Archive for the ‘Racism’ Category

The New York Times, on the celebration of the 40th anniversary PowerBrokerof the issuance of Robert Caro’s The Power Broker about Robert Moses, issued an interview with the author. It’s been a long time since I read the book but I do remember ‘not liking’ Mr. Moses by the time I got done. However, I don’t remember some of what Mr. Caro says below. It struck me as we look at current events, Mr. Moses’ sentiments still, shamefully have a wide audience today.

“In front of me the row of gray heads nodded in appreciation. “‘R. M.’ had built so much, created so much,” they whispered to one another. “Why didn’t people understand? Why weren’t they grateful?”

Why weren’t they grateful? As I recalled that Exedra scene in 1969, as I was trying to organize my book, I suddenly knew, all in a moment, that that question would be its last line. For the book would have to answer that very question, would have to answer the riddle posed by the Moses Men: How could there not be gratitude, immense gratitude, to the man who had dreamed a great dream — of Jones Beach and a dozen other great parks, and of parkways to reach them — and who to create them had fought, and won, an epic battle against Long Island’s seemingly invincible robber barons? How could there not be gratitude to the man who had built mighty Triborough, far-­stretching Verrazano, who had made possible Lincoln Center and the United Nations? And yet there were ample answers to that question. Did I think in that moment of Robert Moses’ racism — unashamed, unapologetic? Convinced that African-Americans were inherently “dirty,” and that they don’t like cold water (“They simply didn’t like swimming unless it was red hot,” he explained to me confidentially one day), he kept the water temperature deliberately frigid in pools, like the ones at Jones Beach and Thomas Jefferson Park in Manhattan, that he didn’t want them to use. Did I think of the bridges he built that embodied racism in concrete? When he opened his Long Island parks during the 1930s, the only way for many poor people, particularly poor people of color, to reach them was by bus, so he built bridges over his parkways too low for buses to pass. Or of the “slum clearance” projects he built that seemingly created new slums as fast he was clearing the old, or of the public housing he placed in locations that cemented the division of New York by race and class? Did I think in that moment of the more than half a million people he dispossessed for his projects and expressways, using methods that led one observer to say that “he hounded them out like cattle”? Did I think of how he systematically starved New York’s subways and commuter lines for decades and blocked proposals to build new ones, exacerbating the region’s dependence on the automobile? I don’t remember exactly what I thought of when I remembered Robert Moses’ speech at the Exedra — only that in that moment, seeing the book’s last line, I suddenly saw the book whole, saw the shape of everything.”

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Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson is the 2014 BrownGirlDreamingwinner of the National Book Award for Young Adult literature. In this novel in free verse, Ms. Woodson takes us on a tour of her childhood in Greenville, SC and Brooklyn, NY. In the same soft voice with which she speaks, she tells of her loving family in South Carolina, her grandfather Gunnar who acted more as her father, her Jehovah’s Witness grandmother, her brothers and sister and her dreams.

In both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the former a recently desegregated Southern state and the latter a theoretically liberal minded Northern borough, she felt the impact of racism. In South Carolina, Blacks still went to the back of the bus to avoid conflict. There were stores that Blacks didn’t enter because they were ignored or because they were segregated prior to desegregation. In Brooklyn, there were streets Blacks didn’t cross because they took them into the white neighborhoods.

Ms. Woodson talks about her feelings of inadequacy when compared with her older sister who was considered gifted. She talks about wanting to be a writer, but reading initially didn’t come easy to her. And, as the 1960s ended and the 1970s began, a young Ms. Woodson was caught up in the idea of “I’m Black and I’m Proud” and the ideals of the Black Panthers.

Brown Girl Dreaming is eloquent. Her life and emotions, such as being sad when the Woodson children had to go in earlier in the evening than other children in the neighborhood, come to life. There are vivid images of both South Carolina and Brooklyn, the contrasting surroundings, soft cool green grass vs. hard, sharp concrete sidewalks, the sweet smell of rain vs. the non-smell of rain. Through it all, it is the bond of family that shines.

Many times I’m not in agreement with the judges of book awards, but Jacqueline Woodson, author of such Young Adult classics (or just classics) as If You Come Softly, Miracle’s Boys, Hush, and Locomotion, is a worthy recipient of the National Book Award Prize. Readers of all ages will get lost in the story telling of her books.

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TheDayTheMusicDiedI had to review the latest Sam McCain mystery by Ed Gorman entitled Riders on the Storm. Since I was unfamiliar with the series, it prompted me to at least read the first book entitled The Day the Music Died. It is quite an enjoyable series. There are 10 books including the latest, spanning 1958 – 1971 and the titles are the names of songs popular during the year the action takes place.

The setting is Black River Falls, Iowa, a town of approximately 25,000. Everyone knows everyone else and the books aptly portray small town life.

The Day the Music Died: In 1958 the unfortunate deaths of Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and J. P. the “Big Bopper” Richardson occurred. Sam McCain, small town lawyer and sometimes private investigator is devastated. He saw them the night before in Cedar Rapids with Pamela Forrest, a girl he’s loved since fourth grade who does not reciprocate the feelings.

In the wee hours of the next morning, he is called by Judge Whitney, for whom he investigates. Her nephew, Kenny called her very distraught, and McCain is needed at Kenny’s house. Upon arriving, he discovers Kenny’s wife shot to death and Kenny is brandishing a gun. McCain seems to calm Kenny somewhat, but soon after Kenny manages to go to an upstairs bedroom and shoot his head off.

Bumbling sheriff Cliff Sykes is happy for two reasons: (1) it seems to be an open and shut case of murder/suicide and (2) the Sykes and Whitneys, the two richest families in town, hate each other and revel in ways to drag the others’ name through the mud. However, McCain doesn’t think Kenny murdered his wife and Judge Whitney hangs on to that thought prodding McCain to prove it.

McCain is a plodder. He has no brainstorms, no ah-ha moments. In many respects things happen to him vs. him making things happen. While dealing with the investigation, McCain also has to deal with some family matters and his unrequited love for Pamela. The book also introduces Mary Hardy who loves McCain but whose feelings for her are uncertain. These quandaries carry through to the latest book as well.

Riders on the Storm: It is 1971, the height of the Vietnam War. RidersOnTheStormThe night after Steve Donovan beat up Willie Cullen at an afternoon party in which Donovan announced his Congressional candidacy, he was murdered. Cullen was charged with the crime. Donovan, a recent Vietnam veteran running on a patriotism platform, disliked Cullen, also a veteran, because of his affiliation with a veterans group denouncing the war.  Few of Cullen’s friends think he is capable of murder despite having been institutionalized twice after returning from the war. However, he does have motive, opportunity and means: the murder weapon was found in the back seat of his car. Attorney and private investigator Sam McCain, Cullen’s friend of twenty five years, ‘knows’ Cullen is innocent and sets out to prove it or at least plant reasonable doubt in the mind of the new sheriff. However, it is proving difficult because Cullen is hospitalized again and will not speak.

While trying to prove his friend’s innocence McCain also struggles with his own recent soldiering injuries and commitment issues with his girlfriend Mary. McCain hides neither his anti-war sentiment nor his disgust with politicians supporting the war but managing to keep their sons at home.

McCain can be forceful, humorous and tender. There is little violence but enough action in these books. I enjoy McCain’s liberal slant on the issues of the day. He deals with racism, Communism, abortion, Vietnam.  These are satisfying stories for mystery fans who also like the human side of their detectives. I happen to like a series where the protagonists age and their lives change accordingly and this surely fits the bill.

I will warn you, though. You will not be able to figure out ‘who done it’. If you somehow manage, you have to let me know how you did. I wasn’t even close.

An easy read (two-three days at most) but quite enjoyable.


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