Conversations with RBG, by Jeffrey Rosen*****

This is the RBG book I’ve been waiting for. My huge thanks go to Net Galley and Henry Holt Publishers for the review copy. This book will be publicly available November 5, 2019.

Justice Ginsburg wants us to know that the sky is not falling. Though progressive thinkers see great cause for concern, primarily within the executive branch of the federal government, the U.S. Constitution hasn’t changed, and the Supreme Court, she insists, is made up entirely of strong legal minds that revere it. Precedents are still the basis of future rulings; the overturn of precedent is rare and unusual. But for activists—and she loves us—she also points out that public opinion is what alters the course of the law. Congress makes laws based on what their constituency desires. So she isn’t suggesting we put away our pussy hats and our picket signs; she just wants us to know that our advocacy works, and she appreciates everything we do to further women’s rights, civil rights, and gay rights.

Twice previously I read other books about RBG; one is a popular biography that I enjoyed, but that didn’t go deeply enough into Ginsburg’s legal ideas, and the second is just dross, minutiae gathered from her high school year book and whatnot. Whereas part of me just wants her to write an autobiography, I have to recognize that she is very elderly, has faced health challenges lately, and to stand a chance of writing any sort of memoir, she’d probably have to resign from the Court. And goodness knows, I want her to stay there, ideally forever. Instead, Rosen’s series of interviews with this feminist icon serves nicely.

Rosen has been friends with Justice Ginsberg for many years; they were drawn together initially through elevator discussions of opera. His chapters are brief but meaty, organized around key rulings and topical interviews. Rosen explains succinctly at the outset how this friendship formed and grew, but he doesn’t get windy or use the opportunity to aggrandize himself. He keeps the focus strictly on his subject. The interviews flow in an agreeable manner that is literate without being verbose or Byzantine.

We live in politically polarized times, and so even when I am reading about a political figure that I admire, I generally expect my blood pressure to rise a little, perhaps in passionate agreement. But if anyone in this nation has the long view of history and the key domestic issues that have unfolded, particularly with regard to the rights of women, it is RBG. And although I am not as senior a citizen as Justice Ginsburg, many of the changes she mentions that have occurred over the decades are ones that I can also attest to, though I hadn’t thought of them in years. For example, when I came of age in the 1970s, it was still not unusual to try to enter a bar or club only to be barred at the doorway because women weren’t allowed inside. (“Gentlemen only, Ma’am. Sorry.”) I had forgotten about these things; as her recollections unspool I see that she is right. Change happens, but lasting change happens slowly. We are getting there, at least with regard to women’s rights and gay rights. Issues of race and class are something else entirely, and she points up specific instances where justice has not progressed and change is imperative. I could say more, but none of it would be as wise or as articulate as when Ginsburg says it. If you’ve read this far in my review, you should go ahead and order this excellent book now. I highly recommend it to all that are interested in social justice, both formal and informal.

Book review One Mississippi Two Mississippi: Methodists, Murder, and the Struggle for Racial Justice in Neshoba County by Carol VR George ***-****

onemississippi I was drawn to this title because it deals with the Civil Rights movement. Fifty years have gone by since the pivotal events of that time, and now, as a second movement unfolds in response to the disproportionate jailing of African-Americans and out-of-control cop violence, it seemed like a good choice. I have no particular interest in Mississippi as opposed to any other part of the USA, and absolutely no interest in the Methodist church, but I was willing to slog through the various ins and outs of church history in order to find the nuggets that were salient to the political struggle. Thank you to Net Galley and Oxford University Press for the DRC. I’ve rated this book, which reads as if it was perhaps someone’s thesis at some point, a 3.5 for general interest levels, but for those with a particular interest in Methodist history or the history of Mississippi, I suspect it would rate five stars.
Methodists take great pride in having participated in the Underground Railroad prior to the American Civil War, and George takes the church to task for having failed so miserably in upholding this standard following Reconstruction. As Jim Crow laws became the rule of the south, Caucasian Methodists in Mississippi closed their doors to African-American worshippers, and the central church administration, after a certain amount of struggle, folded like a card table. Separate churches became the law of the land. Only in recent years has this changed, and even then, change has been slow.
Neshoba County is of particular interest to Civil Rights scholars because it is there that the Freedom Riders, in addition to countless local black voters that opened their homes to Civil Rights activists and helped run the Freedom School, were murdered by the Klan and the cops; it was opened in the (black) Longsdale Methodist church to assist black voters in running the gauntlet of red tape and assorted obstacles through which its citizens had to pass in order to use the power of the ballot. In contrast to Longsdale, the Neshoba County town of Philadelphia is overwhelmingly Caucasian, and its vicious racism, along with that of most of white Mississippi, was a tough nut to crack. There has been progress made, but much work yet to be done.
I was aghast to see that 96 percent of white Mississippians supported the continuation of Jim Crow laws, and it was because of their conspiracy to keep the Old South in entirely white hands that it was nearly impossible to bring the killers of the Civil Rights workers to justice. Only recently have its residents been open to change. The Choctaw Indians opened a casino in the area and in doing so created more jobs, and therefore more turnover in those that reside in Neshoba County, and this is partially responsible for recent progress.
Should you go out and spend money on the hard cover book? I guess this depends upon how deep your pockets are, and whether or not you are interested in the history of Mississippi and of Methodism. I am glad I read it, although the recently re-released biography of Dr. King is unquestionably the definitive story of the Civil Rights movement. Still, for those that have the time and interest to read more than one book on the topic, and I hope you do, you could do much worse than to read this interesting study. I’m glad I did.