Small Great Things, by Jodi Picoult*****

smallgreatthings“Is it worth being able to say what you need to say, if it means you land in prison?”

Small Great Things is a courageous novel, one that will excite a fair amount of controversy, and it’s one that needed to be written; it’s the most important novel released this year. Thanks go to Net Galley and Random House Ballantine for the DRC, which I received free of charge in exchange for my honest review. This book will be available to the public October 11, and you should read it.

Picoult’s readers will recognize the familiar format presented here, the alternating points of view of the novel’s main characters. Foremost is Ruth Jefferson, a middle aged labor and delivery nurse at Mercy Hospital in New Haven, Connecticut. Ruth is African-American. She’s making the rounds, doing a fairly perfunctory newborn check when Turk, the father of little Davis Bauer orders her out of the room. He wants to see her supervisor; he wants a note on his son’s chart that no Black person may touch his child. Turk is a white supremacist; he has the Confederate flag tattooed on his arm. The chart is flagged to indicate that no Black medical personnel—which in this hospital and on this ward means Ruth, since she’s the only African-American there—may touch or care for Davis Bauer.

She is told it’s for her own protection too.

But an emergency unfolds, and just as in real life, the hospital is understaffed. There are a limited number of nurses that can take care of emergencies, and when the rotation is full, the only person to keep an eye on Davis following his circumcision is Ruth. The nurse that had been attending him swears she’ll be back in just a few minutes. After all, what could go wrong?

What could go wrong does go wrong, as bad as it gets: Davis dies, and Ruth is blamed. She is suspended not only from the hospital but from nursing, and ultimately, when the hospital hears from the Bauers’ attorney, the administration decides to toss Ruth under the bus. She is arrested and charged with murder.

I have to say here that those that have big ugly reactions to triggers may not be able to read this thing. The language is harsh. There are dead babies in multiple places; if you or someone close to you has lost a baby, decide whether you can go here. There are lots of vicious racist and sexist terms tossed about, not carelessly or as a shortcut to establishing that someone is a bad guy, but because there’s no authentic way to voice a white supremacist character without using them. And I am frankly uncomfortable hearing Turk’s voice, and even more so with the amount of care Picoult uses to develop this character. It makes the book much more powerful, and those that wonder just what in hell makes someone turn out this way can watch it unfold. Is her depiction realistic? I have no clue. However, I can say I believe she has done due diligence with research, and it can’t have been easy.

Until now we have heard alternating voices, those of Ruth and Turk.Once Ruth is in trouble, we add a third character, that of Kennedy McQuarrie, the clueless attorney who sits down with Ruth and explains to her that she doesn’t see race. And ultimately the struggle isn’t about getting Ruth out of jeopardy and back to her job; it’s about how to do that.

Because Ruth, who has been more than tolerant around well intentioned Caucasian people that say offensive things without any idea how terrible they sound, has had enough. She went through Cornell University, but first she had to endure the hallway whispers that she only got in because she was Black. She speaks Standard English, and is fed up to here with being told she is too White. And she was paying close attention when Trayvon’s murderer walked away free; she doesn’t want her son to be the next young man in a hoody sweatshirt shot by cops terrified not of weapons or behavior, but of skin color.

So Ruth wants to go to court and she wants to talk about race. But Kennedy tells her that this is a losing strategy; only by sticking closely to the procedural aspects of the case will Ruth be able to reclaim her life. And Ruth is having none of it.

The people that really need to read this book are those that really think “all lives matter” is an encompassing slogan. I fear many of them will be too afraid of this story to go there. Likely those of us that understand that this slogan is a veiled way to say that only White lives matter are the ones that will be drawn into this story.

The ending felt contrived to me, but the rest of this novel is so well done that I’m not going to split hairs here.

I was somewhat taken aback by the author’s note suggesting that Caucasian readers should take the message back to “other White people”, in our “own” communities. And I do understand that much of the USA is still segregated, but I have been the only Caucasian in my house for a lot of years, and I wasn’t sure quite what to do with her assumption, particularly given that the theme of this story could very well be that nobody has the right to assume things about a person based on that person’s race or ethnicity. But I can live with it, because the story itself is much more powerful than the notes at the end, and I understand that her ultimate message to White folks is that we must not try to be “white knights” that rush in and take over the struggle, but rather allies that follow and support.

I wish it could be required reading for everyone…especially for those that say they don’t see race.

W.E.B. DuBois Speaks: Speeches and Addresses, by WEB DuBois*****

WEB DuBois SpeaksI read this book about 2 years ago, and then found I was intimidated by the 60 multicolored sticky notes that I had used to flag all the brilliant passages, and so I told myself I would review it…later. I didn’t have a DRC this time; I bought that book fair and square at full jacket price from Pathfinder Press many years ago, and then my life was too hectic for me to find time for it. And make no mistake, this is not a collection you want to take on while multitasking. This is deep, serious, articulate writing from one of the most brilliant civil rights leaders the world has yet known. And so although he has been dead for a long time, like Dr. Martin Luther King, his words have made him immortal. I recently read and reviewed another title about this luminary scholar and class fighter, and that reminded me that I had some unfinished reviewing to do for him…or maybe for me. Here we go.

It was DuBois that wrote The Souls of Black Folk, a wrenching reminder that even those Caucasian folks up north that think they have no racial biases, often have some issues they haven’t yet faced. It was true when he wrote it, and I’m sorry to say it is largely true today as well. In the letters and speeches, he takes the pain laid bare in that famous book and explains what the source of racism is, and what we can do about it.

Dr. King wrote the intro to this series of speeches and letters, and I actually liked that introduction better than I like the Dream speech. It has more substance. When you get this book, for heaven’s sake, don’t skip the introduction. In fact, the book is worth having just for the introduction.

Because it is a collection rather than a memoir, it isn’t linear. The opening text is a short overview of his own life, and so when we come to the second piece in the book, the reader steps backwards in time. Although it’s harsh and hard to read in some places because of the writer’s capacity to convey the pain that he and other Black folk have endured so that everyone can at least taste it for a moment, there is more to it than that. This volume is singularly useful, because in addition to laying America’s problem out bare and plain, DuBois has concrete recommendations for change. They are radical, but then we’ve seen what band-aid measures and the electoral process has done for Black folk, and anyone that regards the matter with any degree of seriousness has to recognize that what’s happened so far is a train wreck, primarily for African-Americans and other people of color, but also for all Americans, because those of us that have lived here for our entire lives have been denied the capacity to find out what it’s like to live without racism.

Is that asking too much?

DuBois became a deeply political individual, a Marxist that founded the NAACP, and eventually left that same organization because of political disagreement. He provides a thorough explanation of his experiences and reasoning. When he presents the problem as an economic one, it provides a path forward, and although he is gone now, it isn’t too late for the rest of us to climb on board, if we care deeply enough to do so.

DuBois’s speeches and letters reflect the progress of his thinking, and so some of what he says toward the end is very different from the ideas set forth earlier. It’s a good idea to read it in order, even though it’s a collection, because then the reader can see his personal and political evolution. I don’t think there has ever been anyone more articulate, more brilliant as a writer and speaker, than DuBois.

If you agree that the USA needs big change in order to end the institutions and practices that have created second-class citizenship for African-Americans, and if you want to see justice done for the families of all the men, women, and children that have lost their lives at the hands of racist cops and vigilantes even during the tenure of America’s first Black president, then you ought to get this book. It’s radical, but maybe it’s time to consider radical measures. Because the government and the elected officials that run it won’t correct this problem for us. We can’t leave it in the hands of others; we have to do this ourselves.

And DuBois explains it better than anyone else.

The Scholar Denied: W. E. B. Du Bois and the Birth of Modern Sociology, by Aldon Morris*****

thescholardeniedMorris considers DuBois the father of American sociology, and Morris is right. This is, of course, not the first time a Black man was robbed of credit for an accomplishment that was instead credited to a Caucasian American. It happens all the time. But until I ran across this scholarly study, I hadn’t thought about DuBois and sociology because I had never studied the latter. As an admirer of DuBois’ historical and political role, I was drawn to this book when I found it on Net Galley. Thank you to that excellent site as well as University of California Press for the DRC, which I was given in exchange for an honest review.
It is available for purchase now.

DuBois was a venerable intellectual, an academic light years ahead of most Americans of any racial or ethnic background. He was the first Black man to graduate from Harvard University, and in addition to his graduate work there, he also studied in Berlin under such luminaries as Max Weber and others. In Europe, he was treated as an equal by those he studied with, and I found myself wondering a trifle sadly—for him, not for us in the USA—why he chose to return here. And the answer is so poignant, so sweetly naïve, that I wanted to sit down and cry when I found it. Because once he had the empirical facts with which to debunk the whole US-Negro-inferiority mis-school of mis-thought, he genuinely believed he would be able to elevate African-Americans to a state of equality in the USA by laying out the facts. The racists that created Jim Crow laws in the south and an unofficial state of cold racism that let Black folk in the Northern states know where they were welcome and where they were not, would surely roll away, he thought, if he could reasonably haul out his charts, his graphs, his statistics, and demonstrate flawlessly, once and for all, that discrimination against Black people was based on incorrect information.

See what I mean? I could just cry for him.

So although DuBois was the first American to go to Europe, study sociology, and return with more and better credentials than any American academic, he could not persuade anyone with authority to bring about change, was not even allowed to present his findings to anybody except Black people in traditional Black colleges, because another school of sociologists, the Chicago school, were busy promoting armchair theories based on little data, or bogus data, all showing that Black people simply were not smart enough to become professionals or take on anything above and beyond manual labor, and of course, he was Black, so he must not be that smart, right?

Pause to allow your primal scream. It’s galling stuff.

Caucasian professors in Chicago had done a bit of reading, and with regard to Black people, decided that their craniums were too small to hold enough brain-iums. And just as there is one reactionary in every crowd that the newspapers will flock to in order to show that there is across-the-board agreement, so did Booker T Washington stand before any crowd that would listen to him (and the white academics just loved him), in order to say that it was the truth, that it was going to be a long time before the Negro was “ready” to do the difficult tasks involving critical thinking that had been so long denied him. Tiny steps; patience; tiny steps. Meanwhile, he extolled his fellow Black Americans to enroll their sons and daughters in programs teaching “industrial education”, so that they would be ready to do manual labor and put food on their families’ tables.

All of the studies that backed this line of thinking were deductive, starting with the answer (inferior beings, manual labor) and then finding the questions to fit that answer. DuBois had done inductive research because he was searching for information rather than looking for a rational-sounding way to keep a group of people entrenched in an economic underclass.

DuBois made the connection between the socialist theory he had studied and the material evidence before him: there were people getting rich off the backs of dark-skinned people, and they had a vested interest in maintaining Black folk as an underclass. Ultimately, he turned to political struggle, and that is how I knew about him, not as a sociologist, but as a Marxist. He also became the father of the interdisciplinary field of African-American studies. He helped found the NAACP.

This scholarly work, like just about anything produced by a university press, is not light reading. Rather, the author presents his thesis and synopsis, and then carefully, brick by brick, starts back at the beginning to build his case. His documentation is flawless, and his sources are diverse and strong. There is some repetition in the text, but that is appropriate in this type of writing. He is not there to entertain the reader, but to provide an authentic piece of research that will stand the test of time, so there is a little bit of a house-that-jack-built quality to the prose.

For serious admirers of DuBois’s work, this will be an excellent addition to your library. For those interested in sociology as a field, this is for you, too. And to those with a literacy level that permits you to access college-level material and who have a strong interest in African-American history and/or civil rights, this is a must-read.

For these readers, I recommend, in addition, The Souls of Black Folk, which I had not regarded as sociology-based material until now, though I have read it twice; and a collection of speeches by DuBois, which I have been intending to review for some time, and which will soon grace this page of my blog.

Morris has done outstanding work, and I like to think that if DuBois were here, he would be proud to see it.

Unlocking Minds in Lockup: Prison Education Opens Doors, by Jan Walker*****

unlockingmindsinlockupJan Walker has spent a large part of her life developing and implementing educational programs, primarily parenting programs, for inmates, and the textbook she has written for these classes is used in prisons around the USA. This book is her account of her work with prisoners of both genders in Washington State. Most of her material addresses her work with serious offenders housed on McNeil Island, a place with a notorious reputation locally because it houses sex offenders. Thank you, Net Galley and Picata Press for allowing me to access the DRC. This book is hot off the presses, and you should read it.

The primary purpose of Walker’s memoir is to let us know that 95% of those currently incarcerated will be released to their families at some point in their lives. A small percentage have their parental rights terminated, and a small percentage are in prison–really and truly–for their whole lives. Almost everybody gets out, and almost everyone goes back to their family. Wasn’t it Robert Frost who wrote that “Home is the place that when you get there, they have to take you in?” And so it is with former inmates. They’re going back to those kids. It’s in everyone’s best interest that they know how to talk to them and how to treat them when they return, as well as while they are incarcerated. She points time and again–and there is so much information and so many anecdotes in between, that it’s a good idea to bring her point back to us–to the fact that most domestic abusers were themselves abused as kids. The only way to break the cycle is to teach inmates how to take responsibility for what they have done; and how to let their children know that they have made a mistake; that prison is the consequence; and that it is not the child’s fault.

Some of this may seem obvious to you, reader, but the woman knows a tremendous amount. And as a former educator in a low income middle school, I can personally attest to the way that children internalize the things that happen to them. Some of them regard themselves as responsible for their parents’ divorces; I’ve had those kids in my classrooms. And when my first husband died in a manner both sudden and tragic, our children didn’t just think it was their faults; they knew it. They were absolutely sure. It took years of therapy to pull them out of that dark place.

Inmates are frequently semi-literate, and literacy skills are crucial to the ability to think critically. So the community college classes that seem like an absurd perk for inmates to receive free of charge, the tab paid by the tax-paying public, are actually beneficial, not only to the inmates and the children that we hope will not repeat their mistakes; they also benefit society in the long run. Better readers are better thinkers; better thinkers make better choices, and they’re better parents in most cases.

Walker has seen and heard plenty of the ugly underbelly of serious offenders’ lives, attitudes, and habits. There was more than one moment when she questioned her personal safety when the prison was short-staffed and she was alone with her classes, no one to help even within range of a good holler. She chose not to wear the gear that guards have because she wanted to differentiate her own role in her students’ minds. The gamble paid off more often than not. But she knew there were some mean, tremendously hard people there. This isn’t about that.

So don’t think she is some namby-pamby bleeding-heart enabler, because she is far from it. We know that she has seen plenty of ugly more from the way she avoids telling us the most shocking material, rather than because she flings it at us (which she doesn’t). But the anecdotes she chooses to share–with names changed for the purpose of privacy, of course–underscore her talking points, and the work is also painstakingly documented. Do you read the sources and end notes in nonfiction? I do. That part of the book says a lot about whether a writer is just referencing other writers, writing up their own opinions, or speaking as an expert. Walker is an expert.

The book starts out dry. Fight your way through that initial fifteen percent; by the time you hit the twenty percent mark, you will be really glad you stuck to it. Although I recommend this outstanding work to everyone, I recommend it especially to public school teachers, particularly those that teach at high poverty schools with large numbers of children of color. I did that for twenty years, and I have seen how deeply affecting it is for children and adolescents to have a parent in prison. Some are ashamed; a lot of them are angry or confused. Some go for a visit that involves a stiff weekend commute, sleeping in the car, and then they fall asleep at their desks on Monday. But the ones that suffer most are those that were promised a visit they didn’t get; that were expecting their parent to be released, and then the parent wasn’t; and those that are convinced their parent is innocent.

And here, though you may roll your eyes, I have to address the one little nugget that ricochets inside my brain when Walker discusses teaching inmates to own what they did and tell their children that they made a mistake; prison is their consequence, it’s not your fault. I understand the rationale, because probably 99.9% of those incarcerated (primarily on McNeil Island, which is near Tacoma, Washington, about an hour from my Seattle home) are not only guilty of what they are in prison for having done, but more offenses for which they weren’t caught. It’s also true that there are no millionaires on death row, and anyone that has read Michelle Alexander’s study of the racial disparity in The New Jim Crow, or who has followed the data produced by the NAACP and other organizations centered on #BlackLivesMatter, knows that Caucasians serve hard time far less often than people of color that commit the same crimes.  But that does not mean that those that are there didn’t do the crime; they did….most of them.

At the same time, my mind kept going back to exceptional people–none of them on McNeil–that I am convinced are innocent. Should Leonard Peltier tell his children that he made a mistake, when he was framed? What about Mumia Abu Jamal? What about the lesser-known Mark Curtis, whose rape case was so clearly bogus that the local chapter of NOW endorsed his case? I know that in the last case, parole was denied over, and over, and over again because he refused to sit down and be rehabilitated for a crime he did not, did not, did not commit and would rot in prison for his entire life before he would crumble and confess to a lie just to get out of that place. He’s out now, but he sat through his whole sentence because he could not have parole by maintaining his innocence.

So although these cases are exceptions rather than rules, and I actually think Walker’s program is both strong and essential, it’s worth bearing in mind that once in awhile, someone that says they didn’t do it, really didn’t do it.

I have so many outstanding passages I flagged, so many poignant anecdotes, so much compelling evidence. I finished reading this book a week ago, but it is the really excellent ones like this that I have to mull over for awhile before I can write the review. I had 187 notes, and it was impossible to select some over others. I went back and reread them, and apart from a few paraphrased instances mentioned above, I think you’ll do better to read them in context, the way she wrote them.

The heartbreaking thing is that now that her classes and text have been adopted around the nation, they have been canceled at McNeil. Some wise ass somewhere decided that volunteers could be found to do this work. Sure, maybe once. Really sturdy do-gooders might last six months, even. But the work has to be done consistently, and you can’t fire a volunteer who phones in sick all the time, or just doesn’t show up, and those that are incarcerated need to develop a relationship with a single reliable professional instructor. I hope the Washington State legislature will reconsider this critical, valuable part of rehabilitation in our prisons. If we can’t raze those prisons to the ground, as the old folk song suggests, then let us at least make a difference for the children of those that are in them.

Highly recommended for all educators, for Civil Rights activists, and for anyone concerned about social justice. Actually, I recommend it to everyone. You can get it right now.

Blanche Passes Go: A Blanche White Mystery, by Barbara Neely*****

blanchepassesgo“Blanche’s mind rang with remembered slights and taunts, and echoes of that awful, heartbreaking instant of fear that was a part of every trip into the white world—a fear of being refused or given poor service because she was black, stopped by a cop because she was black.”

I finished reading Blanche Passes Go on the second anniversary of the death of Michael Brown, who was shot dead by a cop for jaywalking. Bernie Sanders, the candidate who fancies himself the liberal savior for all progressive-minded Americans, spoke here in Seattle that day. The purpose of his talk, apart from campaigning and fundraising, was to celebrate the birthday of Social Security. The speech was disrupted by a pair of African-American women who took exception to his myopia.

So I guess you could say that everyone, even those that don’t generally enjoy mysteries, ought to be reading this book right about now. In particular, if the reader is still trying to figure out why so many people, particularly people of color, get upset with the clueless slogan “All lives matter”, this book is here, just for you. Neely approaches issues of race, class, and gender in a way that is clear but not unkind. It’s her best work to date, and could not have been published by Brash Books at a more appropriate time. My great thanks go to them and the people at Net Galley for providing me with a DRC, and to Neely for laying it all out so that anybody who has a willing heart can get the picture.

In this fourth Blanche White mystery, Blanche has gone home to Farleigh, North Carolina for a vacation, and to try partnering a catering business with her best friend, Ardell. But Farleigh is a small place, and she can’t avoid running up against David Palmer, a Caucasian man that raped her. She never reported it, of course; were they really going to haul the well-heeled, powerful white man for a sperm sample, given the long history of Caucasian men raping Black women with impunity? Not likely! So when her long-simmering rage is ignited by the sight of him, she vows to not only get mad, but to get even as well.

Blanche White novels always have multiple threads that weave in and out of the plot line, but this is the most complex and impressive yet. Not only does Blanche have to grapple with Farleigh and Palmer, she is back in her home town, and her mama is still here. Like many women, Blanche has hit middle age and menopause with a renewed, powerful yearning to know more about her mama, who never stops talking but never gives away the personal information Blanche is almost begging for, and about her father, about whom virtually nothing has been told her. Blanche decides that once a person has children, their privacy is no longer as sacred as it was before, and a lot of personal information becomes family property. I loved that.

Well into the book, Ardell accuses Blanche of sounding exactly like her mother, and Blanche is dumbfounded to realize it’s true. I threw back my head and laughed out loud. It’s the rare woman that doesn’t hear her own mother coming out of her mouth sooner or later, and the moment was built so deftly and executed so well that it landed hard on my funny-bone.

Other Blanche novels have accentuated the protagonist’s tightly held independence. Here, she meets a fine man named Thelvin on the Amtrak coming into Farleigh, and at some point, she has to decide just how flexible (or inflexible) she is going to be.

Another component is Mumsfield, an acquaintance that has Down’s Syndrome and is about to be married to someone who may be after his money. This aspect of the story, like the others, is skillfully crafted. Mumsfield is not completely helpless, and the fact that he has Down’s does not make him Blanche’s friend, as he claims to be. There is still that division of white privilege. It’s not that Blanche could not have a white friend, but it would have to be someone with ownership of what that means.

Because all of these components are told in the third person omniscient, and because the writer is a complete badass, we are privy to all the intricacies involved here. Add a problem with domestic abuse next door to the Miz Alice where Blanche is staying, and you have an interesting stew indeedy.

Highly recommended.

Live From Death Row, by Mumia Abu-Jamal*****

livefromdeathrowMumia is a former Black Panther. The facts support his having been framed in the murder of the cop, a crime for which he was nearly executed.

Live from Death Row, written before his sentence was commuted, is not, however, a vehicle he uses to advocate for himself or plead his own case to the public. He has written other books I haven’t read, and I don’t know if he did that there.

Instead, here he uses his own situation to discuss the racism inherent both in the U.S. court system; he also talks about racism on death row.

The mandatory fresh-air time, prized and treasured by men who rarely see the clear blue sky, is an Apartheid one, at least in Supermax, RHU,SMU, and SHU (ultimate maximum security prisons, which he says have swelled since jailhouse overcrowding has made prisons tenser places and more people are tossed into “the hole”). The vast majority of prisoners are Black, though they are a minority of the population at large, and in the Pennsylvania prison he describes, 80% of those maximum security cases, those who wear Black skin, are crowded into a courtyard. They can’t see green grass or the outdoors, only four brick walls and way up there, blue sky. Why? And where are the other prisoners going?

The other prisoners (who are also maximum security) who are not Black have a SEPARATE courtyard, which is surrounded by chain=link fencing with razor-wire, but has the view. The 20% have the perk of a much less crowded space and the capacity to see Mother Earth during their treasured time outside prison walls.

As to the racist system that places Blacks on death row at such a startlingly high rate, he offers the following statistics and footnotes all of them like the scholar he was before being incarcerated, and continues to be behind prison walls. He uses a Georgia case because it is one which caused the Supreme Court to recognize the following facts:

*defendants charged w killing Caucasian victims are 4.3 times as likely to be sent to death row as those charged w/killing Blacks;

*the race of the victim determines whether or not a death penalty is returned;

*nearly 6 of 11 defendants who received the death penalty for killing Caucasians would not have received the death penalty if their victims had been Black;

*20 of every 34 defendants sentenced to death would not have been given the death sentence if their victims had not been Caucasian.

He continues to pound one damning fact upon another, and cites court cases to back them up; those above come from McClesky vs. Kemp (1987). If the case sounds old, I would argue that precedents are set by very old cases indeed, and of course, this book was published early into the 2000 decade. I doubt a more recent gathering of data would return more favorable information; in the case of jail overcrowding, I suspect the recession has made it worse.

A person would have to be hiding under a rock or in a coma not to be aware of the level of violence visited upon African-Americans by cops and vigilantes within the past year.

I applaud Mumia for using his well-known case to set the facts before us, rather than trying to build momentum to save himself. There was a considerable amount of public pressure NOT to execute him, and I do think that had to do with his sentence being commuted; as it was, my kids’ urban U.S. high school was “barely holding together”, according to a counselor I knew there, the day that Mumia’s case was turned away by the U.S. Supreme Court.

If you are interested in reading about social justice issues, this relatively slender volume holds an astounding amount of really critical information. I appreciate Mumia’s relentless effort to make the public, both in the US and internationally, aware of the atrocities that continue to visit Black prisoners in the USA, and it’s more relevant now than ever!

Malcolm X: The Last Speeches by Malcolm X, Bruce Perry (ed.) *****

malcolmxlastspeechesIf you read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, the most widely-read of the books about Malcolm, you will get an idea of the general development of his self-education in prison, and of his attraction to, and eventual prominence in, the Nation of Islam. This volume, in contrast, shows the speeches he made when he broke with the Nation of Islam and decided that the struggle for racial equality was tied to class struggles, and that this meant that people who were not Black could still be part of the fight that he believed was necessary. It shows his attraction to socialist ideas, and these are speeches that were not published until recently, when his widow found them buried amongst a lot of other things in storage, and called the publisher she wanted to distribute these ideas.

For example, for awhile there were posters and tee shirts available for sale showing Malcolm X and Dr. King standing together. The implication inherent in overemphasizing this photograph is that the two were comrades and brothers in struggle. I can’t believe the number of young people I taught believed that Malcolm “wanted peace”. Whereas this is true in the long run, it isn’t what he talked about. When middle class Caucasians were interviewed on TV and they pontificated that it was important for those Black demonstrators walking across the South, being confronted with tear gas, firehoses, police dogs, and arrest, to remain nonviolent, Malcolm responded, “I will be nonviolent when the White man is nonviolent.” In contrast to the ideas of Dr. King, Malcolm was ready to fight for his rights. It was in the last year of his life that he realized that the material interests of the entire working class dovetailed, and he targeted the ruling rich as his oppressors, (correctly so in my view), rather than blaming all members of any ethnicity or race. This was an enormous change from the belief system he had espoused while he was with the Nation of Islam. These speeches serve as the clearest documentation of this change.

These speeches are important, though their context was quite different from today’s, because they break up the myth that mainstream media and US government sources have built up surrounding Malcolm X.  If you can’t stamp out someone’s speeches and memory, what do you do instead? You co-opt them, sanitize them, find a way to make more in tune with what you wish they’d been. And that’s what has been done to Malcolm X’s legacy, by and large.

For those who are seeing a big difference between his earlier speeches and the ones published here, it is not hypocrisy, it is development. It takes a lot of integrity for someone who is famous and controversial to admit he has been in error, and explain what his new viewpoint is, and why he has changed his way of thinking. If you don’t read this book, you will not know the whole evolution of the ideas and political program embraced by Malcolm X over the span of his life.

All of this has more relevance than ever now that we are in the midst of a second, perhaps even more vital civil rights movement. Malcolm’s philosophy and political perspective should be widely read. He’s been gone for a long time, but nothing can kill his ideas, and we need them now.