Tag Archives: Civil Rights

* The Butler’s Child by Lewis Steel

One would think that the autobiography of an important civil rights lawyer would make for fascinating reading. It does not, as recitations of legal cases, and the lawyerly machinations behind them, don’t make for an exciting narrative, at least for non-lawyer types. The Butler’s Child also refers repeatedly to the butler of the author’s grandparents as an inspiration for the author’s career and I thought the references were disturbingly patronizing (although I believe entirely sincere). It’s too bad that the presentation spoiled the story.

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Filed under True story

* The Butler by Will Haygood


There is a gem in The Butler: A Witness to History: the story (and pictures!) of  Eugene Allen, an African-American who served in the White House for three decades and, after serving coffee to the men who pushed forward the Civil Rights legislation in the 60’s, eventually attended President Obama’s inauguration as a special guest. It’s a touching and interesting story. So why the lone star? The story is completely overshadowed by that of the movie made about the life of Mr. Allen, and the period pictures are presented side-by-side with stills from the movie, which simply cannot compete for authenticity or significance.

I normally love slim books, but this one, at 100 pages, is twice as long as it should be!

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Filed under Non fiction

Freshwater Road by Denise Nicholas

Freshwater Road is a debut novel by an African-American actress that tells of a college woman who journeys to Mississippi during Freedom Summer to help in the voter registration efforts and who encounters dire poverty, including the lack of indoor plumbing, a fact she details at length, as well as a level of racism that’s difficult to fathom from our comfortable present. Celeste battles dirt, ignorance, and above all the evil of the Klan and the ordinary evil of ordinary people.

The book is carefully written and avoids easy conclusions and victories but it does not achieve greatness. There are too many details about Celeste’s ironing and not enough about her thoughts beyond the inconvenience of the outhouse. Also many of the African-American locals (not to mention the whites) are one-dimensional. The best part of the book is the character of her presumed father, once a gambler and now an established bar owner, and his anguish at not knowing the whereabouts of his “little” girl. What a great dad.

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Filed under New fiction