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A SHE Book Review of:


We Were Eight Years In Power:

An American Tragedy


by Ta-Nehisi Coates

(c) November, 2017



Reviewed by:  Dr. Rhonda Sherrod


The masterful writer, Toni Morrison, a woman whose literary output is nothing short of sublime, said he is today's James Baldwin.  Morrison knew "Jimmy" Baldwin; and she is one of my favorite authors, just as Baldwin is one of my hero literary activists. Not many people can be compared to Baldwin with even a scintilla of truth; Jimmy's mind put forth such extraordinary thought on the complicated topics of race, religion, and humanity.  Can Ta Nehisi Coates be worthy of such exalted praise?


The title We Were Eight Years in Power comes from a speech given by a Black, South Carolina congressman, Thomas Miller, as Reconstruction was coming to an end--the result of the rise of White supremacist savagery in response to emancipation and a postbellum society.  Miller was grappling with the fact that, despite the good governance executed by Black people, they were being stripped of their power, and, indeed, of their newly gained rights of citizenship.  This prompted the brilliant scholar, Dr. W.E.B. Du Bois, to write in his awesome tome, Black Reconstruction in America 1860 - 1880, that the provision of good governance by Black people was the very problem for White people, because it challenged their virulent notions of White supremacy.


Coates' book is a collection of essays previously written during the eight years of Barack Obama's presidency.  In order to produce a book that is fresh, for each of the dated essays, Coates wrote an introduction that delivers new information about what was going on in his life, where the culture was as he wrote each essay during the Obama years, and the continued relevance and importance of the contents of the essays.  The book contains crucially important information about the innumerable ways race has functioned to privilege and enrich Whiteness, while damaging and causing real harm and, even destruction, to Blackness.  


When the late, eminent  psychiatrist, Frances Cress Welsing, in her book, The Isis Papers, commented that White supremacy permeated every institution in America to the detriment of Black people, some railed against her assessment. Coates provides some of the proof for her--evidence that is historical and present, real and indisputable.


Eight Years contains Coates' seminal essay, "The Case For Reparations," which is must reading for students of history, and for students who seek an understanding of the pernicious housing policies that had a devastating effect on Black home ownership.  These policies helped "ghettos" like the westside of Chicago come into existence, with all the seemingly intractable problems that attend communities like that.  "The Case for Reparations" is also the essay that fueled Coates' rise to prominence as a writer and scholar. Coates' new offering is well-worth the read, and the book is highly recommended.


It is true that Coates finds a way to say what many Black people already know about race in ways that do not cause some White people to become irrational.* He writes in ways that allow them to remain reasonably calm when confronted with the devastating truths of Whiteness, brutality, and inhumanity in America.  He's good at making the case for the things he says about the myriad ways in which Black people have been mistreated, ripped off, and subjected to plunder.  His tools are solid research, good reporting, and beautiful prose.  This is a major contribution to America, to be able to compel some Whites to acknowledge and accept the truth, at least on some level, without the usual obscuring, obfuscating, and attempting to dissect and parse the cold, hard truth in ways meant to render it meaningless.  In that respect, I can go along with the comparison to Baldwin.



*That is NOT to say that many Whites don't, in fact, become irrational. Indeed, some of Coates' events have a security protocol, because, as he says, white people "don't love" his work.  In other words, while there are those who want to read, learn, and, perhaps, reflect to become better human beings, there are Whites whose sense of identity is so threatened by Coates' work that they contrive insubstantial "arguments" in a vain attempt to refute Coates' stellar work.



   left to right:  Isabel Wilkerson and Rhonda Sherrod

 A SHE Book Review of:


The Warmth of Other Suns

by Isabel Wilkerson

(c) October, 2017


Review by:  Dr. Rhonda Sherrod


Like everyone else at The Need To Know Group, I love to read.  And there are books that will not let you go.  You hate it when you are entering into the home stretch and the book is about to end.  These books are chock full of information that stretch your mind and provoke thought about all kinds of things.  And the writing is simply sublime.


The Warmth of Other Suns, by celebrated, Howard University educated, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Isabel Wilkerson, is an epic sweep of fortitude and beauty about The Great Migration of Black people from the Jim Crow South to points north and west.  It tells the story of three people who leave a brutal south that had institutionalized the degredation of Black people post slavery. This is a 2010 New York Times best-seller, and Wilkerson is still on the road with it because audiences, Black, Latino, Native American, Asian and White, can't get enough of it.  In fact, when I saw her present her book at Northwestern University some years back, Wilkerson noted that the book had caught on with migrants and immigrants of every stripe as they, too, connected to the story of the trauma of leaving the only home one has ever known in search of something better.


But Wilkerson's telling is not just about hardships, although there are many, but also about the brilliance, bravery, ingenuity, and humanity of people who were not supposed to survive such southern savagery. The book is full of good research that affirms the historical journey of Black people who built this country even as Whites were busy trying to undermine their essential significance and undercut the fact that Black people are indispensible to the very existence of America.


George Swanson Starling ("Schoolboy") left Florida for Harlem after his talent for organizing and negotiating caused him to run afoul of the owners of the orange groves where he and his compatriots picked fruit. Recognizing how vital Black people's labor was to, as Wilkerson points out, ensuring that White people had "orange juice on their tables every morning," George boldly made demands for better wages.  He did so until White folks, who perceived his intelligence as temerity, began hatching plans to eliminate his influence on the other Black workers.  Tipped off, George fled north just ahead of the execution of the White folks' plans.


Ida Mae Gladney and her husband left Mississippi for Chicago after White brutes beat her husband's cousin to the point where his blood-soaked clothes had to be peeled off him.  The unconscionable beating was punishment for something that he did not do, but there was, of course, not even an apology when the mistake was discovered.


Robert Joseph Pershing Foster, a physician who had served overseas in the military, left the segregated strictures of Louisiana for Los Angeles recognizing that he could never be happy practicing medicine while chafing under the sun of the mean south.


As each "migrant's" story unfolds, with beautiful though-provoking language and stunning details interspersed with eye-opening research, Wilkerson takes us on their unforgettable life journeys.  Along the way, Wilkerson dispels lies that have been told about how Blacks brought down areas where they settled in the north, noting that they, in fact, added value.  She illustrates how the racist and inhumane customs, laws, and public policies up north trapped so many Black people into desolate places and conditions.  Black southern migrants were hard workers who were treated indecently when they went north and west.  Who knew, for example, that in Chicago immigrant women who barely spoke English were preferred over Black women who stood, essentially, on action blocks as odious White women literally looked them over to determine if they wanted to hire the Black women to slave in their homes as domestics for a pittance.  


Wilkerson also poignantly discusses the pain that many African Americans have felt as they worked hard to make a living only to see their children fall prey to snares and traps deliberately engineered for them on the cold, harsh, unforgiving, discriminatory streets of this country's big northern cities. Wilkerson covers the waterfront:  The hurts and the suffering, as well as the triumphs and highs, for the people who left their homes and traveled into the unknown hoping for the best.


I have the book and the audiobook.  I have listened to the impeccably narrated audiobook at least three times, picking up on more and more themes with every listening. It is a long book that Wilkerson spent 15 years researching; and it breaks my heart that none of the three people whose lives she reported on lived to see the publication of the book. I am forever grateful that those unforgettable people shared their lives, feelings, and thoughts as they helped pave the way for all of us. God bless the precious memories of George, Ida, and Pershing; and thank you Isabel Wilkerson for conceiving of this book and writing about these wonderful, tenacious people and about the Great Migration!


Do yourself a favor and enjoy reading this masterpiece.  It would be a great fall traveling companion. (I listened to it every night before I went to bed.) It won't take you half as long as you may think it will because the book turns the pages for itself. You will not want to see (or hear) it end! 





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