Wednesday, September 28, 2016

"Jackson,1964", reporting by Calvin Trillin

This book, subtitled "And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America", is a sample of Trillin's journalism that in a composite view shows how the subject of racism has evolved, and not evolved, during a reporter's lifetime.  It is especially interesting due to Trillin's clear, sparse, and insightful reporting style, and from the perspective of events over the last year that have laid bare the country's remaining challenges.

Each chapter in this book could be interesting to many, but making choices leads to highlighting a few.  "Jackson, 1964" covers the "Mississippi Summer Project", a voter registration drive up against tremendous odds, one that only scratched the surface of success but laid the groundwork for significant gains in years ahead, in that state and others.  "The Zulus" looks at one aspect of the Mardi Gras celebration in New Orleans, one that focuses on a "tribe" of black faux Indians, parading in blackface to exaggerate their point, and the attention and frustration it caused many as the civil rights movement became widespread.  The Zulu parade, having been started in 1916, was a part of the chaos of Mardi Gras that was expected, and the unique nature of New Orleans is on view in this article.

"Cause and Circumstances" looks at the killing of a black man by a white policeman in Seattle in 1975.  That such an incident causes instant conclusions by different groups has not changed to this day, as we see.  "Remembrance of Moderates Past", written in 1977, begins with this comment by a black lawyer in New Orleans in 1960 as the public school system was being desegregated --- "I keep hearing about white people who say they're working behind the scenes" --- during a time when the business and professional leadership of the city stood silent while the city seemed to be taken over by a bunch of women in hair curlers screaming obscenities at six-year-olds.  "Yes sir", he said, "It must be getting really crowded back there, behind the scenes".  This thought can ring true to many in many places during the height of the civil rights years.

This carefully written book is enjoyable, if that can be said when discussing this subject that is fraught with contradictions and questionable behavior.


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