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Race and the American Idea: 155 Years of Writings From The Atlantic

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A compilation of some of The Atlantic’s most important writings on race and society over the past century and a half, featuring W. E. B. Du Bois, Frederick Douglass, Booker T. Washington, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nikole Hannah-Jones, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and more.

Since 1857, when a group of radical abolitionists founded The Atlantic, the magazine’s editors and writers have tried to aim their work at the most important, and the most vexing, conundrums confronting America and the world. From the end of slavery to the modern age of mass incarceration, their work has continually engaged with issues of race and civil rights. The pieces collected here represent a broad range of authors and topics and historical moments that encapsulates the arc of America’s racial history of the past century and a half.

Some of the highlights in this collection include:
• Ralph Waldo Emerson arguing for abolition in the midst of the Civil War
• Frederick Douglass, a former slave, making the case for voting rights to the 39th Congress
• Essays by Booker T. Washington and W. E. B. Du Bois, arguing about the best route to black advancement
• Woodrow Wilson analyzing Reconstruction in the South in 1901, 12 years before he would become president
• An excerpt from one of the classic documents of the civil-rights movement, what become known as Martin Luther King’s “Letter From a Birmingham Jail,” which he wrote in April 1963 in the Alabama jail cell where he was being held for taking part in protests against segregation, and then mailed to The Atlantic’s offices
• Jonathan Kozol’s reporting on segregation in Boston's public schools in the late 1960s
• The psychiatrist Robert Coles’s 1967 report on the warping effects of ghetto life on young minds
• James Alan McPherson in conversation with his literary idol, Ralph Ellison
• Nicholas Lemann’s reporting on the Great Migration of the 1940s, and on the founding of the War on Poverty
• Juan Williams’s surprising 1987 account of the future Supreme Court justice Clarence Thomas’s tenure as the head of the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission
• Thomas and Mary D. Edsall’s sweeping 1991 analysis of how race effectively underlies everything in modern American politics
• Nikole Hannah-Jones’s reporting in 2014 on the history of school segregation, integration, and resegregation in the years since Brown v. Board of Education
• Ta-Nehisi Coates making “The Case for Reparations” for slavery and discrimination.

768 pages, Kindle Edition

First published October 14, 2015

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About the author

Frederick Douglass

1,023 books1,259 followers
Frederick Douglass (né Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey) was born a slave in the state of Maryland in 1818. After his escape from slavery, Douglass became a renowned abolitionist, editor and feminist. Having escaped from slavery at age 20, he took the name Frederick Douglass for himself and became an advocate of abolition. Douglass traveled widely, and often perilously, to lecture against slavery.

His first of three autobiographies, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass: An American Slave, was published in 1845. In 1847 he moved to Rochester, New York, and started working with fellow abolitionist Martin R. Delany to publish a weekly anti-slavery newspaper, North Star. Douglass was the only man to speak in favor of Elizabeth Cady Stanton's controversial plank of woman suffrage at the first women's rights convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in 1848. As a signer of the Declaration of Sentiments, Douglass also promoted woman suffrage in his North Star. Douglass and Stanton remained lifelong friends.

In 1870 Douglass launched The New National Era out of Washington, D.C. He was nominated for vice-president by the Equal Rights Party to run with Victoria Woodhull as presidential candidate in 1872. He became U.S. marshal of the District of Columbia in 1877, and was later appointed minister resident and consul-general to Haiti. His District of Columbia home is a national historic site. D. 1895.

More: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frederic...






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Displaying 1 - 2 of 2 reviews
Profile Image for B. P. Rinehart.
747 reviews256 followers
June 19, 2019
I will be reviewing this book very differently from most books, this will be a "rolling review." Since this ebook will be of many different articles, I will be reviewing the articles as I read them. I originally wanted a book form of Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case For Reparations and ended up finding that and a lot more. This is a collection over 150 years of The Atlantic's articles on race published by its many writers and guest writers. Some of these writers would republish these articles in much more famous works like The Souls of Black Folk and Letter from the Birmingham Jail. As it is, I will do my best to write as short-a-blurb as possible on the pieces I read from this book (at least one from every decade available).

American Civilization and The President's Proclamation (both 1862) by Ralph Waldo Emerson: These first two articles are pushing for emancipation and hailing the news of The Emancipation Proclamation. While it did have some interesting points about it, a lot of it was, sad to say, rested heavily on the Romantic and post-Romantic stereotypes of Black people as "wonderfully savage." And it suffered from "Emerson prose." Worth a look for historical purposes; 3/5.

The Story of the Contract Buyers League (April 1972) by James Alan McPherson: I jumped far ahead to read this long story in order to prepare me to re-read Ta-Nehisi Coates' The Case For Reparations (which is in this book) Since this long article is a spiritual predecessor to it and many of the people in McPherson's article are re-visited in Coates'. This story is about one of the most valiant, if bittersweet, effort to push back against years of housing discrimination. This is a must to understand why Chicago is in such a deplorable state today. 4.5/5

Liberty and Equality For All and An Appeal To Congress for Impartial Suffrage (1866 and 1867) by Frederick Douglass: Both of these articles are about the need to pass what is now the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. It is amazing how well these articles hold-up as a defense for the importance of universal suffrage in the United States. It is sad to ponder in the post-Shelby County v. Holder years. 5/5.

The Reconstruction of the Southern States (January 1901) by Woodrow Wilson: This article, a short "Lost Cause" history of Reconstruction, shows why former Princeton University and United States president Woodrow Wilson is so "loved and revered" at his alma mater. His basic argument is that everything was fine when southerners had control, but crazy northerners gave Black people rights and this derailed everything until finally "brave" southern whites rose-up and put the Negros in their place and now everything is in its natural place. I wish I was exaggerating. 1/5.

A Negro Speaks for His People (March 1943) by J. Saunders Redding: This article from the middle of World War II gives a surprisingly frank update on the progress of civil rights for African-Americans and the efforts that Black people North and South were doing and the resistance that they were encountering. This article has some very timely quotes: "They mean what a Negro United Mine Workers official in West Virginia told me in 1940: 'Let me tell you, buddy. Waking up is a damn sight more harder than going to sleep, but we'll stay woke up longer.' [Bold emphasis mine.] 4.5/5

The Angry South (April 1956) by Ralph McGill: Ahh yes. I was waiting for this type of article, Southern White Liberal admits that racism is wrong, but that the South has to be gradually and sensitively changed. This guy knows that there is a problem, but he certainly does not want to be the guy who proposes the solution. This was written in response to the South's opposition to school integration and is like a white response to the last article I read. 3/5.

Letter from the Birmingham Jail (April 1963) by Martin Luther King Jr.: When I finally review this, I will link to it here.

W.E.B. Du Bois (November 1965) by Ralph McGill: Once again, our liberal Southern apologist is back and this time he is recounting his interview with Dr. Du Bois 6 months before his death in 1963. It is mainly about his leaving the NAACP and becoming a socialist, as well as a lengthy final thought on Booker T. Washington, his intellectual rival. While McGill's apologist sentiment for Washington and obsession with
Du Bois' Marxism is annoying, I found his recounting of Du Bois' own feelings, especially on Booker T. Washington, to be amazing (Du Bois gives one of the most amazing breakdowns of why Washington's accomidationalism was so damning). I will give McGill credit for this statement as well: "Six months later in faraway Ghana W. E. B. DuBois died. It was August 28, 1963, the eve of the march on Washington, the largest demonstration for civil rights ever held. One could not help experiencing a feeling of destiny linking both events. The man who for many years had spoken with the loudest and most articulate voice was now silent while his objectives were being realized." 4/5.

I ought to say here that The Atlantic has archived many of these articles on their website if others want to read along.

Where Ghetto Schools Fail (October 1967) by Jonathan Kozol: This was the second of a two-part series from Kozol on his year teaching in a mostly Black elementary school in Boston. This article reads like an intro to Lies My Teacher Told Me : Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong and much of what would later be described in Loewen's book was on active display here to particularly dis-heartening effect. This article shows why integration is just as needed in New England as it is in the South. 5/5.

Indivisible Man (December 1970) by Ralph Ellison and James Alan McPherson: This article was another personal treat for me to read as it is a snapshot of Ralph Ellison and his reaction to the Black Power movement. This article also has Ellison compare his experiences as a writer pre- and post-Invisible Man. It uses not only notes and quotes from McPherson's live interviews with Ellison, but also their long letter correspondences. It was interesting to see how young Black social consciousness was going conflict with Ellison's more integrationist tone. Ellison's peer James Baldwin was having similar trouble around this time. I liked Ellison's insight on the centrality of African-Americans to American culture and history. I wish he wasn't so arrogant when it came to both the work of young Black writers at that time and his own debt that he owed to older Black writers that proceeded him. 5/5.

A Question of Fairness (February 1987) by Juan Williams: This article details the rise of one Clarence Thomas, the archtype of self-hating Black American conservatives during the 1990s when I was growing up. This article details his life and career up to the beginning of his second term as head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission and his attempts to cripple it. I did not learn anything new from this, but nice to know how long he has been this way. 2.8/5.

Race (May 1991) by Thomas Byrne Edsall & Mary D. Edsall: This study from 1991 presents a then-landmark, but now confirmed fact that racial identity plays a disproportionate impact in American political life and the growing polarization of American politics since 1968 can be traced to the impact of the Civil Rights Movement. I felt that though certain points and research in this report were a bit dated, it non-the-less laid bare how much both parties had begun to shape their policies to appeal to white working class voters exclusively. 3.5/5 .

The New Intellectuals (March 1995) by Robert S. Boynton: This interesting article is an overview of the Black "public intellectuals" that emerged in the last quarter of the twentieth-century. These are people like Cornel West, bell hooks, Michael Eric Dyson, Stanley Crouch, Juan Williams, Toni Morrison, Henry Louis Gates Jr. and many more. This book compares the emergence of this group to the Jewish-American intellectuals who emerged in the pre-WWII era and the African-American intellectuals (e.g. Ralph Ellison & James Baldwin) who came to prominence post-WWII. This was a very comprehensive introduction and comparison of this group in 1995 and I would not mind seeing a follow-up to it how this intellectual "class" has faired twenty one years later. 5/5.

A Just Cause (February 2000) by Jack Beatty: This is a book review of The Debt: What America Owes to Blacks by Randall Robinson. The review details Robinson's successful campaign to get Harvard University to divest from Apartheid South Africa and how his book wants to use similar methods to pursue restitution for African-Americans. This is the first article in this anthology to address this topic head-on, but a much more comprehensive one awaits. 4/5.

Segregation Now... (May 2014) by Nikole Hannah-Jones: This long-form article is a devastatingly powerful look at the re-segregation of the American public school system. Mrs. Hannah-Jones has written on this topic for most of her career and this article is one of her crowning achievements. It shows how the stalwart resistance by white-Americans as a whole (no matter what ideology) doomed Brown vs Board of Education from the word go. The Federal government, through the courts, did all it could to implement "Brown," culminating in 1988 being the most integrated year in U.S. public school life. But by then, the reaction against "Brown" was already in full effect and now American schools are nearly as segregated in 2016 as they were in 1956. This hit home (or should I say school) with me because most of my grade school life was spent in these re-segregated schools (which means my mom and her siblings will be the only generation in my family to go to integrated schools for their entire grade school career). According to Hannah-Jones, Jefferson County, Kentucky remains the only school district in the country to voluntarily continue integration. This, of course, has had a devastating impact on the state of education for my generation and the generations after us. Beyond this work, Mrs. Hannah-Jones has also won a Peabody Award for a radio broadcast examining this phenomenon in the St. Louis area after the death of Mike Brown and an article in the New York Times Magazine detailing her struggle in choosing a primary school for her daughter in New York City (2nd most segregated school system in the country). 5/5.

Fear of a Black President & The Emancipation of Barack Obama (September 2012/March 2013) by Ta-Nehisi Coates: What a timely reflection of days gone by. These two articles by Ta-Nehisi Coates begins his current intellectual-run that he is still going in. These two articles look at the end of Barack Obama's first term and the beginning of his second. It seems, now, a lifetime ago, but it was real. Coates catalogues the particular struggles that President Obama had to endure and the tightrope that he walked as the luster of being the first Black president quickly gave way to the reality of that distinction in a country built on white supremacy. These articles display the expert journalistic efficiency that made me first come to admire Mr. Coates. Despite his protest of the very concept, the second article shows Coates seeming to be cautiously hopeful of the second Obama term. Given that he was to follow these articles up with the "magnum opus" of his journalistic work (as of November 2016), these two articles serve as a good warm-up. This also marked when I first heard of the man. Both 4/5. Update: Here is Coates' interview with Obama himself which I will throw in for good measure: My President Was Black

The Case for Reparations & The Black Family In The Age of Mass Incarceration (June 2014/October 2015) by Ta-Nehisi Coates: These two journal articles are widely regarded as Ta-Nehisi Coates' finest work of journalistic non-fiction to-this-point (December 2016). The former is regarded as his best work for the Atlantic and its sequel is an amazing follow-up/supplement that picks-up where TCFR left off and fills in gaps of small things simply touched on in the former. TCFR starts off as an update of James Alan McPherson's story for The Atlantic: The Story of the Contract Buyers League. It then goes into its thesis that white supremacy in the United States is so prevalent that African-Americans do not need to go back to slavery or the last 50 years to seek restitution for crimes perpetrated by the state.
"The federal government is premised on equal fealty from all its citizens, who in return are to receive equal treatment. But as late as the mid-20th century, this bargain was not granted to black people, who repeatedly paid a higher price for citizenship and received less in return. Plunder had been the essential feature of slavery...But practically a full century after the end of the Civil War and the abolition of slavery, the plunder—quiet, systemic, submerged—continued even amidst the aims and achievements of New Deal liberals."
This quote is just one small sample from what is one of the greatest journal articles I have ever read and what made me a fan of the brother and fellow Maryland native. The follow-up is sort of a stealth response to The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, but in the context of the career of policy-maker Daniel Patrick Moyniham who became the spearhead of Black Mass-incarceration and worked with multiple Presidents from LBJ and Nixon to Clinton to give us this problem with mass incarceration we have today. It also shows how the criminal justice systems in the American North and South dealt with African-Americans using the courts and prisons (and to the surprise of few who have done the homework, the North already had proto-mass incarceration while the South relied on terrorism). Both 5/5

I stumbled on this ebook anthology by accident, but this is one of those good accidents that I do not have very often. I have only reviewed a sample of all the articles actually in this ebook. If you use an e-reader of any kind, please pick this book up and soak-up all the knowledge and history within it.
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