A well-researched history of frustrations, defiance, and bold dreams—good for movie buffs and civil rights historians alike.

COLORIZATION

ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF BLACK FILMS IN A WHITE WORLD

A chronicle of the long struggle for Black Americans to matter in movies.

Drawing on interviews with directors, actors, producers, and screenwriters, as well as published and archival sources, journalist, biographer, and Guggenheim fellow Haygood creates an encyclopedic history of Blacks’ film presence, beginning with D.W. Griffith’s scandalous epic, The Birth of a Nation. Aired in Woodrow Wilson’s White House in 1915, the movie, based on a novel about the Ku Klux Klan, soon attracted more than 25 million viewers nationwide, inciting vociferous protests among Blacks. A few years later, the enterprising farmer Oscar Micheaux offered a stark counterpoint to Griffith’s movie when he filmed The Homesteader, based on his own life. Micheaux went on to produce many other movies, casting Paul Robeson in one and, in 1930, adding talking pictures. Other movies, though, depicted Blacks in the stereotypical roles—e.g., servants and maids—that would persist for decades; between 1903 and 1927, for example, nine films were made of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1939, Hattie McDaniel—who already had appeared in more than a dozen films—was cast as Mammy in Gone With the Wind and won an Oscar. Unfortunately, her career stagnated afterward for lack of roles. Haygood provides intriguing capsule biographies of each of his large cast of characters, including superstars Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, and Denzel Washington; directors Gordon Parks, Melvin Van Peebles, Steve McQueen, Jordan Peele, and Spike Lee; and groundbreaking actors Lena Horne, Diana Sands, Diana Ross, and Cicely Tyson. Many were nominated for Oscars only to lose out to their White colleagues. Other episodes from the entertainment world include scandals that erupted over interracial love affairs; George Gershwin’s tireless efforts to stage Porgy and Bess; the advent of Black action heroes in the 1970s; and incremental visibility over the years. In 1949, four movies dealt with anti-Black racism; in 1977, Roots became “the most watched TV miniseries of all time.”

A well-researched history of frustrations, defiance, and bold dreams—good for movie buffs and civil rights historians alike.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65687-6

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Aug. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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A timely contribution to the discussion of a crucial issue.

THE FIGHT TO VOTE

A history of the right to vote in America.

Since the nation’s founding, many Americans have been uneasy about democracy. Law and policy expert Waldman (The Second Amendment: A Biography, 2014, etc.), president of New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice, offers a compelling—and disheartening—history of voting in America, from provisions of the Constitution to current debates about voting rights and campaign financing. In the Colonies, only white male property holders could vote and did so in public, by voice. With bribery and intimidation rampant, few made the effort. After the Revolution, many states eliminated property requirements so that men over 21 who had served in the militia could vote. But leaving voting rules to the states disturbed some lawmakers, inciting a clash between those who wanted to restrict voting and those “who sought greater democracy.” That clash fueled future debates about allowing freed slaves, immigrants, and, eventually, women to vote. In 1878, one leading intellectual railed against universal suffrage, fearing rule by “an ignorant proletariat and a half-taught plutocracy.” Voting corruption persisted in the 19th century, when adoption of the secret ballot “made it easier to stuff the ballot box” by adding “as many new votes as proved necessary.” Southern states enacted disenfranchising measures, undermining the 15th Amendment. Waldman traces the campaign for women’s suffrage; the Supreme Court’s dismal record on voting issues (including Citizens United); and the contentious fight to pass the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which “became a touchstone of consensus between Democrats and Republicans” and was reauthorized four times before the Supreme Court “eviscerated it in 2013.” Despite increased access to voting, over the years, turnout has fallen precipitously, and “entrenched groups, fearing change, have…tried to reduce the opportunity for political participation and power.” Waldman urges citizens to find a way to celebrate democracy and reinvigorate political engagement for all.

A timely contribution to the discussion of a crucial issue.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5011-1648-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2015

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A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

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ON JUNETEENTH

The Harvard historian and Texas native demonstrates what the holiday means to her and to the rest of the nation.

Initially celebrated primarily by Black Texans, Juneteenth refers to June 19, 1865, when a Union general arrived in Galveston to proclaim the end of slavery with the defeat of the Confederacy. If only history were that simple. In her latest, Gordon-Reed, winner of the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, and numerous other honors, describes how Whites raged and committed violence against celebratory Blacks as racism in Texas and across the country continued to spread through segregation, Jim Crow laws, and separate-but-equal rationalizations. As Gordon-Reed amply shows in this smooth combination of memoir, essay, and history, such racism is by no means a thing of the past, even as Juneteenth has come to be celebrated by all of Texas and throughout the U.S. The Galveston announcement, notes the author, came well after the Emancipation Proclamation but before the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Though Gordon-Reed writes fondly of her native state, especially the strong familial ties and sense of community, she acknowledges her challenges as a woman of color in a state where “the image of Texas has a gender and a race: “Texas is a White man.” The author astutely explores “what that means for everyone who lives in Texas and is not a White man.” With all of its diversity and geographic expanse, Texas also has a singular history—as part of Mexico, as its own republic from 1836 to 1846, and as a place that “has connections to people of African descent that go back centuries.” All of this provides context for the uniqueness of this historical moment, which Gordon-Reed explores with her characteristic rigor and insight.

A concise personal and scholarly history that avoids academic jargon as it illuminates emotional truths.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63149-883-1

Page Count: 128

Publisher: Liveright/Norton

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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