A powerful rendering of an enduring conflict.



A history of D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation (1915), which triggered a substantial protest by African-Americans, who resented their vile portrayal in the film.

Former Boston Globe journalist Lehr (Journalism/Boston Univ.; The Fence: A Police Cover-up Along Boston's Racial Divide, 2009, etc.) reintroduces readers to William Monroe Trotter (1872-1934), a crusading black journalist in Boston who was involved in a number of protest actions against institutional racism. The author frequently alternates the focus between Griffith and Trotter, so we learn their back stories along the way. His two principals were different in just about every way: Trotter’s father, though born into slavery, somehow made his way to Boston; he fought with the 55th and 54th Massachusetts infantries. Trotter went to Harvard and became friends with William Lloyd Garrison and W.E.B. Du Bois. However, jobs were tough to find, so he set up his own newspaper, the Guardian. David Wark Griffith (1875-1948) was from Kentucky, “a child,” writes Lehr, “in search of a bedtime story.” Griffith tried acting, writing and directing, and he pioneered (if not invented, as he claimed) some narrative techniques that directors continue to employ. Trotter, becoming an activist, drew his bead on Booker T. Washington (too accommodating, Trotter thought); Griffith thought Thomas Dixon’s 1905 novel The Clansman (about the heroic KKK) would make a great film. So the clash commenced. Lehr carefully charts the arcs of the dispute: the behavior of public officials (not good), the protests at the movie theaters, the actions in the courts, the responses of whites (they loved the film) and blacks (who despised it for its view of them as primitives). We learn a lot, as well, about the making and marketing of the film and its uneasy status today.

A powerful rendering of an enduring conflict.

Pub Date: Nov. 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1586489878

Page Count: 368

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2014

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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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