Vicki, circa 1972. Sorrentino examines their confounding marriage in his memoir, “Now Beacon, Now Sea.” via Christopher Sorrentino

Christopher Sorrentino, Now Beacon, Now Sea: A Son’s Memoir (Catapult, 2021)

As I was reading Christopher Sorrentino’sNow Beacon, Now Sea,” I heard Rodrigo Garcia, son of Gabriel García Márquez, on the radio, talking about his new memoir, “A Farewell to Gabo and Mercedes.” Garcia’s book is a loving chronicle of the last days of his larger-than-life father and loyal mother. Sorrentino’s book, too, is about his novelist father and his parents’ deaths. Both have the subtitle “A Son’s Memoir.” But “Now Beacon, Now Sea” is no tender tribute. Listening to Garcia speak, I realized that Sorrentino was working in a decidedly different genre: His “son’s memoir” is more autopsy than eulogy.

Sorrentino’s father, Gilbert, was an avant-gardist more prolific than famous, who died in an under-resourced hospital in Brooklyn as his son was en route; his wife, Vicki, who is the real subject of this book and a truly fascinating one, died under even grimmer circumstances. Her decaying body, discovered by her son in her Bay Ridge apartment, is the striking opening image of the book. An autopsy was never ordered…

Read the entire review here.

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When the war started, she took a job in an Air Force office, where she was surprised to realize she was passing for white. She set the record straight, and asked if she would still get her promotion. The answer was no. “I walked out on the U.S. government and told them to shove it,” she later wrote in her 2018 memoir “Sign My Name to Freedom.”

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-09-21 03:42Z by Steven

For many who came west, the war years brought increased opportunity, and rising expectations, which would help fuel the civil rights and women’s movements. For Ms. [Betty Reid] Soskin, who had grown up in racially mixed neighborhoods and schools, it also brought her first experiences with overt, formal segregation.

When the war started, she took a job in an Air Force office, where she was surprised to realize she was passing for white. She set the record straight, and asked if she would still get her promotion. The answer was no. “I walked out on the U.S. government and told them to shove it,” she later wrote in her 2018 memoir “Sign My Name to Freedom.”

That same week, her husband Mel, a star college athlete who’d enlisted in the Navy only to be relegated to working as a cook, left the service. “He was going to fight for his country,” she said. “But he found out he could only cook for his country.”

Jennifer Schuessler, “‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter,” The New York Times, September 20, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/20/us/betty-reid-soskin-100.html.

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‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter

Posted in Articles, Biography, History, Media Archive, United States, Women on 2021-09-21 00:50Z by Steven

‘America’s Oldest Park Ranger’ Is Only Her Latest Chapter

The New York Times
2021-09-20

Jennifer Schuessler


Chanell Stone for The New York Times

Betty Reid Soskin has fought to ensure that American history includes the stories that get overlooked. As she turns 100, few stories have been more remarkable than hers.

The Rosie the Riveter / World War II Home Front National Historical Park, which sprawls across the former shipyards in Richmond, Calif., on the northeast edge of San Francisco Bay, tells the enormous story of the largest wartime mobilization in American history and the sweeping social changes it sparked.

Visitors can climb aboard an enormous Victory ship, one of more than 700 vessels produced in Richmond — and, in the gift shop, pick up swag emblazoned with the iconic image of the red-kerchiefed Rosie herself, arm flexed up with “We Can Do It!” bravado.

But for many, the park is synonymous with another woman: Betty.

Betty Reid Soskin, who turns 100 on Sept. 22, is the oldest active ranger in the National Park Service. Over the past decade and a half, she has become both an icon of the service and an unlikely celebrity, drawing overflow crowds to talks and a steady stream of media interviewers eager for the eloquent words of an indomitable 5 feet 3 inch great-grandmother once described by a colleague as “sort of like Bette Davis, Angela Davis and Yoda all rolled into one.”…

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Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

Posted in Articles, Biography, Book/Video Reviews, Gay & Lesbian, Law, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy, United States, Women on 2021-09-20 16:49Z by Steven

Pauli Murray Should Be a Household Name. A New Film Shows Why.

The New York Times
2021-09-15

Melena Ryzik


A scene from “My Name Is Pauli Murray.” The documentarian Betsy West, who made the film with Julie Cohen, said, “We just thought, why didn’t anybody teach us about this person?” Amazon Studios

The lawyer, activist and minister made prescient arguments on gender, race and equality that influenced Thurgood Marshall and Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

When the lawyer, activist, author and educator Pauli Murray died in 1985 at the age of 75, no obituary or commemoration could contain all of her pathbreaking accomplishments. A radical and brilliant legal strategist, Murray was named a deputy attorney general in California — the first Black person in that office — in 1946, just a year after passing the bar there. Murray was an organizer of sit-ins and participated in bus protests as far back as the 1940s, and co-founded the National Organization for Women. Murray was also the first Black woman to be ordained an Episcopal priest. In 2012, she was sainted.

Murray has been saluted in legal, academic and gender-studies circles, and in the L.G.B.T.Q. community. But her overarching impact on American life in the 20th and now 21st centuries has not been broadly acknowledged: the thinking and writing that paved the way for Brown v. Board of Education; the consideration of intersectionality (she helped popularize the term “Jane Crow”); the enviable social circle, as she was a buddy of Langston Hughes and a pen pal of Eleanor Roosevelt, and worked on her first memoir alongside James Baldwin at the MacDowell Colony in the first year it allowed Black artists.

Murray was devoted to feminism and the rights of women even as, it turned out, she privately battled lifelong gender identity issues. She should be a household name on par with Gloria Steinem or Ruth Bader Ginsburg, both of whom cited her work often. Instead Murray is an insider’s civil rights icon.

Now a documentary, “My Name Is Pauli Murray,” aims to introduce Murray to the masses. Made by the same Academy Award-nominated filmmakers behind the surprise hit “RBG,” it uses Murray’s own voice and words as narration, drawn from interviews, oral histories and the prolific writing — books, poems and a collection of argumentative, impassioned and romantic letters — that Murray meticulously filed away with an eye toward her legacy. And the film arrives at a moment when the tenacious activism of people of color, especially women, is being re-contextualized and newly acknowledged, at the same time that many of the battles they fought are still raging…

Read the entire article here.

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Historian of Race in America Gets an Unusual Four-Book Deal

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2021-09-19 02:51Z by Steven

Historian of Race in America Gets an Unusual Four-Book Deal

The New York Times
2021-09-16

Jennifer Schuessler


Martha S. Jones said she was already working on the first book, which she said will have an element of family history as well. Johns Hopkins University

Martha S. Jones, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, will write four books for Basic Books, starting with an exploration of the history and legacy of slavery’s sexual violence.

The historian Martha S. Jones has a nose for writing deeply researched histories that land in the middle of the rough and tumble of our national politics — sometimes deliberately, sometimes not.

Birthright Citizens,” her 2018 scholarly study of the history of 19th-century debates about Black citizenship in America, arrived at a moment when some conservatives had floated the idea of ending the 14th Amendment’s guarantee that all people born in America are automatically citizens.

Vanguard,” a political history of Black women that challenged popular narratives of the suffrage movement, was timed to coincide with the centennial of the 19th Amendment last August — but also happened to coincide with the election of Kamala Harris as America’s first female vice president.

Now, Jones, a professor at Johns Hopkins University, has signed an unusual four-book deal with Basic Books for a series of works that will address the tangled history of race, slavery and identity. And among them will be a “manifesto” on the role of history in the current racial reckoning…

Read the entire article here.

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Glen Ford, Black Journalist Who Lashed the Mainstream, Dies at 71

Posted in Articles, Biography, Communications/Media Studies, Media Archive, Politics/Public Policy on 2021-09-04 00:17Z by Steven

Glen Ford, Black Journalist Who Lashed the Mainstream, Dies at 71

The New York Times
2021-08-18

Clay Risen, Reporter and Editor


Glen Ford in the 1970s. As a journalist, he took aim at the intersection of corporate interests and what he called the Black “misleadership” class.
via Tonya Rutherford

Fiercely progressive and independent, he was a persistent critic of the liberal establishment, especially Black leaders like Barack Obama.

Glen Ford, who over a 50-year career was a leading voice among progressive Black journalists and a constant scourge of the liberal establishment, especially Black politicians like Barack Obama, died on July 28 in Manhattan. He was 71.

His daughter, Tonya Rutherford, said the cause was cancer.

Originally as a radio news reporter in Augusta, Ga., and later as a television and online correspondent, Mr. Ford offered his audience a progressive perspective across a wide array of issues, including welfare rights, foreign policy and police misconduct.

Read the entire obituary here.

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Black in Ballet: Coming Together After Trying to ‘Blend Into the Corps’

Posted in Articles, Arts, Media Archive, United States on 2021-09-01 01:54Z by Steven

Black in Ballet: Coming Together After Trying to ‘Blend Into the Corps’

The New York Times
2021-08-17

Brian Seibert


The cast of “Stare Decisis,” from left: Kouadio Davis, India Bradley, Rachel Hutsell, Robert Garland, Misty Copeland, Erica Lall, Kennard Henson and Alexandra Hutchinson. Malin Fezehai for The New York Times

A rare gathering of Black dancers from different companies meet to discuss a new production on Little Island, curated by Misty Copeland and Robert Garland.

Last year, in the wake of the killing of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and the protests that followed, American ballet companies started talking a lot more about race. About the issues of diversity, equity and inclusion that organizations of all kinds were addressing, but also aesthetic assumptions, implicit biases and longstanding practices particular to ballet and its history.

“There were innumerable panel discussions,” said Robert Garland, the resident choreographer of Dance Theater of Harlem. “But I felt that for the younger Black dancers, it was a heavy burden to be responsible for all of that.”

Garland wanted to help them, and in the way that he knows best: by making a dance for them. That work, “Stare Decisis (To Stand by Things Decided),” has its debut on Wednesday as part of “NYC Free,” a monthlong festival at Little Island, the new public park on the Hudson River.

The most significant feature of “Stare Decisis” is its eight-member cast: an extraordinarily rare gathering of Black dancers from New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theater and Dance Theater of Harlem. Misty Copeland — Ballet Theater’s first Black female principal dancer and one of the most famous ballerinas in the United States — is among them. (Little Island asked her to present a program.)…

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Is There Racism in the Deed to Your Home?

Posted in Articles, Economics, History, Law, Politics/Public Policy, Social Justice, United States on 2021-08-23 03:17Z by Steven

Is There Racism in the Deed to Your Home?

The New York Times
2021-08-17

Sara Clemence


Kyona and Kenneth Zak found a racial covenant in the deed to their house in San Diego that barred anyone “other than the White or Caucasian race” from owning the home. Although now illegal across the country, the covenant would have prevented Ms. Zak, who is Black, from owning the home. John Francis Peters for The New York Times

Racial covenants were designed to keep neighborhoods segregated. Some states are now making it easier to erase them from legal documents.

Last year, to celebrate the centennial of their charming Craftsman home, Kyona and Kenneth Zak repainted it in historically accurate colors — gray, bronze green and copper red. They commissioned beveled-glass windows to complement the original stained glass. And they visited the San Diego County Recorder, to have a line drawn through a sentence in their deed that once would have prohibited Ms. Zak, who is Black, from owning the home.

“I’ve referred to it as the ultimate smudge stick to the house,” said Ms. Zak, an ayurvedic health counselor and yoga therapist, drawing parallels to the Indigenous practice of purifying a place by burning sacred herbs.

Buried in the fine print of the Zaks’ deed was a racial covenant, a clause that barred anyone “other than the White or Caucasian race” from owning the home. For much of the 20th century, it was common practice to insert such restrictions into deeds. The covenants targeted people who were Asian, Latino and Jewish, but especially those who were Black…

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…typically, a large share of Hispanic Americans check the box for white in the race question. Now, he said, they were given the chance to describe their backgrounds more fully, an addition, he said, that could have flipped them into the multiracial category.

Posted in Excerpts/Quotes on 2021-08-18 01:22Z by Steven

Richard Alba, a sociologist who has written about race categorization and the census, said that typically, a large share of Hispanic Americans check the box for white in the race question. Now, he said, they were given the chance to describe their backgrounds more fully, an addition, he said, that could have flipped them into the multiracial category.

Sabrina Tavernise, Tariro Mzezewa and Giulia Heyward, “Behind the Surprising Jump in Multiracial Americans, Several Theories,” The New York Times, August 13, 2021. https://www.nytimes.com/2021/08/13/us/census-multiracial-identity.html.

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