Category: General Reading

compton1Compton, California has earned a reputation over the last fifty years as a place where people are tough, life is dangerous and unless you are from there, you stay away.  Gangs such as the Bloods and the Crips have proliferated across the city in the wake of the Civil Rights Movement and the dawn of the crack cocaine epidemic in the United States.  In what could rightly be described as a civil war, thousands of black men, women and children have died on the streets of Comptom and in Los Angeles county as gang wars escalated.  In 1888, the City of Comptom had formed its own police department to patrol city limits and at the time of the deadly gang wars erupted, it was pushed to its limit.  Some officers would leave the department for much quieter neighborhoods with lower crime rates.  Others would stay until it was disbanded in 2000.  Among the two most well-known as respected officers were Tim Brennan and Robert Ladd.   The duo have been interviewed numerous times in recent years, expressing their thoughts on Compton, the murder of Tupac Shakur (1971-1996) and his alleged killer Orlando Anderson (1974-1998).  However, there is far more to their story than what we have come to learn on screen and here the two join with Lolita Files, whom some may recognize from the A & E multi-part series Who Killed TupacIn the show she is assisting famed attorney Benjamin Crump who takes another look at the murder of the slain rapper.  This is their story about their lives and time in Comptom as part of a police department located in the middle of a war zone.

Those of us who live outside California may find the gang culture to be both mistifying and tragic.  The Crips, who feature prominently throughout the book, have a long past of their own.  The gang’s formation is rightfully captured by Zach Fortier and Derard Barton in I am Raymond Washington: The Authorized Biography About the Original Founder of the Crips, which I highly recommend to readers interested in the development of the Crips.  Brennan and Ladd became intimately familiar with them and other outfits that compose the fifty-five known gangs of Compton. The two were so well known on the streets that Brennan earned the nickname “Blondie” as a result of a song by DJ Quik.  But just how did the two end up in Compton and become partners for fifteen years? Lolita Files narrates their story in this book that is a both a biography and an investigative look into one of America’s most violent cities.

Files provides a short history on Compton which I found to be very interesting and informative.  The city’s later history is similar to other cities across America where white flight helped give way to the ghettos that developed. Compton is no different and its descent into madness in the wake of the 1965 Watts Riots, is an American tragedy that unfornately is not unique.  However, nothing could have prepared Compton for what would come next and when the gangs arrived, the city was transformed into hell on earth.  It is not long into the book before Brennan appears and we learn about his migration to California where he makes a home in the Compton Police Department.  He is schooled as a rookie and moves up through the ranks.  However, it is not until he meets California native Robert Ladd that the dynamic duo is formed and through their work, become nationally recognized experts on gang culture.

The book is not solely about the two officers but Files also discusses the city’s most notorious gangsters whom Brennan and Ladd became very familiar with.  Nightly gang shootings, drug transactions and even domestic disputes, kept the Compton Police Department busy and Files takes us back in time when Brennan and Ladd found themselves in the middle of open gang warfare.  They are joined by Reggie Wright, Sr., whom some may recall as the father of Reggie Wright, Jr., a former Compton Police Officer himself who later provided protection to Death Row Records through his company Wright Way Security.  The stories are crazy and some unreal but Compton was akin to the wild wild west except the gang members were not using six shooters but heavy artillery designed to cause mass casualties.

Politics play a part in the story as one would expect and some of the events that take place are both head scratching and amusing.  And the takeover by the Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department was the final nail in the coffin and officialy marked an end to the Compton Police Department.  However, before that took place, the gang unit had been making waves and putting a dent in gang activity.  But there were a couple of events that were even too large for Brennan and Ladd.

No book about Compton would be complete without the Los Angeles riots in the wake of the acquittal of several officers who took part in the beating of motorist Rodney King (1965-2012).  The verdict set off riots across the county of Los Angeles and I remember watching the events on television with disbelief and fear of what would happen next.  Files revisits the tragedy and the response to the mayhem by the Compton Police Department. It is a dark time in American history, but one that can never be forgotten, especially by the people of Los Angeles.   By this point in the story, we come to know Brennan, Ladd and other officers in the Compton Police Departmentve very well.  However, the story picks up its pace after a deadly shooting takes place in Las Vegas, Nevada on September 7, 1996.  That night, Tupac Shakur was shot and mortally wounded after an altercation at the MGM Grand Hotel with South Side Crip Orlando Anderson.  Shakur’s death on September 13, 1996, unleashed a wave of violence across Compton between Bloods and Crips that placed Brennan and Ladd on the front lines in the investigation.  Files takes on the role of our reporter and delivers the full inside scoop on the deadly retaliation that took place.  Anderson is also a point of focus and his story is revisited including his own death in May, 1998.

Readers who have followed Brennan and Ladd will undoubtedly find this part of the book to be of high interest. Further, Files has proven herself to be highly knowledgeable  about the crime as evident by her appearance alongside Crump.  The scuffle at the MGM, the events leading up to it and its aftermath are covered completely.  Further, the efforts of former detectives Russell Poole (1956-2015) and Gred Kading are examined in detail.  Viewers of the USA show Unsolved, will be familiar with Kading’s name as well as those who have studied the Shakur case.  The death of rap star Christopher”The Notorious B.I.G.” Wallace (1972-1997) on March 9, 1997, also enters the story and Files discusses it in depth.  The writing is good and I even learned an intersting fact about Duane “Keefe D” Davis which I had not previously known and possible connections between Wallace and the South Side Crips.  I also learned more about Brennan’s interactions with Kading’s task force which had been assembled to learn the truth about Wallace’s death.  Motives for both murders are presented and some viewers may feel that perhaps the simplest explanation is the most likely.  Sadly, both Shakur and Wallace’s murders remain unsolved.

What I have described so far does not come close to acknowledging everything that will be found in the pages of this book.  It is simply a great read about the Compton, and a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about the city that gangs and rappers put on the map.  There is a cast of characters to be found in the story ranging from former Death Row Records CEO Marion “Suge” Knight to the deplorable racist gang known as the “spook hunters”.  Compton is full of history  and it is still being written.  And only time will tell if its residents can make peace with the past and move away from the violence that has claimed far too many lives.  Great book.

ASIN: B079RKDS4M

General Reading True Crime

muhammad1The recent Netflix series Who Killed Malcolm Xrenewed my interest in the death of Malcolm X (1925-1965) and the Nation of Islam (“NOI”) under the guidance of Elijah Muhammad (1897-1975).  Malcolm’s death is still revisited as one of the darkest moments in the Civil Rights Movement.  Muhammad and his star pupil had long fallen out of favor after Malcolm’s death, rumors swirled that the leader of the NOI had ordered the assassination.  No proof ever surfaced of it and whatever Muhammad did know, he took with him to his grave.  He left behind a trove of writings, speeches and statements from public appearances that shed light on his thoughts regarding Islam, race and the future of America.  In 1965, this book was published as Muhammad’s message to the black men of the United States.

Although I am not Muslim, I was curious to see what Muhammad had to say and if it would be relevant to me being a black American.  I am familiar with some of the rhetoric from the NOI which Malcolm later sought to distance himself from.   But the fact remains that Malcolm did receive from Muhammad many of the teachings that guided him as his responsibilties in the NOI continued to increase and hecame its brightest star.  If there was one thing I was sure before starting the book, it was that Muhammad would not mince words.  In fact, no one in the NOI minced words and their belief in full freedom and equality for black people is well-known and documented.  But this is Muhammad’s show and he waste no time in getting his points across.

From the start, Muhammad directs his attention to Christianity and its role during slavery in America. Those who are devout Christians may find this argument to be difficult to read but it is imperative to remember these are his thoughts only and it is up to you to decide which religion is right for you.  Further, he is speaking from the point of view of a member of the Islamic faith and there is no doubt that he believes in Allah as the savior for black people.   He does make compelling arguments and in fact, uses scriptures from both the bible and Quran to make his case.  However, the rhetoric is strong and the use of the term “devils” for white Americans and Europeans will undoubtedly be unsettling.   I had to remind myself that today we would not see anything like this but in Muhammad’s era, the United States was a very different and violatile place.  And perhaps if I had been born at the same time as Muhammad, I myself may have felt the same way.  In end, some who read the book might decide to convert to Islam while others accept his argument and continue on with their lives as things are.

By far, the part of the book which seemed the most outlandish is the section about  a scientist named Yakub, who apparently “created” the white race.  I have never seen any documented evidence of such a person or evidence of notes, test, etc.  I am inclined to believe that the story of Yakub is nothing more than a myth that continues to endure. Followers of the NOI may feel differently and I say to each his own.  However, this theory of Yakub, forms the base of Muhammad’s arguments about the nature of the “white devils”.   Some readers will surely roll their eyes at this part of the book.

Muhammad was a very sharp thinker but it is apparent in the book, that his voice is also laced with fierce emotion.   It is almost as if you can feel him raising his voice as the book progresses.  At one point, he does bring up the issue of the black woman which I found to be interesting and mystifying considering Muhammad’s well-known philandering.  Much of it has flown under the public radar but I recommend Manning Marable’s Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention for a thorough discussion of what exactly did happen between Muhammad and the multiple secretaries he procreated with that helped cause the eventuall split with Malcolm.  I could not help but feel that it was quite hypocritical for Muhammad to preach about taking care of the black woman while stepping out on his own wife Clara Muhammad (1899-1972).

In spite of the heavy rhetoric that relies on shock value, Muhammad does make a very good argument in his belief of black people not waiting for help from anyone but instead, going out and doing.  Of all of the topics in the book, I firmly agree with him on this one in particular.   His message about self-sustainability and actual progress is spot on and can be used by anyone regardless of race. His words about changing the future of black people are still relevant today and many more people should hear this argument.  It is clear that he truly wanted the best for all black people.   However, I do not agree with his views on integration.  But again, I did not live in America in 1965 and did not experience the racism that black people faced on a daily basis.  If I had, perhaps I would agree with Muhammad.

Today we can see in hindsight that Elijah Muhammad was right about some things but wrong on others. His prediction of America meeting its doom did not come to pass.   And his argument against interracial marriage is still believed by some but interracial marriage continues to increase as more people turn to online dating and long-distance romance.  The world that he knew is far different today and will be even more different by the time I reach my senior years.  But Muhammad has his view and explains his position. It is up to the reader to accept or deny the argument.

Overall, the book is a mixed bag.  Within its pages is truth, rhetoric, religious arguments and even outlandish theories.  But Muhammad was not just an ordinary person.  The NOI remains today but its public presence is scaled down considerably.  But at one time, it was the focus of many Americans, seen as a group of black Muslims who were no longer accepting any excuses for the advancement of black people and other minorities.  These are the words of its most famous leader for audiences of all types.

ASIN: B0054R9C1M

General Reading

DonnerIn the spring of 1846, a group of settlers left home in Springfield, Illinois en route to either Oregon or California.  A popular destination for many was the City of Yerba Buena, known today as San Francisco.  By the first week of may, the party had reached Independence Missouri and soon continued on their route.  They soon learned of an apparent shortcut through what is known as the Hastings cut-off near Salt Lake City, Utah. The trail was named after Confederate General Lansford Hastings (1819-1870).  It was believed that the shortcut would eliminate as much as three hundred miles off of their trip. The group separated and eighty-seven people continued on the trail.  Instead of elminating travel time, their journey was extended by another month.   Deeply behind schedule, their provisions began to run low and winter soon set in.  By the time their ordeal was over, only forty-eight had survived.  Some managed to survive by turning to cannibalism and that act has earned them a permanent place in American pop culture.  We have come to know this group pf settlers as the Donner Party.

The book was originally published in 1880 and this Kindle version is a digital transformation to permanent preserve a book that remains invaluable. When we think of the Donner party, cannibalism typically comes to mind. However, there was far more to the story and the true tragedy of their journey is often lost during discussions of the events that took place.  So just what exactly did happen and why?  McGlashan has the full story, having done the research needed and he even conducted interviews with survivors of the tragedy.  What emerges is a full picture of what really did happen although I am sure some minute parts of the story are lost to history.

The journey west by the Donner and Reed families was typical of the era as settlers sought a new life “out west”. California was destination number even years before the gold rush of 1849.  For the Donners and Reeds, it was a chance at new opportunity far removed from the daily life in Springfield, Illinois.  As their plan picked up, the number of travelers increased until reaching a staggering ninety people.  A number of those who had joined, were not related to either family but had heard about the expedition and expressed interest.  When they set out in early 1846, none of them could have imagined the disaster that lay ahead.

The author details the tragedy as food becomes scare and a brutal winter ravages the party.  Their deaths are sobering and also tragic.  But interstingly, cannibalism plays a minor role in the tragedy in contrast to what has been portrayed in the media and in pop culture.  Nature and lack of food combined to prove the biggest obstacle to survival instead of the treat of being murdered for food.  The cannibalism comes about as a necessity similar to the experience of Nando Parrado, Roberta Canessa and the surivors of Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 as detailed in his book Miracle in the Andes: 72 Days on the Mountain and My Long Trek Home.  External factors as opposed to some internal predatory nature, are the factors behind those in each story making the decision to do the unthinkable.

Those in search of an uplifting read will be quite disappointed. However, if you choose to read about the Donner party, then I have to assume you already know something about their story.  And if so, you know every well that the traditional “happy ending” does not apply here.  Some members did survive but remained scarred by what they saw and experienced.  American history is filled with tales of finding a new life and exploring new terrority, but this book reminds us that for some, that curiousity also led them down a path from which very few have returned.  If you are interested in the Donner party and the truth about the events in 1846-1847 as a group of settlers sought refuge in a new part of the United States, this is a good read.

ASIN: B081YYH16Z

General Reading

Boyd1When I think back to my youth, I recall various automobiles that were own by my father, uncles and friends.  Their cars were American made and typically products of General Motors. Buick, Pontiac and Cadillac were the cars of choice and hardly anyone then owned a foreign car. If you owned a Cadillac, it meant status and success in the America.  Detroit  became Motor City and its dominance over the U.S. auto industry remained in place for several decades until automakers from Japan and Germany stormed into the American market.  The city has an extensive past, beginning with French explorer Antoine de Lamothe Cadillac (1658-1730) for whom the luxury automobile is named after.  In 1701, he established what is now Detroit before eventually returning to France where he lived out the rest of his days.  The evolution of Detroit is one of America’s greatest success stories and also one of its greatest tragedies.  Throughout all, its black citizens have always remained firm in their dedication to seeing Detroit become a city to be envied. Herb Boyd takes another look at his city and the role of black men and women in the development of a famed city.

Boyd starts at the beginning, when Detroit is under French rule and North America is an open plain upon which Native Americans, white settlers, slaves and the wild call home. A new nation known as the United States was established in 1776 and over the next few years, slavery was been abolished in the majority of norther states.  In 1701, Detroit entered the Union as part of Michican and although slavery was abolished, it was still practice in many parts of the country.  Detroit became a gateway to freedom as many slaves escaped into Canada before returning free men and women due to loopholes in U.S. laws at the time regarding slavery in particular fugitive slaves. The case of Peter Denison is revisited and I feel many readers will find this section regarding the methods of freedom for slaves to be quite interesting.   However, not every story has a happy ending and the racial tension discussed by the author highlights how far as a nation we have come.   In what could be called race wars, we witness episodes of violence that will send a chill down the spine of many readers.

The Civil War marked a turning point in United States History.  Thousands of African-American troops took part in the conflict but the battle for freedom was far from over.  Racism was still prevalent and slavery died a slow and agonizing death.   However, years prior to the emancipation proclamation, the abolitionist made it their goal to erase slavery from the entire United States. Boyd discusses the lives and actions of the legendary John Brown (1800-1859) and others who sought freedom through armed resistance.  Those of the more peaceful approach were responsible for the founding of the Second Baptist Church and Dunbar Hospital.  Yet they could not escape racism and Detroit would have its many ugly incidents between white and black citizens that nearly caused its destruction and will make readers wonder why humans treat each other in the ways that they do.

Similar to many American cities post-Civil War, Detroit continued to undergo significant change.  In 1914, the world went to war as Europe became ground zero.  Thirty years later a second world war began and Detroit sent some of its best which included many of its black citizens who returned home from war energized to defeat Jim Crow.  It is at this point in the book that the story picks up considerable pace and descent of Detroit into the ghost town it became takes center stage.  As Berry Gordy’s Motown Records were turning out hits, white flight was in full swing, changing the demographics of many neighborhoods which saw an increase in the number of black residents. The landscape of Detroit was being remade and the effects would reverberate for decades.

Throughout the book it seems as if Detroit is where who’s who of important figures can be found.  However, their presence is offset by the rise in violence that spared no one, including the late Rosa Parks (1913-2005) and Rev. C.L. Franklin (1915-1984).  Detroit had earned a reputation as a dangerous city that threatened all who entered.  But within its borders there were those working to change it for the better and that has never changed.  The story of former Detroit Mayor Coleman Young (1918-1997) is highlighted as well as the rise and fall of future Mayor Kwame Kilpatrick.  Despite their best efforts, the image of a violent city stuck to Detroit and the gun violence increased.  And shootings by law enforcement officers of civilians had placed Detroit at the top of the list of police related shootings in America.  The police unit STRESS, an acronym for Stop the Robberies and Enjoy Safe Streets, had become infamous and in May, 2010, the murder of  seven-year-old Aiyana Jones provided the ultimate proof of a police department in need of upheaval.

Currently, Mike Duggan serves as the Mayor of Detroit.  Time will tell if he will have ultimate success in rehabilitating a city that was once one of America’s brightest.  The bailout of the auto industry by the administration of President Barack Obama marked a low point in the history of Motor City.  It was sobering experience that taught American automakers many painful truths and showcased Detroit’s fall from the position of ruler of the U.S. auto industry.  There are many bright spots and if there is anything we can take from Boyd’s book, it is that the people of Detroit never give up and have always found ways to survive.  The future is bright for Detroit but only if all hands are on deck.  I have no doubt that they will be.   But what is imperative to remember through Boyd’s work, are the stories of the people of color who helped build the City of Detroit.  Good read.

Detroit turned out to be heaven, but it also turned out to be hell.” – Marvin Gaye (1938-1984)

ASIN: B01I9B5466

General Reading

Frida1I was in search of a quick read and saw this book which I had added previously to my list of books to buy. In my neighborhood, there is a building with a mural dedicated to Frida Kahlo (1907-1954) and as I walk past each time, I think of the fact that so many years after her death, she is still revered by millions of people both in the United States and in her native Mexico. In September, 1925, Frida was a passenger on a bus with her boyfriend Alejandro Gómez Arias. Their bus collided with a street car and left Kahlo with devastating injuries.  She suffered broken bones in several parts of her body and the accident displaced three vertebrae in her back.  She never fully recovered from the accident and was plagued with constant pain until her death on July 13, 1954.  On August 21, 1929, she married Diego Rivera (1886-1957) and accompanied him to the United States, first landing in San Francisco, while he worked as painter.  Over course of her time living in the United States and later visiting, she received medical treatment for the lingering effects of the 1925 bus accident.  She never failed to write home to her mother whom she loved deeply.  Those letters have been translated into English and are composed here to show readers the very intimate relationship between mother and daughter.

It should be noted that it is strictly Frida speaking here.  There are no letters from her mother. And it appears that Frida did most of the writing to her parents Wilhem and Matilde.  The letters are short and to the point but filled with love and sharp insight by Friday regarding her surroundings.  However, throughout the letters, her health and the couple’s earnings are always a main topic.  After leaving San Francisco, Frida and Diego later visited New York City.  Her observations are interesting and as a native New Yorker, I can say that they are not far off the mark.  She adores New York but is not blind to the many faults that one can see in America.  These words are more than eighty years old but much of what she says remains true.  Perhaps Frida knew something then that we fail to understand now.

Although the book is quite short, there is a wealth of interesting comments and thoughts presented by Frida.  She was a keen observer of people and found ways to adapt to the environment she found herself in.  Diego comes and goes during the story and the letters reveal no trace of the tension that existed during their marriage on more than one occasion.  Whether she was shielding her mother or herself we cannot say for sure.  Her mother Matilde, died on September 15, 1932, before Kahlo’s marriage to River went literally to hell and back.

I plan next to read an extensive biography of Frida  to truly understand the woman behind the fame.  Her letters have provided insight into who she was and what she believed but surely, only the tip of the iceberg.  If you like Frida Kahlo and want to know more of her personal side, these letters to her mother are exactly what you need.

ASIN: B07DT61XXR

General Reading

On 20200202_203242June 30, 1960, the Democratic Republic of the Congo was formed after fifty-two years of Belgian colonization.  Its charismatic leader, Patrice Lumumba (1925-1961), served as an inspiration and hope for the people of Congo, who wished to govern themselves and move their country into a new direction.  Less than one year later on January 17, 1961, Lumumba was executed in Katanga as a result of a coup by military colonel Joseph Mobutu (1930-1997).  The assassination and seizure of power by Mobutu, set in motion a cycle of violence that has continued for more than five decades.  Between 1994 and 2003, the conflict known as “Africa’s first world war” ravaged the country and caused the deaths of an estimated five million people.  Rebel groups continue to operate in various regions of the country, continuing the system of violence. In 2005, Anjan Sundaram was finishing his final semester at Yale University, where he graduated with a degree in advanced mathematics. After forming a friendship with a cashier, he made the decision to abandon a career in corporate American and move to the Congo, where he would ply his trade as a foreign correspondent in one of the most tumultuous places on earth.  This book titled “Stringer’ is a memoir of his time in the Congo and the many people that became a part of his life.

As the book opens, Anjam has just had his phone stolen and is trying desperately to get it back with no luck at all.  He eventually finds his host family, who are relatives of the cashier at Yale.  His dwellings are primitive by western standards and his fan soon becomes the desired object in stifling heat.  He soon learns that as the saying goes, he is not in Kansas anymore.  Kinshasa is gritty and daily life is hard without relief.   His housemates, Nana and Jose, do their best to help him along but even they have their moments that nearly push Anjan to the brink.  He soon begins to run low on money and realizes that soon desperation will set in.  At the suggestion of a friend, he offers his services a field reporter for the Associated Press. He is quickly hired and his job as a journalist soon takes him into the belly of the beast far removed from the polished campus at Yale University.

As the story moves forward, the author provides information on the Congo’s history where needed to give the reader an idea of why certain conditions currently exist.  And though he does mention Lumumba, the book is not meant to be a thorough history of the Congo.  For additional reading, I do recommend Leo Zeilig’s “Patrice Lumumba: Africa’s Lost Leader“, which is an excellent biography of the late leader.  The focus here is about what Sundaram sees and hears as he moves throughout the Congo consider by many to be parts unknown.  The scenes he describes are surreal but a reflection of the turmoil that continues to engulf the country.  The threat of death hangs over him throughout the book in the form of rebel patrols, shady cab drivers and even a touch of malaria. As I read the story, I was sure I had the same thought as many others who have read it: he must be crazy to give up a promising career to migrate to the Congo.  The author realizes his choice would be surprising to many but it is clear that his decision was based on a real desire to truly experience a conflict that remains one of the worst in modern history.

The true gift of the book is Sundaram serving as eyes and ears on the ground to show others the truth about life in the Congo.   The descriptions he gives sound like hell on earth with the lack of sanitation, devalued currency, corruption and the near total collapse of a political system.  Mock elections and the continuing cycle of dictatorship do little to inspire the people with the belief that one day their nation will embrace true democracy.  Hanging over the book is the ghost of Mobutu, whom the author discusses at several points in the book.  His grip on the country, many years after his death, is apparent all over.  It is a nightmare that replays itself as conflict rages between government forces battling insurgent rebel patrols.  Massacres, pillage and systemic murder are the tools of the trade, highlighting the prevalence of death in the Congo.  Sundaram is the Associates Press’ eyes on the ground and soon moves over to the New York Times.  As an American of Indian descent, his presence in the Congo is both the source of curiosity and hostility.  Ethnic divisions and fears of the Central Intelligence Agency’s role in Congolese affairs, result in a cloak of suspicion traveling with him everywhere he goes.  On more than one occasion, his admission to being a “reporter” is the source of agitation to those who prefer to operate in secrecy.

Undoubtedly, there is more to the Congo story than what it presented here.  And while I would have liked the book to have gone just a little longer to see how Sundaram eventually leaves the Congo for good, the story stands on its own merits. It is a very profound account of life in the Congo, where nothing is guaranteed.  Life is expendable and democracy is reduced to a catchphrase.  The reality is painstakingly explained here in an account that will open the eyes of many who are only vaguely familiar with the country that had the potential to set a new course for the continent of Africa.  Good read.

ISBN-10: 0385537751
ISBN-13: 978-0385537759

General Reading

20200118_220256President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963) is known primarily from his time in the White House and untimely death but many forget that he was also an accomplished writer.  In the well-received “A Nation of Immigrants“,  he gives his take on how immigration built the nation known as America.  Images of Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty will surely come to the minds of readers who decided to read Kennedy’s work.  However, there is more to the immigrant story in America and often forgotten are the many other groups who have emigrated to the land of opportunity.  Roger Daniels decided to take a further look into the Chinese and Japanese experience in America and what he found may surprise many of us.

The story begins in 1849 as California becomes ground zero for the gold rush.   We learn right away that over 300,000 Chinese came to America to work in mines and in other trades, such as building cross-continental railroads.  By 1882, the gold rush was over, the railroads had been nearly completed and hundreds of thousands of Chinese now found themselves out of work.  They were far away from China in a new country that did not rush to embrace them. In fact, what happened after the gold rush opened my eyes to the Asian experience in America and revealed many dark parts of American history.

This book could easily be added as required reading in high school classroom and in a college syllabus.  It reads like a textbook but the exception is that is has not been heavily sanitized. Daniels had no intention of sugar coating anything and the facts that are presented here are beyond sobering. Paranoia, suspicion and fear of a “yellow invasion”, gave birth to some of the most discriminatory laws passed in United States history.   Beginning with the ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1870 and the later Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the anti-Chinese movement gained in momentum and threatened the very existence of Chinese-Americans. Similarly, Japanese immigrants who arrived to America by way of Hawaii, soon found that their new home was not so welcoming.  The anti-Chinese movement soon became part of larger anti-Asian sentiment spreading across the United States.  And contrary to what we may think about Asian immigration, the Pacific played an even more important role than the Atlantic.  Exactly how is explained in detail by Daniels.

As the world found itself embroiled in two world wars, the Chinese and Japanese in America were struggling simply for recognition as human beings.  California remained the battle ground in the struggle between natives and new immigrants from the Far East.  San Francisco was the scene of some of the most absurd moments in the book and will cause readers today to wonder at how such inhumane treatment of others  was tolerated and endorsed in the late 1800s into the early 1900s.  The Alien Land Act of 1913 is a prime example of  some of the draconian laws passed to disenfranchise America’s Asian citizens.  However, in spite of outright racist treatment and propaganda, the Chinese and Japanese remained firm in their belief of the American dream.  World War II became the moment where life for the Japanese in America was turned upside down and would test the patriotism of even the most ardent believers in the United States.

The book is not a full examination of the Japanese internment in camps during the war. However, Daniels does a thorough job of explaining how the program developed, what President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1882-1945) knew and the effect it had on the Japanese mindset both during and following the war.  High focused is placed on the Japanese American Citizens League, which played an integral role in the affairs of Japanese Americans in many ways, some of which will surprise some.  However, its importance cannot be understated.  What I did find to be mind-boggling was that the U.S. Military never had a deep suspicion on a whole of Japanese Americans taking up arms in defense of Toyko, but the media and politicians clearly had a different agenda.

Today, the treatment revealed in the book would cause shock and outrage.  I have many friends whose families originate throughout Asia.  They are as American as I am but the thought of legislation being passed to bar them from citizenship, prevent them from assimilating in society or to prevent them from even entering the country,  is beyond horrifying.   However, this was the reality for thousands of Chinese and Japanese in the United States before the passage of civil rights bills and Supreme Court decisions that struck down bans of segregation and interracial marriage.  America has come a long way but there is still work to be done.

While reading Daniel’s words, I could not help but to feel that some of the divisive rhetoric employed by politicians then is also heard now.  Fears of “invasion” and “threats to our way of life” permeated beliefs in the 1800s and 1900s, resulting in regrettable treatment of Chinese and Japanese Americans.  And in some cases, that rhetoric proved to be deadly.  That same danger exist today.  If we are to continue to move forward, then we must remember that less than one hundred and fifty years ago, anyone who was not White Anglo-Saxon Protestant, found that life in America was a contradiction to the belief that all men are created equal.  If we fail to remember the past, we are doomed to repeat it. I truly hope we do not.  Roger Daniels has given us a guide to study and learn from so that we do make the same mistakes. Highly recommended.

ISBN-10: 0295970189
ISBN-13: 978-0295970189

General Reading

20200118_133748When I saw this book on Amazon, I was a skeptical as to what I found find inside of it. However, the nearly five star reviews convinced me to inspect it a bit further.  I took the plunge and ordered it to see exactly what Shelby Steele had to say about race, a topic that continues to either unite or divide people in America.  The phrase “content of our character” is known to many of us.  It was the pivotal moment of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s (1929-1968) “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 1963.  Fifty-seven years have passed since that monumental moment in American history and the question remains, do we judge each other on the content of our character? Further, have we progressed as a society or is America still the same place it was when Jim Crow made life miserable for millions of black Americans and others who emigrated to the United States in search of opportunity?

The book was published in 1991, making it twenty-nine years old. At first, I wondered if the material would have any relevance to current day America.  To my surprise and satisfaction, Shelby’s message is still relevant today.  He does not place blame on white Americans or absolve them of guilt or responsibility for America’s past sins. Instead, his focus is on black America and the message he conveys is an attempt to introduce a different dialogue about race.  Skeptics will be tempted to write him off as someone who has animosity towards his own upbringing. That is not the case and at no point in the book does Steele express any type of regret or dissatisfaction about his own ethnicity. His goal is to show that American has progressed when it comes to race and for black Americans to truly live the American dream, there are things that have to change. First and foremost is the role race plays in all of our lives for better or worse.

As I read through the book, I could not help but to think of John McWhorten’s “Losing the Race: Self Sabotage in Black America“, which explores some of the same issues as Steele does here. In fact, McWhorten references Steele on several occasions as he discusses the concepts of victimology, separatism and anti-intellectualism.  Steeled does focus on each but does not distinctly define them as McWhorten does.  His discussion about an identity formed out of being a victim stands out as an observation that warrants much further discussion and is exactly what McWhorten believes in his equally moving book.

By his own admission, Steel is what would be considered to be middle class.  He is successful but not extremely wealthy, a father of children he loves and in what will be a surprise to some, married to a white woman.  However, he cannot and does not refute his race and explains the tightrope that black middle class Americans walk on daily.  As a black American, I firmly believe that education is key to moving up in life and pursuing values that will help me to assimilate into mainstream America.  Yet should I also accept and embody the concept that no matter what I do, I am still regulated to a lower standard of living because my skin is dark?  That is the question black Americans will find themselves confronted with while reading this book.  Today, there are black CEOs, governors, attorney generals, vice-presidents, movie stars, pilots, etc.   Steele believes that black Americans have and continue to advance in society.  And while he does not ignore the fact that racism exist, our successes and failures cannot always be attributed to it.

Of course, there is the elephant in the room in the form of affirmative action, a subject that almost always results in heated discussion. Steele does not shy away from the matter and his words are similar to McWhorten’s beliefs as well.  The idea behind affirmative action was rooted in the right principles.  However, moving forward decades later, does it hurt black people more than it helps? Further, by accepting someone with lower qualifications solely on the basis of their race, do we inadvertently discriminate against others well qualified on the basis of their skin being white? Surely, the question does not have a simple answer but I do believe, as do Steel and McWhorten, that the system of affirmative action needs to be reevaluated to see if in fact, it has really made the change that it was intended to be.

By no means does Steele provide the final word on the subject of race. As we all know, discrimination still exist. But I do think the material is gold and provides a wealth of food for thought with regards to race and the advancement of black Americans.  Former President Barack Obama ran his campaign on a simple slogan, “yes we can”.   I believe as does Steele, that black Americans can and will succeed but only after accepting hard truths that can reshape our minds and provide a new vision for long term success.  And as we move forward, we shall seek to be judged solely on the content of our character.

ISBN-10: 006097415X
ISBN-13: 978-0060974152

General Reading

marcuaurelius1 I decided to change gears and take a look at the former Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius (121 AD – 180 AD) who is known for the classic work ‘Meditations’.  During his reign he earned a reputation as a stoic philosopher and this book is a collection of 12 of his works taken throughout his life that highlight some of his most inner thoughts with regards to his fellow man, life and the gods.  This translation was completed by the late classical scholar George Long (1800-1879).  I cannot comment on the accuracy compared to the original work but the book did receive high ratings by other readers.  Putting that aside, I did find the book to be a very thought provoking read and a nice break from my usual regimen of historical non-fiction.

The book is short, slightly over one hundred pages, but contained within it, are very deep thoughts by an emperor seeking to improve himself and those around him.  As I read through the book, I found many of his observations about humans to be thought-provoking.   Some might argue that the material is dated and in today’s world, there is much about life that is far different. That is a valid point but surprisingly, I felt that much of what he says can be applied to life even today.   By no means is it the ultimate guide on how to live life. Instead, it is a collection of the personal thoughts of a man who once controlled one of the largest empires in history.

The language might throw some readers off a little.  It is English but not standard current day English that one would expect. In fact, there are words that are either no longer used or found in older version of the English language.  In spite of that, I was able to read the book with no problem and the points that he makes will not be lost on the reader.  His thoughts never ramble and he presents them with clarity making it easy for the reader to follow along.  At the time it was written, I do not know if Aurelius could have imagined that his words would have survived to the year 2019.

His words are wise and almost prophetic, and they showcase his intellect and ability for introspection, an action which all of us take at different times in our lives.   The result here is a new found wisdom that can be used as we mature in life and come to understand our place in the world.  And while there are no words here that are groundbreaking, I do believe that anyone who decides to read this book can take something from it.

ASIN: B07N1VD2VR

General Reading

lombard Aviation is truly one of the world’s modern marvels.  To say that it has made the world smaller is an understatement.  There is something mystical and surreal about moving through the air at 39,000 feet, at speeds in excess of 500mph.  Every flyer knows that there are inherent dangers when we take to the skies.  Pilots are incredibly skilled and make the experience seem like magic to those of us in the cabin.  And air travel is safer today that at any point in history but there many tragedies over the years that we have learned from in order to make air travel as safe as possible.  Seasoned pilots will tell you that the early days of aviation were quite dangerous and flying literally was like rolling the dice. On January 16, 1942, movie star Carole Lombard (1908-1942) was a passenger on TWA Flight 3, a flight that began in New York and had a final destination of Burbank, California.  Most of the trip was routine, but a sudden change of events in Las Vegas, changed the course of history and resulted in one of the deadliest aviation accidents of the 1940s.  Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed full speed into Mt. Potosi, causing the aircraft to disintegrate upon impact.  There were no survivors.

The official cause of the disaster is still a mystery.  At the time, flight data recorders and cockpit voice recorders did not exist in the form that they do now. The pilot, Wayne Clark Williams and co-pilot Stillman-Morgan Atherton Gillette, took what they knew with them to the grave.  For decades, the case remained dormant but author Robert Matzen brings the past back to life in this gripping account of the life of Carole Lombard, her husband and legendary film star William Clark Gable (1901-1960) and the plane crash that shocked a nation.  Matzen has visited the crash site which is still littered with debris and other grisly finds.  He has reviewed thousand of pages of records including FBI files and official investigation records by the Civil Aeronautics Board (1939-1985). And what he has compiled is a thorough investigative report into the accident that rob Hollywood of one of its brightest stars.

Flight 3’s demise of the crux of the book but the author also tells the story of Lombard’s life, from her humble beginnings in Fort Wayne, Indiana to her success in Hollywood during the golden age.  Matzen leaves no stone unearthed, revealing the very private side of Lombard’s life, replete with romances, tragedy and and a near-death experience many years before she met her fate on Flight 3.   The author captures the aura of the golden era in Hollywood, a time unlike anything the world had seen previously.  Some of the greatest names in Hollywood history appear in the story, coming into and going out of Lombard’s life as she moves through Hollywood’s upper echelon.  She eventually crossed paths with Gable and Matzen provides an inside look into their marriage and the changes that took place in their lives after tying the knot.  Hollywood has dark secrets and stars sometimes come with many shortcomings carefully guarded behind a thoughtfully crafted facade.  Matzen looks past that showing the very human side of both.  The result is an honest an intimate portrait of two stars at the height of their careers whose relationship was on borrowed time.

Matzen wrote the book in a slightly different style.  In the first half of the book, the chapters alternate between Lombard’s life story and the reaction to the crash itself.  Towards the middle of the book, the seam is merged and the story moves forward as emergency personnel formulate plans to visit the crash site and recover what they can.  Readers sensitive to graphic descriptions of accidents may find this part of the book difficult to get through.  The accident was nothing short of devastating.  As Matzen explained the violent nature of the collision, I felt a chill go down my spine.  I was also speechless as I read descriptions of the carnage that awaited personnel as they made their way to the crash site.  At the end of the book, there are photographs included which help to give the reader a visual image of the crash site.  Pictures sometimes do speak a thousand words.

Clark Gable remains one of Hollywood’s most iconic stars.  But what the public did not see was the struggle he waged in the wake of his wife’s death.  Matzen discusses Gable’s life after the crash and up until his death in 1960 at the age of fifty-nine.  Apart from the crash, this part of the book is also a tough read.  We witness the emotional and physical descent by Gable as he struggles to move on in life following the loss of Lombard whom he affectionately referred to as “Ma”.  His sorrow is strong and his life was never the same again. The author focuses on his emotional state and his surprising decision to enlist in the military during World War II.  Gable is a man apart and fans of the late star will find this part of the book to be equally heartbreaking.

As the book moves towards its conclusion, the author gives us yet another surprise with regards to the crash of Flight 2793 on November 8, 2007.  The Cessna was a T182t single-engine aircraft piloted by Civil Air Patrol. Col. Ed Lewis and copilot Dion DeCamp.  Shortly after takeoff, the plane crashed directly into the same mountain as TWA Flight 3.  The coincidence was beyond creepy but did both flights crash for the same reason?  And why did two planes, piloted by experienced captains slam full speed into a mountain that by all accounts, should have been seen?  Matzen provides a very thorough and likely explanation for Flight 3’s crash and reveals interesting facts about 2793’s final moments. Perhaps the final truth will never be known about each flight but we do have an abundance of information about both crashes.  They each highlight the dangers of flying at night without proper visual aids and pre-flight planning.  May the souls on board of each rest in peace.

Before reading this book, I was not aware of Flight 3 and the sad ending to the life of Carole Lombard.   The book came as a recommendation on Amazon and for some reason the cover pulled me in.  It was truly a fascinating read and the pace of the book never let up.  Matzen has done an outstanding job. Highly recommended.

If you want to learn more about TWA Flight 3, researcher Mike McComb has an informative post on the tragedy titled January 16, 1942: Transcontinental & Western Air (TWA), Douglas DC-3 (NC1946) Potosi Mountain, NV.  The post includes more photographs of Mt. Potosi, the crew and some of the passengers.  If you like this book, you will find the website to be highly informative and just as thought provoking as Matzen’s work.

ASIN: B01NCTWGWK

General Reading