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Hello, my name is Valorie. I have a Master's Degree in History and a license to teach-- I have been both university professor and public school teacher. Currently, I am a middle school social studies teacher. I love horror movies and spooky things. Every day is Halloween. I am also a passionate book blogger.

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Book Review: 23:27 by H.L. Roberts

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Book Review: A Bitter Revolution China’s Struggle with the Modern World by Rana Mitter

Title: A Bitter Revolution: China’s Struggle with the Modern World 
Author: Rana Mitter 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: October 19, 2010

In A Bitter Revolution, Rana Mitter looks into China’s past to explain how modern China developed. He chooses as his focus the May Fourth Movement of 1919, which he feels was a pinnacle moment during which Chinese students and intellectuals eager to modernize China looked outward to the West and beyond to applaud democracy and science while rejecting their own cultural past. Mitter’s argument is that the “ghost” of the May Fourth Movement lingered as an undertone to China’s bumpy road to modernization, and that ideas of the May Fourth Movement remained a constant, though their meanings transformed and differed in importance as various parties and people interpreted and used them (xi). Mitter looks away from the development of the Chinese Communist Party as the turning point toward modernity. Instead, he places the formation of the CCP as part of the May Fourth Movement’s legacy, though not its inevitable conclusion. Mitter focuses on what he considers the more formative years of the development of modernity in China: the 20s, 40s, 60s, and 80s. However, Mitter does not ignore the events that fall outside of those decades, briefly looking at events such as the war with Japan in the 30s and the Hundred Flowers Campaign of the late 50s. Mitter provides a narrative background of the events of May 4, 1919 in order to describe larger issues of the May Fourth Movement. Students and intellectuals were struggling to make sense of a modern world that subjected them to imperialism and unfair treaties. When the Versailles Treaty of World War I gave German land in China to the Japanese, many Chinese were enraged. They pinpointed that the source of their problems was a traditional Confucian culture that kept them from modernizing. 

Mitter approaches the exact date in which the ideas surrounding the May Fourth Movement took shape with caution, and rather than try to fix a date he chooses instead to insist that it was the “atmosphere and mood” that defined the era, not clearly defined dates (19). This complicates his argument because spirit and mood are hard to quantify and define with certainty. Mitter admits, “the May Fourth period did not spring up from nowhere” and enumerates previous reform and change (22). Yet this would suggest that the May Fourth Movement happened along a trajectory, albeit not a straight or stable one, and was therefore not as watershed as Mitter makes it out to be. Though it would ultimately be no less important, it would be less isolated as the starting point of modernity. Yet Mitter sufficiently illustrates how the May Fourth Movement developed out of its social and political context, and why it was such a powerful movement. Mitter addresses his geographical limitations in chapter two. The story he tells is largely one of urban youth and university intellectuals. The two primary cities of the May Fourth Movement were Beijing and Shanghai because they were where universities thrived, intellectuals flocked, and young people came in contact not only with the West, but also with the effects of imperialism and modernism. 

The atmosphere and mood that Mitter explores was therefore one of a very limited scope, encompassed by small groups of people who did not reflect wider ideas and standards within the whole of China. It must be noted that the largest portion of the Chinese population is unaccounted for. Mitter chooses four individuals to exemplify the "different facets of the era," and how the May Fourth Movement included "a wide variety of attitudes and ideas" that questioned Chinese culture, used mass media, and tried to reconcile nationalism with class and gender (54). His choice in selecting female writer Ding Ling is a contribution to the study of Chinese women and gender. There is one error in continuity found in Mitter's numbers. When discussing readership of Zou Taofen's newspaper, Life, he states the readership was at a record of 200,000 when Nationalists shut it down. Later, Mitter states the readership numbering 1.5 to 2 million (56-57, 63). Though he may be accounting for people who did not subscribe but read the magazine, he does not provide rationale for such a large difference in numbers. 

Chapter three attempts to describe what life was like for the youth of the New Culture and the May Fourth Movement. For the Chinese of this era, foreign imports abounded, youth no longer deferred to the wisdom of the elderly, women were more independent and involved in the workforce, free love reigned, print disseminated ideas, people sought business ventures through which to "save China," science and technology were considered a way forward, and individualism was prized (70). It was a time of new culture and opportunity without the restrictions of Confucian values. It would be an overly optimistic picture had Mitter left it at that, but he shows that many Chinese struggled to define their new boundaries. Zou Taofen had a popular advice column in Life, which betrayed the level of anxiety youth felt in their search for new identities. In trying to explain what the spirit of the times entailed, Mitter makes more than one comparison to the American 60s (99, 105). While it is a good comparison to make to understand the essential spirit of new freedoms and ideas, the cultural values implied are not so easily transferred. The era died, according to Mitter, for two reasons: the Japanese invasion and world depression (99-100). The spirit of the May Fourth Movement would not return fully until the 80s, detouring during Communist era. Chapter four delves into the more political aspects of the May Fourth Movement, what people thought about new political realities, and how people saw themselves globally. Mitter attempts to address the unique and complex arrangement of Chinese politics to make a few important points. First, the Nationalists should not be secondary to the Communists, and both used rhetoric of the May Fourth Movement in their ideologies. Second, party and political identification was weak among the mass population, even among the May Fourth Movement. Third, while Communists saw themselves as the inevitable end of the May Fourth Movement, China could have taken numerous paths toward modernity. Fourth, that the Chinese modified outside models from the West, Eastern Europe, and other countries like India and Turkey. Fifth, that Confucianism did not end because of the May Fourth Movement, and continued afterward (103-108, 114, 129). 

Mitter also answers the question of why China and Japan developed so differently. Mitter cites many differences: the Japanese wanted to overcome the West while China did not, Japan retained a hint of mysticism and a respect for their past while China focused on nationalism and modernity, and Japan was less influenced by the West while China had many years of direct influence through imperialism (120-122). However, what Mitter does not explain is why things that should have seemingly stunted Japan actually assisted it, while China, which by all rights should have modernized first under their strict tenants to do so, did not. Mitter takes a dark turn in chapter five, giving quick histories of China throughout the 30s during the invasion of Japan. Due to the immediacy of crisis, people could not afford to think of issues of free thought and love, and sidelined May Fourth ideology. Out of necessity, China began to turn inward and lose the cosmopolitanism that punctuated the May Fourth Movement. Pluralism and the open forum for debate vanished. It was also during this time that the Nationalists and Communists battled with the Communists the final victors (155-157, 184). Mitter rewrites the traditional interpretation of the Nationalists by insisting that they were more than a mere dark blotch in Chinese history, but rather they were thrust into a time of chaos with little resources and organization. Their undoing was not an inevitable failure on their part, but rather it was logical given the circumstances. With Mao in power, Mitter moves on to issues surrounding Mao and the Chinese Communist Party both in internal and external policy. Not only did Mao institute his disastrous Hundred Flowers and Great Leap Forward, but Communist China came to power just as the Cold War sparked international tension and forced Mao to insulate China from the outside. Self-sufficiency was vital and Mao saw weakness in lingering elements of the past, which he attempted to stamp out with his Cultural Revolution (190-198). Mitter gives an accurate sense of the chaos and fervor of the time, and of Mao's unique personality. Mitter also fuses together Mao's seemingly opposed vision of China to May Fourth beliefs, though they are hard to reconcile in his argument when Mitter himself says that the Communist era was absent May Fourth ideals (198). 

Chapter six continues with Mao, the Cultural Revolution, and the Cold War. Both the May Fourth Movement and the Cultural Revolution wanted to stamp out the influence of China's cultural past and exalt youth, but the Cultural Revolution saw this to fruition through violence. Mitter feels it was a "disorientation" of May Fourth. Mao’s policies were also, in part, influenced by the Cold War and the "either/or" dynamic of it. Mao thought in black and white because the world was thrust into two opposing camps (200-201, 217, 229-230, 237, 240). Mitter contributes to the overall historiography of China with his analysis of the language of violence, and how the Communist era was a time in which language held great power over a person's fate and livelihood (208-209). The analysis of the youth who made up the Red Guard is also an interesting piece of psychoanalytical history. It illustrates the extents that people went in order to avoid the negative effects of being labeled a term that had a negative connotation. Mitter also presents Mao as the Chinese counterpart to the Soviet "machine man" who identified technological power with virility. This is also a good illustration of the complexity of the Chinese psychology of power because Mao rejected the help of Soviets, though technological advance could not have happened without Soviet support (237). Mitter then takes the reader forward in time to the 80s and the so-called New Era, when the true spirit of the May Fourth Movement was revitalized. After the death of Mao, China began to look outward again, and the West had a notable influence on culture, which made the New Era mirror that of the New Culture generation, anxieties included. Those involved in the movement made an explicit link between their movement and the past by stating that it was their mission to continue the spirit of May Fourth. Mitter notes that one of the major differences between the two was that the New Era did not feel it had to "save China" because warlords and imperialism no longer existed (245, 248-254, 259, 275). However, there is a lot to be said about post-Communist and post-xenophobic recovery, and the extent people felt the past was going to hurt progress and necessitate a "saving." Mitter chooses media to express the Chinese mindset of the time, using the book The Ugly Chinaman and a documentary Heshang. The Ugly Chinaman placed blame for Chinese troubles on something negative passed down through culture that stunted development, which mirrored the May Fourth rejection of the past. Heshang, highly controversial, expressed through nature scenes a conclusion that China needed to abandon its "yellow" past for the "blue" West (263-265). 

Mitter's final chapter focuses on events post-Tian'anmen Square. It was not long after the bloody end of the 1989 showdown that Communism throughout Europe began to collapse. China decided to "reinvent itself as a developing state," and rapidly modernize in response to a bid for the Olympic games (287, 290-291). China began to embrace its past again, which the May Fourth and New Era had rejected as destructive, making them more like Japan during its years of development. People increasingly began to support the government, and the government, while still careful to monitor certain behavior, allowed people more freedom to create and be their own definition of patriotic. Many began to see the government as too complacent rather than too repressive. Mitter states that China's uniqueness may be in that it avoided options that seemed too risky in a time of crisis, such as democracy, yet undertook large-scale technological projects such as the Three Gorges Dam despite the protest of outside powers (299, 303, 308-310). In this way, the spirit of science from the May Fourth Movement, also part of Mao's projects, survived on as official practice. According to Mitter, the most important legacy of May Fourth was that it showed China that it could survive with a variety of opinions and possibilities (313). 

Mitter aptly surmises that China is still at a point of transition and still struggling with many of the issues of modernity and globalization. China is not exceptional in that it is a product of its own past, but China's struggle with modernity is more contemporary than in other parts of the world. Bitter Revolution is by no means a comprehensive history of modern China. However, the events and people Mitter chooses to expound upon are so thoroughly explained that no reader will be left with gaps. One need not be a scholar of Chinese history to understand Mitter's arguments because he formulates them with great detail. He further assists his readers through a short chronology and pronunciation guide, though the chronology misses many key events that Mitter himself discusses. A glossary of concepts, people, and groups would have been useful to the novice of Chinese history. Mitter's lack of a proper bibliography, as well as his narrative style, point to Bitter Revolution being more of a popular history, though it is not without scholarly merit. He is careful to cite his sources through endnotes, though it is notable that the majority of his sources are secondary. Nevertheless, Mitter does use primary sources such as newspapers, pamphlets, novels, and firsthand accounts. Mitter unfortunately succumbs to Western-centric interpretations, though he balances them out with internal Chinese matters so that he does not excessively overstate the impact of the West. Nevertheless, he does not use enough caution when he makes statements like, "the most violent challenge to Confucian values... was the introduction of two western systems of thought... capitalist modernity and Christianity (17)." Fortunately, Mitter does not rely solely on the Western impact interpretation, noting the variety of influences on China from within and outside, giving a balanced and global assessment. Overall, Mitter successfully traces May Fourth thought throughout Chinese history, pinpointing its changes and deviations, in a book useful to scholars and students.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Book Review: Discovering History in China by Paul A. Cohen

Title: Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past 
Author: Paul A. Cohen 
Genre: Nonfiction- History 
Finished: September 21, 2010

In Discovering History in China: American Historical Writing on the Recent Chinese Past, Paul A. Cohen contributes insight in to the field of Chinese historiography by investigating what American historians of the post-WWII era have written about China. According to Cohen, American historians of the post-WWII era have been guilty of writing about recent Chinese history with an ethnocentric bias, using a western-centric perspective to interpret the conditions of Chinese historical change and thereby distorting Chinese history. Cohen identifies three biased-based frameworks that he feels American historians erroneously worked inside of: the impact-response model, the traditional-modernity model, and imperialism. All three of these models distorted the West's actual role in Chinese history, in Cohen's opinion, or over-stated it as more influential than it was (x). 

Cohen arranges the book in to four parts, the first three chapters are discussions of the three frameworks, and the fourth chapter introduces Cohen’s "China-centered" model for historical interpretation. Discovering History in China is a reflective work as much as it is an assessment of historiographical trends. Cohen admits from the onset that the book was inspired by early moments of personal and professional self-evaluation, which led him to pinpoint some of the biases inherent in his own interpretation of Chinese history. This extended to deeper analyses of other American historians of China, or historians from elsewhere heavily influenced by American models. Cohen protects himself from some criticism by admitting that Discovering History in China is a largely subjective work with a very limited scope (xxxiv). By disclosing that Discovering History in China is not and does not intend to be the definitive statement on Chinese historiography, Cohen does more than protect his method. Cohen effectively opens up a dialogue about Chinese historiography that he invites other Chinese historians to engage in with him, and hopefully inspire other historians to self-assess and to follow up his analyses with further issues within the field. 

At the heart of Cohen's argument is a lesson that transcends American and Chinese borders, and can be beneficial to historians throughout the world no matter their field. The dichotomy between the role something is perceived as having played in history and the role it actually played is a flaw in thinking that all historians should be cautious of in their individual specializations. Precisely, how their internal biases can alter their perception of events and motivation. What seems to be Cohen’s contribution to Chinese historiography is really a wider contribution to historiography as a whole. 

In chapter 1 of Discovering History in China, “The Problem with ‘China’s Response to the West,’” Cohen looks at the impact-response model. Inside of this model, American historians of China viewed all significant change in China to be the result of the impact of the West. China’s role in its own history was solely in how it responded to the impact of the West. It would be excessive for Cohen to deny that the West had no impact on Chinese history at all, or that the Chinese were never motivated to action by the involvement of the West. What Cohen concludes is that much of what happened in China was either completely unrelated or only partially related to the involvement of the West. Things that fall into the grey, Cohen explains, which are either directly or indirectly shaped by Western influence, cannot be interpreted as being only a response to the West because there were a lot of internal factors to consider (15-16). Cohen uses the Taiping Rebellion and T’ung-chih restoration as case studies to his point. Some historians have interpreted both as being directly caused by the involvement of the West, but Cohen insists that in reality the rebellion was caused by internal factors, and the restoration was truly restorative, not innovative (20-22). Cohen insists that in some instances the West was an accomplice to events in China that would have happened no matter what, even if the West had never become involved (43). However, to use ahistorical reasoning to support his claim weakens the value of Cohen’s assessment. He cannot assume that Chinese history would have progressed the same, come to the same end, if the West were entirely absent. There is no need to take his interpretation to such an extreme because he has already stated that Chinese history can progress independent of Western involvement. 

Next, Cohen looks at the Boxer Rebellion and uses the fact that the majority of the rebellions began in rural places removed from Western influence as proof that it had nothing to do with the West (52). Cohen already admits that the West could indirectly influence events, but he does not recognize that resentment is something uncontainable that flows from its source, and may even build up to a more volatile condition. The rebellion was too complex to eliminate causes based on small details. In the end, it would still ultimately be the internal factors that bred and fed the rebellion, but it would recognize Cohen’s own acceptance that the West can influence. Yet Cohen is successful in what he attempts to do in chapter 1: proving that the impact-response model is indeed a problem in Chinese historical interpretation. Chinese historians need to be aware that there has been lacking consciousness in the breadth of causes for change in China, as well as in the motivations that awakened the need for, and the acceleration of, change in China. Cohen makes it necessary for Chinese historians to pause in their interpretations and ask what truly inspired the event(s) in question, and to search for underlying endogenous reasons despite more apparent exogenous influences. After all, it is often the exogenous that seem the most obvious or influential by its very nature of being new and different. Historians now have to work a little harder to discover the truth. Cohen’s “corrective” to the impact-response model outlines the zones in which events of Chinese history can be placed: events that were direct consequences of the West, things influenced but not caused by the West, and things left unchanged by the West (53-54). It is the second zone that presents difficulty because it is so broad. The problem with the impact-response model is that the historians Cohen is directing his book at had been unable to distinguish slight influence from heavy impact, and Cohen’s corrective will still be plagued by that very problem. However, Cohen is only presenting problems, not trying to fix them despite his giving a loose corrective framework for the benefit of the reader. It is up to the individual historian to be aware as they interpret and self-correct their own assumptions. 

Chapter 2, “Moving Beyond ‘Tradition and Modernity,”” shifts the discussion to Cohen’s second problem framework: the traditional-modernity model. The tradition-modernity model was built on the premise that China was locked in an unchanging and static condition, which the West liberated it from by bringing in Western modernity. Cohen identifies the problem in this being that China was judged against purely Western standards, and so was set up from the start to appear backwards. The model also introduced a lot of subjectivity because historians measured for themselves the change that they believed to be significant using a Western definition of modernity. Sometimes this caused historians to make unfair judgments about Chinese tradition being a barrier for progress (62, 65, 80). Cohen focuses on a small number of sources which he feels best reflect his point, and particularly dissects the writings of historian Joseph Levenson, as well as others such as Mary C. Wright and Thomas A. Metzger, though less extensively than in his treatment of Levenson. Cohen looks outside of his own imposed limits in chapter 2. Cohen defines his focus as the post-WWII era, which is ambiguous on its own. However, Cohen specifically states the decades of the 1960s and 1970s, and it is also assumed by the term post-WWII that the 1950s will naturally be a factor. Cohen repeatedly reiterates those decade periods, yet some of his sources are outside of that scope such as Gilbert Rozman’s edited volume The Modernization of China, which was published in 1981, and Thomas A. Metzger’s Escape from Predicament, published in 1977. If Cohen is going to break his own established boundaries for the sake of sources, he should not be so quick to erect them in the first place. This is a minor slight, though it detracts from the overall exactness of his critique of others. It also leaves Cohen vulnerable to the critique of peers who may assert that Cohen shapes evidence to his needs despite the soundness of his analysis. 

To his benefit, Cohen’s careful reasoning again saves him from the trap of optimism; he openly admits that it is impossible for any historian to be completely culturally neutral, and he again does not frame a solution for this. Like in chapter 1, chapter 2 merely intends to illuminate a problem, and then allow every historian to make of it what they will, but hopefully with more attentiveness in their scholarly pursuits. Chapter 3, “Imperialism: Reality or Myth?,” discusses Cohen’s final problem framework. According to Cohen, historians approached imperialism from two different perspectives. The first saw imperialism as the “source of China’s problems,” a reverse of the traditional-modernity approach that saw Western intervention as necessary to progress. The effects of the Vietnam War heavily influenced this perspective because it was during the Vietnam War that Americans had to face the destructive realities of American intervention. The second perspective was that imperialism, taking a page from the traditional-modernity approach, brought about great political and intellectual changes to China, and not always for the bad (97, 125). Cohen feels that the imperialism approach is evidence of not only how bias was introduced into interpretation, but also how contemporary events caused historians to read backwards with the inevitable result of connecting the assumed cause and effect. Cohen does not deny that imperialism had a very real impact on China, but rather objects to the idea that imperialism was the “master key” to Chinese history. 

The challenge Cohen presents to historians is that they must pick out which situations were truly relevant to imperialism, and then to move a step further to show how the situation was relevant (147). By treading a careful line, Cohen comes off with an analysis that is carefully discussed and that adequately presents the problem while giving shape to its reality through practice. In the fourth and final chapter, “Toward a China-Centered History of China,” Cohen presents the direction he would like to see Chinese history move. His ultimate feeling toward American historians is pessimistic because he feels that it would be impossible to rid analysis entirely of ethnocentrism. Pessimistic though it is, it is most likely a correct conclusion. However, Cohen hopes that using a China-Centered approach will lessen Western-centric interpretations (153). This is the chapter in which Cohen attempts to give a model for an actual solution, which he splits into four components: begins in China with the Chinese, breaks China up into smaller regions, looks hierarchically from the bottom of society up, and brings in methods from outside disciplines (186-187). Yet there can be some problems with Cohen’s suggestions. First, to break China into exclusive smaller parts may distort the broader picture. While in many cases a small region may stand on its own, historians should be sensitive to the fact that sometimes the broader picture must be paralleled in order to give true scope to an issue, and to connect it to larger cause factors in China. Second, historians should account for the fluidity of ideas and events through social classes, and look from the bottom up, but also the top down. The two of them should work together. 

A few additional criticisms can be made toward Discovering History in China as a whole. Though the book provides historiographical lessons that can be beneficial to historians of all areas, Cohen’s attentiveness to dissecting specific works and authors of Chinese history makes the book complicated for people who are unfamiliar with the most popular and essential works in the field. Discovering History in China can be a useful tool for novice or expert, but the significance of many works Cohen discusses will be lost on the novice. Additionally, Cohen generalizes a lot based on his few sources. As a result, it is difficult to gauge just how pervasive the problems Cohen presents were. It is understandable that Cohen left out contrary examples because they would mitigate the importance of his historiographic problems, and would distort the significance of his argument. Yet not every historian was guilty of one or more of Cohen’s problem models, certainly, and in all fairness Cohen should illustrate this better. Finally, Cohen reissued the book in 2010 from its original publication in the 1980s. However and unfortunately, he did not update it with any new information. Therefore, it is impossible to know how the field has developed, whether Cohen’s problems are still at all relevant, if new problems have arisen, or if there has been progress in the field. With over 20 years spanning the original publication to the current edition, no doubt many changes have taken place. Even if only in the preface or introduction, Cohen should have discussed current trends to avoid becoming a snapshot of the past that is no longer relevant. Regardless, Cohen still has a solid place in historiography. Discovering History in China is an essential part to the whole of Chinese historiography for students and scholars who desire more precise and accurate methods in their research.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Book Review: Black Bangor- African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950 by Maureen Elgersman Lee

Title: Black Bangor: African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950
Author: Maureen Elgersman Lee 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: April 7, 2010

In Black Bangor: African Americans in a Maine Community, 1880-1950, author Maureen Elgersman Lee attempts to fill what she calls a void in the narrative of the African American experience in one of the whitest states America, Maine (xiv). Lee is primarily focused on answering a few specific questions about the Bangor black community: what did it mean to be black in Bangor, how did Bangor's small black population create their own community, and how did they live within a white majority. To answer her questions, Lee sections her book into four topical chapters. Chapter one investigates the migration and settlement of African Americans and foreign blacks into Maine, and specifically Bangor. Chapter two describes the sort of labor the black Bangor population was involved in. Chapter three portrays the daily life of a black citizen of Bangor. Chapter four is about how the blacks of Bangor used already existing institutions and also created their own to meet their needs. Lee states in her introduction that she will start each chapter with snippets of the lives of select Bangor citizens as a way to illustrate the points she makes within (xvii). Lee offers full disclosure of the problems of her usable sources, announcing to the reader from the start that the federal census data she uses contains gaps that can be filled in only so much by narrowing state statistics to a local level, and that the manuscript census too contains errors due to illegibility and fire damage (xviii). 

In chapter one, Lee spends a great deal of time discussing numbers and percentages. While these are intended to give the reader the statistics and scope of black settlement in Maine, and then specifically Bangor, the author could have presented her figures in a more succinct and less scattered way. Fortunately, Lee was able to clear up some of the confusion caused by too many numbers in one paragraph by providing a simple table of population and percentages (4). In this way, she more easily compared black populations to white, accounted for dates, and showed what her numbers were intended in a way much easier to grasp and understand (4). With the table present, it is unnecessary for her to repeat the information in text because it only serves to weaken the overall readability of her book. Chapter one also introduces the reader to a number of black Bangor residents whom Lee will refer back to throughout her book. After four chapters of names and families, especially without the direct benefit of chronological organization, the individuals easily become one mix of confusing references. Lee should have included an appendix in the back of her novel for reference, including each individual’s job(s), address, income, spouse, children, and any known organizational links. 

Further along in the book, Lee discusses the specific regions, or wards, in Bangor that blacks settled. Taking this a step further, she disseminates which streets they lived on and the rent costs they paid. A small and insufficient map is provided to allow the reader to follow along this geographical journey (54). A larger map with actual readable street names would help to place the story characters, and make it a great deal easier to follow Lee’s geographical discussion. For what Lee tries to address, she addresses little of what it truly meant to be black in a white dominated Bangor. Lee comes to the conclusion that Linda Brooks Davis’s work at Union Station as a restroom attendant was relatively free of racism, and was in fact more split along class than racial boundaries. This analysis of experience is reached from personal testimony by Davis herself. Yet historians know that the memory is a tricky and often unreliable thing and that people will not disclose what they do not want others to know. It is also very relevant that Davis’s testimony was part of a newspaper article written when she retired from Union Station, hardly a forum for her to discuss the racial ills of her work environment. The ultimate conclusion about racism and segregation is that military training camps during WWII brought segregation to Bangor, and that there was little racial trouble before then (108). Again, this is taken from an interview that was published as part of a book on the African American experience across the United States, and does not include any study of events throughout the course of the 1880-1950 period to illustrate or contradict the assumption of general racial peace in Bangor. 

Yet Lee gives hints here and there that all was not racially well in Bangor, Maine. For example, the black citizens were faced every day with racist caricatures of themselves used in film and advertising (81). Schools, though integrated, self-segregated, and the two races did not do a lot of social mixing, though it appears they thought favorably of one another (88 & 99-104). Additionally, as Lee points out, the black citizens had their own small NAACP chapter and kept updated on national events (120). It almost seems as if Lee wants to, at times, truly set apart the black Bangor population by isolating them and making them distinctly different from the rest of the African American population, as they seem so little impacted by racism and impervious to the social problems related to black life in America pre-civil rights. It is a shame also that her source limitations do not allow readers to know how foreign blacks settling in Maine maintained some of their own cultural traditions or institutions within the larger community since, as we know, the black community is not one unified group with the same interests and concerns. Lee recognizes the inadequacy of her sources best in her statement that “they cannot replicate the breadth or the depth of the socially intimate experiences of African Americans at the time” (87). Due to the limits of her sources, Lee is left to make a lot of conjecture about the people she studies and their daily lives. In some cases this is necessary and warranted when evidence points to it. In other cases, Lee stretches reality and assumption too far. It is not necessary to assume, for example, that Carrie Drymond was influenced by a certain advertisement for a stove in order to include in the book the interesting tidbit about the stove itself (75). To illustrate further, Lee assumes that relatively poorer African Americans used investments and tips from their jobs to supplement their income in order to purchase into middle class luxury (80). There is simply no way for Lee to know this, or to be able to verify where the income was spent, especially because she is only looking at house rents and mortgages, not the totality of financial burden on one individual or family. Again, this is due to the scarceness of her sources, which afford her a very snapshot and small look at the individuals within the Bangor community. Making so many unsubstantiated claims negates the intellectual value of her more correct analyses such as when she postulated that the structure of the Maine school system might have limited the opportunities available to African American students (97). Lee is without a doubt fully engaged in the lives of the black Bangor population. The interviews she uses, the personal experiences she recounts, and the ways in which she brings life to a group of people for which there is little known about is fascinating. Despite the weaknesses inherent in the scant sources, the personalities of each individual come out to the forefront of her stories. This book would perhaps be a better depiction of the black Bangor experience if she had focused her book a bit on the people. It would have been a better read and just as informative if she had chosen to instead focus on just the people and let them speak for themselves. In that case, the book would have flowed along on a person-by-person basis and gain a cohesiveness that is not part of the book because it is written in such a way that it jumps around by date and person throughout the various topics. Lee was right when she said that there is little known about blacks in Bangor, and that there is indeed an historical void because there is little evidence left from which historians can create narratives.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Book Review: Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice by Raymond Arsenault

Title: Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice
Author: Raymond Arsenault 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: March 23, 2010 

In what author Raymond Arsenault calls the first historical study of the Freedom Rides, Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice is a journalistic and chronological narrative that separates, but does not isolate, the Freedom Rides from the broader context of the Civil Rights movement. Arsenault’s revisionist styled history addresses the lack of historical focus on the Freedom Rides itself, which he claims has so far only been discussed by historians as a “prelude to the climactic events” of later civil rights efforts and never on its own for its own significance (7). To Arsenault, the Freedom Rider movement was a transformative event that ushered in an era of citizen politics vital to the entire civil rights struggle (8). To tell a story that speaks of personal sacrifice and bravery, and a willingness to place oneself in personal harm for the most basic recognition of rights, the human element cannot be ignored. 

When the Freedom Riders decided to challenge their right to desegregated interstate bus travel, a right upheld by the Supreme Court, they took a personal and dangerous stand against the vehemently racist Deep South. To portray the humanity of the Freedom Rides, Arsenault says he will let the players speak for themselves throughout his monograph (9). In this, Arsenault is very successful. Using a vast archive of manuscripts that includes personal papers and scrapbooks, as well as court decisions, newspapers, government publications, and interviews, Arsenault imbues Freedom Riders with a poignancy that cannot come from chronological narration and analysis alone. For example, to depict the chaos of the Montgomery, Alabama riot of May 20th, Arsenault chooses to use the words of John Lewis himself, whose emotional and personal account of the event lends to the story an element of dramatic immediacy that academic language could never do justice to (212). To assume that Arsenault’s intent is to strictly isolate the Freedom Rides from the larger picture would be incorrect. 

The Civil Rights movement as a whole was dominated by different groups and people, all of whom engaged in an interplay of alliance, faction, and inspiration. In one of the most extensive studies of Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) by David Garrow, Bearing the Cross, little attention is paid to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and their involvement with King and the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA). In Garrow’s interpretation, the relationship between King and FOR was based on FOR’s curiosity about King and the Montgomery boycott. When members of FOR found out King was interested in Gandhi and passive resistance, they helped provide resources to teach him more about it. ((David J. Garrow, Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Leadership Conference (New York: Perennial Classics, 2004): 67-70.)) Arsenault contributes a new element to the dynamic relationship by instead insisting that the link between the two was stronger than mere curiosity and sideline influence. According to Arsenault, King and the MIA was dependant on FOR’s leadership, and it was the FOR movement that instilled the ideas of Gandhian nonviolence into King, which he would utilize passionately (70). To Garrow, it was a matter of refinement of an already adopted idea. To Arsenault, it was because of FOR that the MIA adopted the practice. Arsenault does similarly when he describes the legacy of the Freedom Rides. Due to what he sees as an historical lack of importance attributed to the Freedom Rides, it is essential for Arsenault's to define what the importance of the Freedom Riders was and remains. This required him to look outside of the Freedom Rides themselves and account for how the Freedom Rides inspired future civil rights developments. Arsenault states that the Freedom Riders nationalized their movement and would later move on to direct, participate, and inspire future acts of civil defiance such as the March on Washington, the Freedom Summer, and various voting registration drives (507). Arsenault is perhaps a bit guilty of overstating the importance of the movement itself. While the Freedom Rides no doubt inspired many, and many future Civil Rights activists would look back to the bravery of the riders for guidance, the Freedom Riders were one of several groups functioning. King and the NAACP had voting registration projects distinct from anything the Freedom Riders did, for instance. If anything, the experience gained by all of the Freedom Riders as they challenged racism head on would equip them to lead and teach others, and Arsenault is right to point this out. By participating in the Freedom Rides, many young students developed a taste for action. After surviving the violence of the KKK in Alabama and Mississippi, there was little left for them to fear of the white South, though they never underestimated the violence possible. This bravery would disseminate throughout the movement and inspire, and tested practices of nonviolence and passive resistance would be adopted by other groups. Arsenault was correct in this conclusion. 

The Freedom Rides was part of a whole rather than a pinnacle. Another one of the major successes of the book is how Arsenault fits the Freedom Riders into the political culture of the time, and also within what is happening throughout the world. Again, Arsenault removes the rides from isolation, and this time to surround them in a national and world context. In terms of the federal government, Arsenault adequately shows that the Freedom Riders exposed the tensions between federal and state governments, and also forced the national government to act in favor of them if only to protect the image of the country from bad media coverage. The federal government, as Arsenault depicts, was relatively inadequate to the task of forcing state and local governments to comply with their terms. The weaknesses of the Kennedy Administration, Hoover and the FBI, and the Supreme Court is at center stage with the Freedom Riders. Yet Arsenault rightfully too inserts further complexity in matters of election; President John F. Kennedy could not risk losing support and thus had to act in a manner that would anger his supporters the least (221-222, 244-246). Attorney General Robert Kennedy worried over whether to send federal marshals into Montgomery to quell the hostile situation there because he did not want the moral authority of the United States to be mitigated by much publicized white violence (221). The Freedom Riders, too, were very aware of what was happening in the world. African Americans throughout the United States simultaneously applauded South African apartheid protestors and lamented their similar struggles, and felt that if Africans could bring an end to colonialism and gain independence, so too could they gain their freedom (201, 431). The Freedom Rides were a complex series of rides with a rotating cast of participants who came and went over the course. Different organizations and student groups started rides of their own such as the Nashville group who decided to continue after the first Freedom Ride lest white violence become the norm against them. As a result, tracing the pattern of rides and people can get a bit difficult to follow. Thankfully, Arsenault provides maps that trace the routes of different groups, and maps that section parts of major cities off to give a geographical sense of the project. However, his text would have been easier to follow had he found a way to identify the different Freedom Ride groups in a distinct and consistent manner. Referring to every different ride as just Freedom Ride or the riders as only Freedom Riders makes for a confusing chronology. It would benefit readers more had Arsenault named each group in a manner that would recognize them more specifically, such as Nashville Freedom Riders or Mississippi Freedom Rides like he does on his map routes. The consistency alone would help connect the text to the maps and make them work in better support of each other. This does not in any way diminish the work Arsenault has produced. He states that he has set out to describe the Freedom Rides and place them back on the list of momentous Civil Rights events, and he does. The Freedom Rides are no longer just a marginal event overshadowed by King or NAACP, but an individual movement that too would motivate others while drawing the overall movement into the national eye.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Comic Review: Lenore: Noogies by Roman Dirge

Title: Lenore: Noogies
Author: Roman Dirge 
Genre: Graphic Novel - Horror
Finished: March 13, 2010 

I like cute and disturbing. They don't call me Morbid Romantic for nothing, right? Which is why dead and macabre little Lenore is just up my ally. I admit that I have never been much into comic books, and I have always tried to avoid the Hot Topic brand of dark and spooky. Yet there is something charming about a book that features a dead girl with skulls in her hair, cradling a dead cat. I thought to myself... hey, this just may be good. So I felt very fortunate to get my hands on the hardbacked Noogies color edition. This was my first experience with Lenore, so big fans of the series please forgive me for my fandom ignorance. Within the book are a number of chapters that contain various short length comic stories featuring Lenore, Mr. Gosh, a poor cat named Mr. Puffy who sends himself flying from a window, and a host of creepy and unsettling creatures that you sometimes both pity and also feel utterly revolted by. Roman Dirge is clearly a very disturbed man who may need a lot of help. And what a wonderful thing he is. I thoroughly enjoyed pulling up the covers, turning on a dim light, and reading through this volume. By it's nature, even with the appreciation of the art, this book reads very fast. I liked to skim and take in the disturbing images, my favorite Mr. Gosh, who reminded me of the villain in Nightbreed with his bag head. I will have to say that The Return of Mr. Gosh was my favorite of the comics. I just loved his initial crawl out of the ground scene... it was cute, okay? I am a sucker for love, after all. Love never dies, or so the moral of the story is. If a moral was ever intended. It was a wonderful read. For anyone who likes horror, who likes the disturbing, who doesn't mind a bit of light humored baby murder and animal slaughter. There is a little bit of ghoul in all of us. I absolutely look forward to collecting the rest of these hardbacked color editions to add to the collection. I think Lenore is simply too adorable, and I love her even more that she can make me go, "ugh" from time to time. After all, who wants a world of rainbows and cupcakes? Well, okay... me. I would love a world of rainbows and cupcakes. Yet I can't imagine this without there also being a few coffins and skulls.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Book Review: Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Leadership Conference by David J. Garrow

Title: Bearing the Cross: Martin Luther King Jr., and the Southern Leadership Conference
Author: David J. Garrow 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: March 3, 2010

David J. Garrow has provided an extensive study of Martin Luther King Jr. and his work within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) in his book Bearing the Cross. With a title that portrays the religious and spiritual aspect of King’s personal civil rights vision, as well as the exhaustive extent of the undertaking that would take its toll on King both physically and mentally, Garrow too has undertaken quite a task in writing his in depth and fact filled study. Using hundreds of sources, in fact over 600 interviews alone, Garrow has compiled a complete record of King’s civil rights journey from the moment he entered the Montgomery Improvement Association’s (MIA) bus boycott all the way to his death. However, the book is about more than just King, and that is one of the greatest strengths of Bearing the Cross. The story is really the story of a wider Civil Rights Movement, one in which King would become a leading figure and icon of. 

Bearing the Cross is undoubtedly a personal story, and everything within is connected to King in some form be it through his participation, association, support, or opposition. King had so many connections in the Civil Rights Movement that to tell his story is to tell each individual story, which Garrow attempts to do when he delves into subjects such as the Freedom Rides, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), Selma, the Voting Rights Act, Northern ghettos, and Vietnam, just to name a few. Not only does this portray just how much momentum the movement had, which grew in fervor and activity as the years progressed, and how large it grew, but also what King himself took on when he shouldered the responsibility of becoming one of the major leaders. As reviewers David Herbert Donald and William C. Stinchcombe have noted, Garrow misses occasional opportunities to analyze King, and we are therefore sometimes made to take King at face value with just a selection of his decisions or quotes to flesh out his intentions and feelings. ((David Herbert Donald, “Review: [untitled],” The Journal of Southern History 54, no 1 (February 1988): 135-137; William C. Stinchcombe, “Review: [untitled],” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 19, no. 2 (Autumn 1988): 367-369.)) While there are moments when we can see the personality and intentions of King come through his words as he speaks for himself to explain his motivations, especially when he talks about his passion for the Civil Rights Movement and his willingness to die for it, other times are a bit more obscure and we are left to wonder why King did some of what he did. For example, Garrow writes that King had expressed some hesitation to be included on a petition to help activist Carl Braden out of a charge of contempt of court. The wife of Carl, Anne, was disappointed that she would likely not get King's support. However, King changed his mind and phoned her to ask that she place his name on the petition because he had prayed over it and decided it was right (155). This would have been a perfect time for Garrow to attempt an analysis of the whys of King's action, yet he does not take advantage of the opportunity to use his vast knowledge of King to explain this change of heart, or why King would put himself in such a politically precarious position by association. Perhaps in the cases where Garrow did not analyze, he hoped that his facts would speak for themselves and he was wary of trying to get into the head of King for fear of making too many assumptions that he could not support. Yet Garrow attempts to create a narrative out of the intense amount of facts he includes, and this leads him in some cases to make a few assumptions of King that he cannot, or rather does not, substantiate. For instance, in one of the many discussions of the SCLC's financial mismanagement, Garrow writes that King brushed off the accusations made at the SCLC’s leaders, but felt they were accurate when he truly thought about it (469). Garrow leaves the statement at that and does not attempt to follow up with any evidence to support it. It seems that Garrow is trying to create a more enjoyable story by including elements of intimate understanding, yet they are not always satisfactory and the text is still dense with dates and an intense volume of fact. That is not to say that a reader will come off not knowing who King was. 

In fact, Garrow is very adept at including aspects of King's personality and life that many people do not know or consider. There is a definite evolution of character from King's kitchen revelation (58), to his trip to India where he refined his own method of resistance as he learned more about Gandhi (114), all the way to his ultimate loss of faith in white men and democracy (604). It is also surprising to learn that King, known as such a great rhetorician, often had others write his speeches and chapters in his books. This aspect almost makes it seem as if King was a popular figure speaking out the ideas of groups, and more pessimistically, a pawn of other thinkers since so many of his ideas were molded by others who could influence or persuade him (139). This does not, of course, tarnish his reputation or his much deserved respect, it merely opens up a new facet to King's overall focus on collectivity. King did, after all, assert many times that he acted for his people and that the movement did not depend on him and would continue on without him, which means there were other thinkers in the background. Also surprising were the revelations Garrow made about King's misogyny and views on sex (141 & 374-376). King is an icon, certainly, but now also a man who had his own faults, and at times very fatalistic (232). One other objection to be taken with this novel is its treatment of the NAACP. Garrow is in no way objective when he discusses the animosity that began to grow around the NAACP and King/SCLC. As described by Garrow, the NAACP on various occasions attempted to smear the SCLC or hinder them in their progress in voting rights. The NAACP would naturally take a special exception to King's assertion that attempting to change the country in front of a judge and appealing for change was not the proper approach, but rather that resistance such as they had been done in Montgomery was vital (87). The two groups had a natural ideological difference. Garrow is unfair in his language, and even goes so far as to include the statement, "With allies like the NAACP, SCLC's effort had little chance of success" (103). Granted, the NAACP was in conflict with King, Garrow should have exercised a little more neutrality and fairness when discussing these occasions. 

A final thing must be said about Garrows endnotes. Though he provides a glossary of his abbreviations in the back of the text, his endnotes are still confusing and hard to sift through. Maybe it is his sheer volume of sources that complicates the system, but it does not help that much of his citations are made up of letter and number combinations. When perusing through to find a source, one must flip back and forth to try to make sense of what is being identified and where to finally find it. Though the short form of the citations clears up space, it leads to too much confusion for students and scholars who may want to follow up on his research. It may seem as if there is nothing good about this book since most of what has been written about it so far has been critical, but the sheer extent of Garrow's research should be praised. When writing on a figure as big and as important as Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who has had much already written about him, one naturally has an understanding of him that they approach studies of him with. Even lacking in the occasional analysis, Garrow provides a vast array of information that pieces together King's life into one continuous and chronological story. Even if we do not come off understanding the finer details of King's mentality, we still see how events flowed along a never ebbing, but wavering line, and how ideas melded and split. It is this dynamic that is important to understanding the larger picture of the Civil Rights Movement. So much is encompassed in Garrow's story that it is almost too much to read and remember in one reading. Despite some of its faults, it is without a doubt a vital book to the history of African Americans, Civil Rights, and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review: The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries by Carlo Ginzburg

Title: The Night Battles: Witchcraft and Agrarian Cults in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Centuries
Author: Carlo Ginzburg 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: March 1, 2010

In The Night Battles, Carlo Ginzburg looks at a small group of northeastern Italian people from the area of Friuli who claimed to be 'benandanti.' The benandanti, according to their legend, were people born with "the caul," and battled witches to protect the harvest and people, and to heal people bewitched. A second strand of benandanti claimed to be witness to processions of the dead. Using a small set of inquisition documents to do his microhistory, Ginzburg claims that he can reconstruct the progression of benandanti identity from their perspective from those who battle witches to those who are witches. This new identity was imposed, according to Ginzburg, by the inquisitors who used leading questions and other devices such as fear to convince the accused benandanti into altering their confessions to fit the new model of witchcraft, which can be traced through the confession transcripts. The book contains four chapters and an appendix with a few of the transcripts included for reference. Chapter one introduces the benandanti, their beliefs, and the inquisitors; chapter two describes the benandanti who associate with the dead and traces possible links of origin; chapter three returns to the benandanti and the inquisitors, and to the evolution of the benandanti identity; and chapter four sees the conclusion of the benandanti fitting themselves into the accepted mold of witchcraft. There is no way Ginzburg can support, with his available evidence, what the true intentions of the benandanti were when they confessed to witchcraft practices. Was it that they became convinced of their own evil, or simply became indoctrinated out of fear and insistence to change stories to fit what they knew the inquisitors wanted regardless of what they knew to be truth? There is simply no way to know if the benandanti were only saying what they felt needed to be said, or if they actually accepted it as truth. Ginzburg does, unfortunately, make a lot of claims that cannot be substantiated. For example, he tells the story of a woman named Anna la Rossa who he admits never claimed to be a benandanti (35). Yet later on, Ginzburg refers to her as one of the benandanti (41 & 43) without ever proving that she was one. If anything, Ginzburg is merely reasserting that many different beliefs had origins in the same pagan traditions, or that ideas filtered through geographical space. In another case, Ginzburg claims that the trances during which benandanti left their bodies were ointment induced or caused by illness (59). Again, this is not something he can adequately support and therefore cannot state it as unquestionable. Regardless of this, Ginzburg's greatest achievements are two. First, he does a good job in his outlining of the various pagan traditional origins of witchcraft and other cults. Second, he has great success in showing how the inquisitorial process was able to impose beliefs with such effectiveness that people would admit to them even when they knew giving the answer that was desired would surely bring harm to them. It sheds light on the nature of the witch hunts and trials, and the confessions rendered.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice by Merry E. Wiesner-Hank

Title: Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice 
Author: Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks 
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: February 22, 2010

In Christianity and Sexuality in the Early Modern World: Regulating Desire, Reforming Practice, Merry E. Wiesner-Hanks examines how Christian and Protestant ideas altered and defined sexuality and sexual behavior. The geographical focus of Wiesner-Hanks extends beyond the European continent. She writes about the colonial experience of Europeans bringing Christianity into Latin America, Asia, Africa, and North America, all of which were already inhabited by groups possessing their own native beliefs about sexuality, the changing of which was not done without challenge and compromise. Reconstructing the pre-colonial world of Latin and North American presents a problem, as Wiesner-Hanks notes, because documents are scarce, and as a result she cannot give a complete description of native beliefs. The first three chapters of the book are loosely chronological within topically based chapters, beginning with Christianity before 1500, then moving on to Protestantism, and finally to Christianity and Eastern Orthodoxy. The final three chapters shift to the overseas colonies discussed above. 

In investigating sexuality, Wiesner-Hanks looks at how earlier civilizations influenced later ideas of early Christian writers, and then in turn how these Christian writers shaped opinions on marriage, divorce, fornication, prostitution, sodomy, and witchcraft, to name a few. As Wiesner-Hanks traces how these ideas evolved over time, she also compares them to one another, letting readers see not only how ideas shifted over time, but how Catholicism differed from both Protestantism and Orthodoxy. The chapters are short and succinct, but detailed enough that in every case there is a clear picture of the time and group change. The book is more than a mere generalized overview even though its length is small, though some generalization is necessary and involved, because Wiesner-Hanks looks at specifics and fills her pages with one detail after another. As a result, very little space is given to stories or narratives, which perhaps would have been a nice addition to break up her dense fact-based approach. In fact, it is all too easy to get lost or confused within the barrage of facts and details as, for example, Wiesner-Hanks moves from infanticide to women's bodies to unmarried women and men to craft guilds all in the same two page spread. That being said, there is a lot that Wiesner-Hanks does not say or does not explain, which leaves one with many questions. For instance, when Wiesner-Hanks discusses the Roman model of marriage and sexuality, she fails to mention that the Romans too had their own form of spiritual virginity in the Vestal Virgins, which would be an interesting parallel to Catholic convent life. In another part of the book, Wiesner-Hanks states that religious wars increased the number of people, both men and women, who worked in prostitution (89). Yet she does not explain how that link is made. In many places she describes a situation or a law but then finishes up with the note that the event was rare or the law was rarely enforced, which makes one wonder why it was ultimately significant to mention. It would be a lot to expect one writer to include every detail or point, so the unstated or unanswered in no way mitigates what a good book Wiesner-Hanks has written on the topic of sexuality and religion.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Book Review: Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore

Title: Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950
Author: Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore
Genre: Nonfiction - History 
Finished: February 3, 2010 

 Defying Dixie: The Radical Roots of Civil Rights, 1919-1950 by Glenda Elizabeth Gilmore redefines the standard chronology of the Civil Rights movement, popularly known for its post-WWII activity. Post-WWII civil rights action would culminate in achievement with Brown v. Board of Education and the 1964 and 1965 Acts of President Johnson. As the title of the book indicates, and according to Gilmore, civil rights in fact had far earlier and far more radical origins in Communism, labor, Fascism and anti-Fascism, and the Popular Front. She substantiates her thesis by tracing the activity of these movements, and by placing within them the African Americans and whites involved who both worked together and in opposition to one another to end or continue Jim Crow. The issue of black civil rights is typically isolated to the United States and is considered to be historically a distinct American problem. By highlighting the involvement of radical movements that found their roots in Europe, Gilmore places African American civil rights on an international stage and redefines it within the context of what the world was experiencing and how this weaved into American culture. Gilmore shows that in America there was an active Communist Party that was focused on illuminating how racism created class differences, and had a purpose to overcome this class inequality by organizing Southern black laborers into a force white supremacists could not reckon with. The CPUSA would become a major player in calling for an end to Jim Crow and white supremacy, and would operate at the same time of the NAACP, whom the communists considered too conservative and bourgeois. The distinction between the two is one where the Communist Party favored direct action and the NAACP preferred legal means to solve issues, and Gilmore states that when placed alongside Communism, the conservative nature of the NAACP is stark (7). In emphasizing this simplistic distinction between the two, Gilmore slights the NAACP of some of its own influence and early contribution. Though less radical in comparison to a system like Communism, the NAACP nevertheless operated within a legal system that was hostile to them. When placed within the cultural context of America in the early 20th century, the NAACP was also radical in its own way because it defied the "place" of the African American, and the organization enjoyed many successes of its own. For example, the NAACP played a major role in the 1923 Moore v. Dempsey decision that strengthened due process and African American's Constitutional rights. It was not only the Communist Party that took an interest in labor either, though Gilmore makes it seem as if labor was a CPUSA concern only and does not mention that the NAACP was involved in the creation of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, the first African American labor union (52). Though these successes are certainly not as radical as labor marches through the streets of Gastonia, they are still significant to early civil rights radicalism. In keeping with the international scope of civil rights and the importance of the Communist Party, Gilmore brings to light that Africa Americans even went to Russia, had audience with Stalin himself, and many even let out sighs of relief to be in a country where they could, for the first time, enjoy life without fear. African American civil rights and Communism are two movements not typically linked together. In placing them together, Gilmore effectively rewrites civil rights history to include world wide involvement. She does similarly with Fascism in the United States. Gilmore reveals that Fascist ideology was intertwined with white supremacy (106), yet Gilmore does not adequately make the connection between the ideologies of Fascism and white supremacy to explain how white supremacists co-opted Fascism into their beliefs. Additionally, Gilmore splits up the influence of Fascism into two different sections, one in which she describes how some Americans embraced it early on, and then how later Fascism became linked with Communism and Nazi policy, and was thereafter largely rejected within America. Gilmore skips from one to the other without describing the intermediate years and how white supremacists that were once Fascist came to reject the ideology. Gilmore makes it clear why they did, but does not trace how or what happened to the former Black Shirt white supremacist American Fascists. Gilmore focuses her narrative on select people and groups, which allows her to make her points without filling pages with names and events that would have made the monograph dense and less fluid. Through the experiences of her select characters, Gilmore documents the progress of movements and is then allowed to move on with her point made by their examples. As she admits in her introduction, she leaves out a significant portion of people in the South who played major roles in the Civil Rights movement (11). As reviewer Michael Dennis points out, the people ignored precisely the kind of political linkages that defined the popular front and did a good deal more grass roots organizing in the South than Fort-Whiteman. While leaving out these groups of people and their contributions does not weaken the argument Gilmore is trying to make, adding them would have strengthened her narrative by illustrating the scope of the work the Popular Front involved itself in. While she leaves out some groups and people, she includes other often overlooked players such as Truman's committee on civil rights, adding another layer to the retelling of conventional civil rights history (409). Gilmore's limited focus allows her to incorporate an element of familiarity that makes her story easier and more enjoyable to read. The people involved in the movements she writes about become more than just names, but people with personalities. The emotional connection forged with these people give the book a sense of intimacy. Much like in her previous book, Gender & Jim Crow, Gilmore uses this feeling of familiarity to make assumptions about people's feelings and motivations that cannot be supported by evidence. For instance, Gilmore assumes that Louise Thompson must have been hiding something about her feelings for African American Communist Lovett Fort-Whiteman (143). She does the same when she attempts to psychoanalyze the reticence of Alain Locke and attributes it to an attraction to the charismatic Langston Hughes (137). These are things that Gilmore herself simply cannot know without personal testimony. In some cases, Gilmore is able to more successfully pull off her personal narratives. When she describes the death of Fort-Whiteman, she adds a touching reflection of his last moments that closes up the extraordinary life of this very unique man (154). It is in moments like those that Gilmore fosters a true emotional connection between her book and the reader. The combination of humanization and the personalization of events with a unique historical interpretation make Defying Dixie an essential book on the civil rights movement. Defying Dixie adds a new layer to the understanding of how the civil rights movement progressed, and what influenced the later movement. While it does not rewrite the entirety of the movement, it inserts a new level that should not be overlooked.