Zach's Reviews > Race: How Blacks And Whites Think And Feel About The American Obsession

Race by Studs Terkel
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it was amazing
bookshelves: race, history

Aside from me pointing out that this book was both monumentally uplifting and monumentally depressing, it only seems appropriate to let the people speak for themselves:

Alex Berteau, partner at a black law firm: "There seemed to be a positive change in the seventies. Whatever momentum was there went bang, after Reagan became president. I'm not about the business of tearing down Ronnie. He's just somebody who came along. He happened to be in the place for eight years. What I'll never understand was how we could take a man, born in almost the first decade of the century, and get him to preside over the next to last decade, to do everything in his power to throw us back into the first decade of the century. What a ripoff."

C. P. Ellis, ex-Klansman turned union leader and civil rights activist (and Durham, NC resident): "I worked my butt off and never seemed to break even. They say to abide by the law, do right and live for the Lord, and everything'll work out. It just kept getting worse and worse... I began to say there's somethin' wrong with this country. I really began to get bitter. I tried to find somebody. I began to blame it on black people. I had to hate somebody. Hatin' America is hard to do because you can't see it to hate it. You gotta have somethin' to look at to hate. [Laughs.] The natural person for me to hate would be black people, because my father before me was a member of the Klan... They sent some robed Klansmen to talk to me and give me some instructions. I was led into a large meeting room and this was the time of my life! It was thrilling. Here's a guy who's worked hard all his life and struggled all his life to be something, and here's the moment to be something. I will never forget it... After I had taken my oath, there was loud applause goin' through the buildin', musta been at least four hundred people. It was a thrilling moment for C. P. Ellis."

(Some years after this, Ellis represents the poor white viewpoint at a community meeting regarding the distribution of a HEW grant for school improvement, which he is named co-chairperson of, along with Ann Atwater, an African-American civil rights activist)

"Her and I began to reluctantly work together. [Laughs.] She had as many problems workin' with me as I had workin' with her... My old friends would call me at night. 'C. P., what the hell is wrong with you? You're sellin' out the white race.' This began to make me have guilty feelin's. Here I am all of a sudden makin' an about-face and tryin' to deal with my feelin's, my heart. My mind was beginnin' to open up. I was beginnin' to see what was right and what was wrong. I don't want the kids to fight forever... One day, Ann and I just sat down and began to reflect. Ann said, 'My daughter came home cryin' every day. She said her teacher was makin' fun of her in front of the other kids.' I said, 'Boy, same thing happened to my kid. White liberal teacher was makin' fun of Tim Ellis's father, the Klansman, in front of other peoples. He came home cryin'.' At this point--[He pauses, swallows hard, stifles a sob.]-- I begin to see, here we are, two people from the far ends of the fence, havin' identical problems, except her bein' black and me bein' white. From that moment on, I tell ya, that gal and I worked together good. I begin to love the girl, really. [He weeps.]"

Mamie Mobley, teacher, mother of Emmett Till: "Mose Wright, my mother's brother-in-law, pointed out Bryant and Milam as the two men who came for Emmett: 'Thar's them.'* It took unprecedented courage. Nothing like that had ever happened in the South before. That was an old black man, sixty-five years old. He stayed in the area until he was rescued by some civil-rights group and put under surveillance. One night he slept in the graveyard behind his church. He was a minister. He slept under the cotton house one night. He never spent another night in that house. No one did..."

Terkel: "Look back for a moment. Didn't you feel the Lord deserted you? You're a young mother, your only child brutally murdered, your life almost destroyed--wasn't there an instant when you wanted to hurt his two killers?"

Mobley: "No, No. The only real change that came over me when Emmett was killed--I was a very private person. I could stay in my house one year and not go any farther than the front porch and be perfectly happy. My thoughts were centered around Emmett and myself and what we were going to do, and planning for our future. Then all of a sudden, in the midst of despair, it wasn't really important for me to live. Death at that time would have been preferable. The phone rang one day and an editor from Jet magazine** wanted to know, 'What are you going to do?' I said, 'I'm going to school and be a teacher.' I was shocked. From the time I was seven, I wanted to be a teacher. I grew up in Argo, Illinois, and had never met a black teacher. There was no such animal. I didn't have a black teacher until I was in my second semester in college. That door was closed, so I gave up those dreams. Then all of a sudden--this was in the fall of 1956, about a year after Emmett had been... [Sobs softly.]... I'd buried Emmett... My burning--the thing that has come out of Emmett's death is to push education to the limit: you must learn all you can. Learn until your head swells."

Dr. Kenneth B. Clark, psychologist, whose research was "crucial" in the Brown v. Board of Education decision: "Bayard Rustin used to ask me, 'With your cynicism, your pessimism, as intense as it is, why haven't you committed suicide?' My reply is: 'I'm curious. I really want to see this process, this joke, up until I die.'"

* Also remembered as "Dar he," which is the title of a one-man play regarding the murder and trial: there are clips on youtube.
** Jet was also, I believe, the first magazine to publicize the photographs of Till's body.
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Reading Progress

December 1, 2010 – Started Reading
December 1, 2010 – Shelved
December 1, 2010 – Finished Reading

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message 1: by Brad (new)

Brad I know exactly how Dr. Clarke feels. What an excellent way to review this book, Zach. Great choice.

Zach Thanks, Brad-and I agree about Dr. Clarke's quip, it's one of my new favorites.

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