Category Archives: Historical Account
This past Saturday was the fifty-fourth anniversary of the death of the late American playwright and author Lorraine Vivian Hansberry (1930-1965). Her untimely death at the age of thirty-four silenced one of literature’s greatest voices. However, more than fifty years after her death, her masterpiece, A Raisin In the Sun, continues draw audiences curious to learn why the play is one of the longest running on Broadway. I personally attended a run starring Denzel Washington and his portrayal as Walter Lee Younger is as good as the original performance by the legendary Sidney Poitier. For some, Hansberry remains a bit of a mystery. and a throwback to an era long past. The younger generation of today largely have yet to discover her genius and her influence on the African-American experience. And what many of them are unaware of is that five decades ago, she was a voice advocating for the many freedoms they have today. Sadly, it has taken many years for her to be recognized for the gifted writer that she was. As we come to know her work more intimately, we must ask ourselves, who was the real Lorraine Hansberry? Imani Perry searched for and found her in this semi-autobiography and psychoanalysis. The book is an examination of Lorraine’s thoughts and writings while also adding recollections of historical events filled with larger than life figures who are no longer with us today. But make no mistake, this is about Lorraine, the woman who changed Broadway.
Before I started the book, I was not sure what to expect. I had previously read a biography of Hansberry, Young, Black and Determined: A Biography of Lorraine Hansberry, by Patricia C. McKissack and Fredrick L. McKissack and Lorraine’s published works. Surprisingly, this book takes a completely different approach in revisiting Hansberry’s life. The author does follow her life from beginning to end like a standard biography but where the book takes its own path is in the author’s excellent analysis of who Hansberry while breaking down each part of her life so that we may unravel the complicated layers that composed the dynamic figure. And like most popular figures gifted with talent, her life was anything but ordinary.
If you are expecting this book to read like a standard biography, this is not the case. In fact, things get very psychological as we step deep inside Lorraine’s mind to understand how she came to view the world she lived in. Jim Crow, Communism, homophobia and Vietnam were just some of the many topics she felt so passionately about. Her words were sharp, cutting right to the heart of the matter and her point was made, always unapologetic. Today she is viewed as a pioneer and visionary, but in her era, she was viewed as a radical who even attracted the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). But such was the character of Lorraine Hansberry, afraid of no one and nothing. Perry captures her fierceness and determination with a haunting accuracy that caused me to feel as if Lorraine was alive and speaking directly to me. In addition, throughout the book, I could not help but feel a strong sense of loss over the death of Hansberry, a woman who died many years before my birth. But those feelings are a testament to her gift and legacy which continues to thrive.
There is one subject in the book that I feel deserves special mention. For many years, rumors have persisted about Hansberry’s sexuality. We know that she was once married to Robert Nemiroff (1929-1991), who worked dutifully to preserve her legacy all the way up until his final days. But from Perry’s research and Lorraine’s own words, I believe the rumors can be put to rest once and for all as her true feelings are clearly shown. Fittingly, Hansberry’s sexuality is a key component to her work and the story at hand. Perry handle the subject perfectly, making sure not to let it dominate the story or detract from it. And that is one of the true hallmarks of a good biographer.
To say that Hansberry’s life was eventful is an understatement. This is her life, a story filled with love, civil rights, fame, loneliness and tragedy. She was far from simple and it is clear that from everyone that knew her, she was unique and one of those rare people who come into your life and change it forever. It is my sincere hope that more young men and women continue to discover her work and learn about her life. For Black-Americans, she is sometimes a forgotten voice in a power movement that changed the United States and countries around the world. If you have the time, take a journey with Imani Perry and go looking for Lorraine.
June 5, 1968 – Senator Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) (D-New York) concludes his speech at the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles, California after scoring a critical primary victory in his quest for the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. As he walked through the pantry while exiting the hotel, he was shot and mortally wounded. Twenty-six hours later in the early morning hours of June 6, 1968, his life and the dream he inspired came to a tragic conclusion. He is survived by his widow Ethel and eleven children, the youngest of whom was born after his death. Her name is Kerry Kennedy and along with brother Robert, Jr., she keeps her father’s memory alive and well. Her book Robert F. Kennedy: Ripples of Hope: Kerry Kennedy in Conversation with Heads of State, Business Leaders, Influencers, and Activists about Her Father’s Impact on Their Live is a fitting tribute to her late father’s life and is yet another testament to the profound influence he had on those who knew him and even those who never met him. His alleged murderer Sirhan Sirhan, remains incarcerated at the Richard J. Donovan Correctional Facility in San Diego County, California. The official narrative paints a picture of Sirhan being a deranged lunatic determined to murder Kennedy at all costs. He was initially sentenced to life in prison after his conviction but several years later, his sentence was commuted to life. In the eyes of many, he is the man who killed Kennedy in an open and shut case. But there have always been questions surrounding Sirhan’s actions that night that cause many to pause before proclaiming his guilt. Did Sirhan Sirhan really act alone and did he fire the shots that took Kennedy’s life?
Tim Tate and Brad Johnson have taken another look at one of America’s most tragic murders fifty years after Kennedy gave his last speech, examining the crime from start to finish. And in the process they have raised many questions which have never been answered by the Los Angeles Police Department (“LAPD”) or the State of California. In fact, what we can see very clearly, is an investigation full of missteps, inaction and disturbingly, outright deceit by law enforcement. The investigation became a mixture of destruction of evidence, stonewalling and witness intimidation as the LAPD focused its attention on Sirhan with the intention of convicting him at all costs. But as Tate and Johnson show, there were many reason to doubt Sirhan’s guilt and proof that more than one gunman was in the pantry area that night. While they do not provide a smoking gun as to who the shooter may be, they do establish that there was more that occurred that night than police were willing to admit. And Sirhan may not have been the person he has been portrayed to be. We know that he did discharge a gun that night, but the authors have given reasons to believe here, that none of his bullets struck Kennedy.
As I read through the book, at times I could not believe my eyes. Similar to the murder of John F. Kennedy (1917-1963), Bobby’s death became shrouded in controversy as rumors swirled of a conspiracy. At the center of the many conspiracies is the infamous woman in the polka dot dress. The authors examine her role in the matter and give a strong explanation regarding her possible identity. Readers curious about the mystery woman will find Fernando Faura’s The Polka Dot File on the Robert Kennedy Killing: Paris Peace Talks Connection a good read regarding this infamous figure who official remains unidentified and ignored by supporters of Sirhan’s guilt. However, the authors have shown that not only did multiple witnesses see the woman, some had personal encounters with her, including Sandra Serrano, a worker in Kennedy’s campaign. Her experience with LAPD investigators is one of the most bizarre parts of the story but also reveals an important clue about the department’s motives in streamlining the investigation. We may never know who the woman in the polka dot dress is or was, but what is clear is that she was not a figment of anyone’s imagination.
Previously, I had read material on Kennedy’s murder but this assessment of the assassination, revealed many things which I did not have prior knowledge of. Sirhan’s trial was an easy win for prosecutors as they successful painted Sirhan with the image of a lone gunman with a deadly fixation on Kennedy. As the shadow of Dallas hung over the trial, authorities made sure Sirhan was tried and convicted as expeditiously as possible. However, there was one aspect of the trial that no one could completely put to rest which would come back to haunt the case until this very day. Sirhan’s claim of having no memory of the shooting was at first dismissed but as the authors show, there was and is strong evidence to support this theory. And at this point in the book, the story kicks into high gear as a cast of characters appear including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). And we are forced to ask, was Sirhan a “Manchurian Candidate”? To some, the idea sounds like another crack pot theory. But as Tate and Johnson show, the CIA actively engaged in mind control through several different programs it admitted to conducting, the most well-known being MK ULTRA. I would like to stress the fact that the authors never claim to have a smoking gun regarding Kennedy’s death. However, they do succeed in providing ample evidence provides a strong basis for a new investigation into the murder of Robert Francis Kennedy.
If you are curious about Kennedy’s murder or have studied it previously, then this book is a must have. To say it is mind-blowing is an understatement. The authors pull no punches, leaving the reader with chills as they show the side of the investigation police never intended for the public to see. Highly recommended.
The Declaration of Independence of the then Thirteen States of America, is often looked upon as inspiration for what liberty truly means. The second paragraph drives home the point with the following words: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” The words, when taken at face value, give off the impression of a country in which one can truly be free. But we very well know through history, that the opposite has been true, millions of people, in particular Black Americans have had to endure a long and hard struggle to achieve equality in the United States. Two weeks from today, America remembers the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1929-1968) and his view for a United States in which its citizens were truly united. Great strides have been made since Dr. King’s death, but by no means should his legacy be forgotten. Congressman John Lewis (D-Atlanta) was a close associate of Dr. King’s and today he is one of the remaining figures from the Civil Rights Movement. Many of his peers are deceased but today at seventy-eight years of age, he is still serving in the U.S. House of Representatives continuing to fight for what he believes is the direction to the move the United States forward. At first glance he is unassuming but if you study his life and words closer, you will soon learn that this remarkable figure has an extraordinary story to tell about his participation in the movement for racial equality.
When we think of the Civil Rights Movement, John Lewis is typically not the first figure many would have in mind. With his short stature and plain image, he appears to be the loving grandfather on the neighborhood block rather than the activist he was and still is. But just how did a young kid from the country in Georgia go on to be a pivotal figure in the movement that changed America? The answer to that question and many others about Lewis’ life are contained within the pages of this autobiography that is sure to leave the reading asking for more. In fact, I found it increasing difficult to stop reading the book once I had started. With Lewis’ easy-flowing narrative and endless anecdotes about himself and some of the most legendary figures America has ever seen, the book transplants the reader back in time to witness how a cause became a national and world-wide struggle against discrimination.
One of the things that I found likeable about the book is Lewis’ openness about his own shortcomings. He never portrays himself to be above anyone or all-knowing. In fact, he easily recalls the times in which he was lacking in knowledge, overcome with fear of his opponents and reluctance to partake in the cut-throat world of politics. Quite frankly, he has walked the walk and talked the talk, risking his life in sit-ins, marches and voter registration drivers in the deep American south, culminating with the showdown with the virulent racist Sheriff of Dallas County, Alabama, Jim Clark. (1922-2007). In fact, the events Lewis recalls, are also discussed in the book by another of his close associates, Ralph David Abernathy (1926-1990). His autobiography and memoir of the movement was appropriately titled And the Walls Came Tumbling Down . Both authors played an important part in those events and do not fail to explain in full detail how they developed and why they were important. I highly recommend that book as a complement to Lewis’ story.
Similar to Abernathy’s book, King is a critical character in the story and both authors show how important King was to the movement at hand. What is also revealed, particularly here is the complicated power struggles within the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). Infighting, jealously and egos all play their parts in the story revealing the sometimes fragile relationships at the base of the movement. Misogyny, homophobia and even racism against White Americans became the tools that turned the SCLC into a shell of its former self. The assassinations of the 1960s convinced many that nothing could ever be the same again. Lewis addresses all of them and his relationship to several of the late figures. Students of the movement will recall that Lewis eventually became part of the campaign by Robert F. Kennedy (1925-1968) for President of the United States. His memories of Kennedy are touching and is yet another example of the extreme sense of loss that following in the wakes of the assassinations that became all to common in the turbulent 1960s.
Today it is nearly impossible for youths to imagine what life was like for Black Americans during Jim Crow and later, even as President Lyndon B. Johnson (1908-1973) pushed forward an earth-shattering civil rights bill. As Lewis puts it, raw fear was a daily reality in a time where social justice warriors sometimes died early deaths and authorities used every trick in the book to maintain a strict social structure of power. His ability to fair in the book and examine every situation from all sides has earned him followers and detractors but here, Lewis explains himself, leaving it up to the reader to digest his words and perhaps use them in a positive way. What I found equally important as the story at hand is his messages to Black Americans as well. Change in society must come from all places, and only then can a nation truly move forward. John Lewis has spent the majority of his life fighting for equality on behalf of those who sometimes have no other voice. His eyes have seen some of the most important events in history and he is a living testament to the strong character common to his peers who became world-respected figures in their own right.
If you are looking for a good read about the Civil Rights Movement, this is a fine place to start where you can follow John Lewis as he is walking with the wind.
It is difficult to put into words, the polarizing effect of the trial of O.J. Simpson had on America. The ugly history of racism took center stage as lead attorney Johnnie Cochran (1937-2005) formed a defense based on it and the prosecution under the guidance of lead attorney Marcia Clark, sought to exclude it. The crime was beyond brutal and contained a level of savagery that caused a twitch even in the most hardened of stomachs. Photos of the crime scene are available on the internet in all of their shocking and gory details. I vividly recall the car chase that played out on the television screen as the Los Angeles Police Department followed Simpson’s white Ford Bronco. The truck later became fodder for parody but at the time, caused bewilderment as everyone wondered where on earth Simpson could be going. When he was acquitted of murder, loud cheers could be heard throughout the school. To many of us, it seemed unfathomable that Simpson, the gridiron great could have committed such a heinous crime. Further, the L.A. Riots remained fresh on our minds and the video footage of the beating of Rodney King, a reminder of the fragile co-existence between the police and Black communities across the country. To some, the justice system had worked and we knew O.J. was innocent. Or did we? Were we assuming his innocence based on his skin color and our need for a hero? Or was it, as some believed, a chance to “get even” with the system? The trial was many things but above all it was surreal.
The moment when Simpson was asked to try on the gloves found at the scene, is among the most intense in television history. Cochran’s famous line “if it doesn’t fit, you must acquit”, has become a classic catch phrase that instantly recalls memories of the trial. For prosecutor Christopher Darden, it was a pivotal moment in the case that changed the course of the trial. Legal experts thought it was a mistake. Even Darden’s own team had wanted to stay clear of it, but the seasoned prosecutor held to his belief that it would happen at some point and there was only one way to be sure. After the trial, he slowly faded out the public light but has continued to serve the county of Los Angeles as a dedicated prosecutor. Initially, he had resisted writing a book but slowly came to terms with the fact that he did have a story to tell, one that is just as important as co-counsel Marcia Clark’s “Without a Doubt” . And this is Darden’s show, he is here not only to talk about O.J. Simpson, but about his private life which many people had very little knowledge of.
The book begins as an autobiography as Darden goes back to his childhood in the town of Richmond, California as the fourth child out of a total of eight children. From an early age, he forms a tight bond with his late brother Michael and the two quickly become known as trouble. In fact, some of Darden’s revelations regarding his youth might cause the reader to wonder how he became a star prosecutor. The answer is here and Darden minces no words about his many mishaps and errors in judgment as a youth and even as an adult. Bu throughout the book, he remains focused on the story at hand, never letting the pace slow down and bore the reader. His story picks up pace from the moment it begins and keeps building momentum. Darden finds his calling in law, working his way through law school while becoming a father and learning about life in ways he could have never expected. And his career as a prosecutor might have remained the way it was if not for the grisly murders of Nicole Brown Simpson (1959-1994) and Ronald Goldman (1968-1994).
As Darden explains, he had a feeling he would become part of the O.J. trial and he was right, except he could not have foreseen just how involved he would be. From the moment jury selection begins, it is clear that this trial will be one for the ages but Darden is not one to back down and as we follow him back in time to revisit the past, we are able to see the case from another angle, that of the man known as the “African-American prosecutor”. Cochran would throw the race card into every angle the case and the introduction of notorious detective Mark Fuhrman would ultimately prove to be one of the nails in the prosecution’s coffin. In fact, the battle of race, would pit Cochran and Darden against each other with both receiving death threats. Like a master narrator, Darden goes over what went right in the trial and what went horribly wrong. Further, he explains how and why many decisions were made even in the face of clear adversity. But he is a dedicated prosecutor who believes in the wheels of justice. However, in a trial inflamed by race, the L.A. Riots, fame, domestic violence and distrust of the California legal system, those wheels would turn in much different ways. For Darden, it was the time in his life where he was always in contempt. This is a cold hard look at one of the most notorious and important trials in American history.
December 10 will mark twelve years since Augusto José Ramón Pinochet Ugarte (1915-2006) died from the effects of a heart attack in his native Chile. For many Chileans, he is the epitome of evil and a ruthless tyrant whose regime persecuted thousands of citizens, many of whom were “disappeared”. He also has his supporters, known simply as “pinochetistas”. His rise to power after the CIA- backed coup that overthrew the government of Salvador Allende (1908-1973), resulted in a new level of human rights violations across Latin America. Allende’s removal and death has become known as the other September 11th and a day that no Chilean can ever forget.
Washington’s involvement in the coup and the destabilization of Chilean politics was initially kept hidden from the American Public through the efforts of President Richard M. Nixon (1913-1994) and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger (b. 1923). The true story of the Nixon Administration’s interference in Chile might have remained a carefully guarded secret if not for the efforts of famed reporter Seymour Hersh who broke the story of what was known as Track II and the CIA efforts to bring down Allende’s government, through a published article in the New York Times. But what Hersh did not know at the time, was that the relationship between Washington and Pinochet was much darker and uglier than anyone could have imagined. It is here in this look at the Pinochet file, that author Peter Kornbluh goes deep inside the story of what became Chile’s worst nightmare.
I warn the reader that this a book you will not want to put down once you have started. From the beginning, it pulls the reader in with an iron grip as Kornbluh opens our eyes to what really happened in the 1970s as Chile was on the verge of taking a different course from the one approved of in Washington. As an American citizen, I found myself overcome with a range of emotions from shock to anger and eventually regret. Declassified documents serve as the backbone of the book and what is contained in those files is simply astonishing. As a nice supplement, Kornbluh includes copies of the documents for the reader’s reference. Some readers, particularly Americans, may find the story hard to believe at first. But I assure you that this is not fiction. Similar to Jacobo Arbenz (1913-1971) and Mohammed Mossadegh (1882-1967), Allende found himself on the wrong side of Washington foreign policy as he embraced a left-leaning government, believed by many to be a possible pawn of the Soviet Union. The beliefs were unfounded but the suspicion was enough for the Nixon Administration to set in motion, a deadly chain of events that gave rise to one of Latin America’s worst dictators.
In a cruel twist of fate, the rise of Pinochet and its aftermath was not confined to Chile. Other rulers seeking to emulate Pinochet’s style, began their own campaigns of oppression and through the Pinochet inspired “Operation Condor”, they would embark on a campaign of extermination of exiled citizens designated as “Enemies of the State”. The wave of terror spread across several continents including the United States, culminating with the assassination of Orlando Letelier (1932-1976) on September 21, 1976. The attack also claimed the life of Ronni Karpen Moffitt (1951-1976), the wife of Letelier´s assistant, Michael. The attack in broad daylight, sent shock waves around the world causing anger and outrage across the nation. Operation Condor had reached American soil but the U.S. Government´s response is one of the darkest moments in its history with Chile. There is far more to the story of Operation Condor and Kornbluh does a masterful job of explaining it, in all its mind-blowing detail.
Kornbluh takes us on a carefully guided timeline from start to finish where we witness the downfall of the Pinochet regime. On October 5, 1988, Patricio Aylwin (1918-2016) was elected the next leader of Chile in a landslide victory after U.S. Officials warned Pinochet not to interfere. Aylwin served four years and was succeeded by Eduardo Frei Ruiz-Tagle. Although out of office, Pinochet still maintained a presence in Chilean politics. But as Washington threw its support behind the newly elected government, Pinochet’s star began to fade and while in London recuperating from back surgery, he was arrested by British Agents and held for over a year before being returned to Chile where he was indicted more than a dozen times for a multitude of crimes. At the time of his death, convictions and imprisonment loomed on the horizon and his departure allowed him to escape justice. But his dark legacy remains a reminder to Chileans of a past which should never return.
This book is simply incredible and the amount of research that went into is nothing short of monumental. Kornbluh has given us a gift that will continue to give as more learn about a ruler that controlled a country with an iron fist used in conjunction with murder, arrests and other acts of violence. They will learn about the many American citizens in Chile, also murdered at the hands of the Pinochet regime and their own government’s inaction and indifference. For the families of Charles Horman, Boris Weisfeiler and Frank Teruggi, Pinochet escaped the fate that laid before him. But their efforts and help with this book have resulted in the full story of his murderous reign. The Chilean government long denied any involvement in Operation Condor, Letelier’s murder and other deaths that occurred as Pinochet expanded his power and used the Dirección de Inteligencia Nacional (DINA), under the rule of the infamous Manuel Contreras (1929-2015), as his own personal group of enforcers. But as we now know and can see here with our own eyes, there was far more than meets the eye. Pinochet had support from many places and some of them will certainly surprise the reader. I firmly believe that every American should read this book, to understand what was done in the name of our country and why it should never happen again.
If you find that you enjoy this book, I highly recommend Pamela A. Constable and Arturo Valenzeula’s “A Nation of Enemies: Chile Under Pinochet“.
On June 25, 1950, 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army marched across the 38th Parallel and into the Republic of South Korea. In the wake of World War II, the country had been split between the Communist North under Kim Il-Sung (1912-1994) and the Democratic South under Syngman Rhee (1875-1965). The 38th Parallel served as the demilitarized zone between the two nations and remains in place to this day. In response to the growing North Korean advance, South Korean Troops with the assistance of the United Nations and the Unite States, mounted a counter-offensive to repel the invasion. As a tactical measure, President Harry S. Truman (1884-1972), appointed Gen. Douglas McArthur (1880-1964), to lead the resistance against the communist advance. As the conflict unfolded, Korea became ground zero in the struggle for peace and a pawn in the brewing Cold War between the United States and Soviet Union.
The North Korean advanced surprised the South but the tide of the war was soon turned as American troops marched on and captured Pyongyang. To all it seemed as if the conflict would soon be over and for Syngman Rhee, it appeared that his dream of reunification would come to pass. However, in October, 1950, all of that changed as the Chinese People’s Liberation Army crossed the Yalu River, lending their support to North Korean troops. In Washington, alarm bells sounded and it soon became known and accepted that the Korean War would not a “short” conflict. Instead, the war nearly turned into World War III and the world found itself on edge wondering if the United States would once again use an atomic weapon. Behind the scenes, Washington was doing its best to remain calm while avoiding another world conflict while its top commander in field was doing the opposite. This their story, told beautifully by H.W. Brands in this book that it sure to leave you astounded.
Truman, largely unpopular across the country, finds himself at odds with the most popular general in America. To the public, McArthur was a legendary figure beyond reproach, committed to the safety of the United States at home and around the world. To the White House, he was a rogue soldier, interfering in foreign policy and possibly providing the spark that would ignite the next world conflict through public statements and unauthorized expansion into Chinese territory. To understand these two powerful and dynamic figures, it is necessary to understand their backgrounds. Brands provides a brief autobiography of the two, giving readers a complete picture of each and their importance to the story at hand. As the war rages, they take their place as opponents in a power struggle that coincided with the loss of large numbers of U.S. military personnel and a Congress salivating at the thought of punishing the White House for what it believed to be unauthorized military action on foreign soil.
The book is written in a thoroughly engaging style and once I began I could not put it down. Readers familiar with the Korean War from either reading about it or living through it will recall many of the facts in the book. But where the book excels is in its deep analysis of the battle between Truman and McArthur, and the political maneuvers occurring in Washington to prevent Chinese escalation, retain the territory of Formosa and possible involvement by the Soviet Union. Some parts of the book are absolutely chilling and the late Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945) is vindicated in his belief that McArthur was at that time, the most dangerous man in America. Brands includes quotes directly from the central players, giving the book the authentic feel that is has. It is not simply the author telling the story, but the major players giving their side of the story. And through their words, we can come to understand McArthur’s belief in his actions which could have escalated the war and the administration’s response in relieving him of his command and substituting him with Gen. Matthew B. Ridgeway. And the result is a roller coaster ride that begins with a Korean invasion and ends with an armistice under President Dwight D. Eisenhower (1890-1969) and the downfall of a military legend. Truman did not seek reelection but remained a powerful voice in American politics up until the time of his death.
It will soon be sixty-five years since the armistice was signed, and the 38th Parallel continues to be a source of tension between North and South Korea with both sides on high alert at all times for possible escalation and even invasion. The story of the two Korean nations is a long and tragic story, beginning with occupation by the Japanese military during World War II. The division of the country by the Soviet Union and the United States was a scene that played out in many nations following the defeat of the Axis powers. Peace became a central goal across the world but in 1953, North Korea decided that there was more at stake than civility. But due to the efforts of leaders who understood the dangerous nature of the conflict, the world was given a brief reprieve until the United States and Soviet Union once again clashed during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. That conflict would also be resolved, due in part to the efforts of the administration of President John F. Kennedy (1917-1963).
The story here is at times mind-blowing and shows just how close the world came to Armageddon. There were no scripts and the central figures were not actors on a studio in Hollywood. The events were frighteningly real and if we are to prevent future conflicts from going down the same path, we owe it to ourselves to remember the conflict by use of books such as this one by H.W. Brands. Those who are students of history and in particular the Korean War, will thoroughly enjoy and appreciate Brands’ work.
I remember with vivid clarity the day that Giovanni Maria “Gianni” Versace (1946-1997) was shot and killed in front of his home in Miami, Florida. My friends and I were in shock and in the wake of the shooting, we kept hearing the name Andrew Cunanan (1969-1997). None of it made sense but from the news we did learn, Cunanan was a one man crime spree and through fate, he crossed paths with the world-famous fashion designer. Twenty-one years have passed since Versace’s death but the fashion line that bears his name continues to remain strong. Several days after Versace was shot and killed, Cunanan took his own life aboard a houseboat that was eventually seized by the City of Miami. In the days after his death, more information about his erratic and deadly lifestyle came to light and also revealed how law enforcement missed vital clues contributing to what Maureen Orth calls the largest failed manhunt in U.S. history. By all accounts, Cunanan should have been caught long before he walked up to Versace on July 15, 1997. However, miscommunication and in some cases prejudice against homosexuals, resulted in investigations crippled from neglect, allowing Cunanan to remain at large before committing his final murderous act. The world now new the name Andrew Cunanan and it would never be forgotten. But just who was Andrew Cunanan and how did he make the FBI’s Most Wanted List? The list is reserved for the most dangerous of criminals and typically a suspect such as Cunanan would not normally be found on the list. His use of extremedly deadly force rightfully earned him a place among the most deadly killers on the run in America at the time. Maureen Orth, a journalist for Vanity Fair, covered Versace’s murder and was familiar with Cunanan before the final events in Miami. In this chilling account of Cunanan’s path of rage, she recounts his life helping us understand how and why he descended into madness.
Orth takes us back in time to the Cunanan home were Modesto “Pete” Cunanan (1930-2005) and his wife Mary Ann (1938-2012) raise their several children. Andrew quickly becomes his dad’s favorite, but even his charm would not be enough to keep the family together as his father fled to his native Philippines in 1989. The event would have a profound effect on the young child and unbeknownst to many, the seeds of chaos had already been planted. What is evidently clear in the book is that from an early age Cunanan displayed many of the characteristics that would be shown in adulthood and vividly remembered by those he encountered. And as he makes his way to manhood, he becomes more immersed in his homosexuality and it is at this point in the book picks up speed and Orth takes us deep inside the world of gay men. I should point out that Cunanan was not a “gay killer”. While he did commit murder, it was not based off of his orientation nor were his victims targeted because of their orientation. And I also believe that readers uncomfortable with homosexual subject matter should avoid the book altogether. But for those who have been fascinated by the Versace murder and Cunanan’s story, it is necessary to understand this world to understand Cunanan. Further, the misunderstanding of this world is one of the factors behind the failure of authorities to capture Cunanan earlier in their investigations.
If Bret Easton Ellis had not written American Psycho in 1991, he could have easily used Cunanan as the model for the book’s central character Patrick Bateman, but with a few minor tweaks. Every killer has that one moment where something snaps and they begin their rampage. Cunanan was no different and once he began his murder spree that would spread across several states, he left a trial of violence that will undoubtedly shock many readers. At times the book may seem like a Hollywood production but this is not fiction, the events were real and the aftermath devastating. Selfishly, Cunanan chose suicide instead of standing trial for his crimes. He did not leave behind any journals or notes explaining his motives. In fact, it seems that his own goal was to kill. Orth does an incredible job of taking us through the events as we follow him across the U.S. From one city to the next, he adds a new victim leaving law enforcement in the dark as to why and how he was able to keep evading authorities. Tensions ran high and even the FBI, drawn into the case through cross-state crimes, found itself deeply wanting to apprehend the monster. When Cunanan was found dead, authorities and the public breathed a sigh of relief. His death would not bring Versace back but it did mark the end to a path of destruction that surpsisingly did not claim many more victims.
If you want to know the story behind the hunt for Cunanan and the crazy yet glamorous lifestyle he lead, then this is the book for you. It is not a biography of Versace although she does include a good of information on the Versace empire. This is Cuanan’s story and the deadly path he took as he slowly made his way to the home of the world’s most popular fashion icon.
There are many questions about the origin of man, the human race has yet to find conclusive answers for. We know that ancient civilizations existed and flourished before some mysteriously ceased to exist. Relics, structures and writings have survived giving us clues about their lives. Of all of the ancient civilizations, the most inspiring and sought after remains Ancient Egypt. The pyramids and Sphinx are marvels that have puzzled engineers for thousands of years. Without the benefit of blueprints, we can only offer guesses as to how and why the structures were created. But from the temples, mummies and monuments that have survived, it is evidently clear that ingenuity was one of its greatest traits. Africa has been cited as the cradle of civilization, serving as the home to the oldest tribes known to man. The Christian Bible and Hollywood have done their part in bringing the stories to life, and in the process put Ancient Egypt on center stage. The Pharaoh Ramses II in The Ten Commandments, beautifully played by the great Yul Brynner, has become a commonly accepted image of the real life Ramses II. But how accurate was Brynner to his real life counterpart? And what did the Ancient Egyptians look like? It is tempting to think of them based on those we see in Egypt today. But we should know that history often includes many surprising facts, some which we may have never guessed without revisiting the past. Cheikh Anta Diop (1923-1986), of Diourbel, Senegal, was a noted historian and anthropologist, who studied the origin of the human race and in his eye-opening account, he seeks to find the truth about the role of Black Africans in the origin of civilization.
Any reader considering this book must be able to clear his/her mind of images today of the continent of Africa. Not only are the images typically disheartening, but they have no resemblance to the time period of which Diop is speaking. Here we go back in time thousands of years when Egypt was the most powerful nation of earth and home to knowledge sought by truth seekers from afar. Among these was Herodotus, credited as the first historian of the modern world. The famed scholar recorded a journal of his travels and with regards to the Egyptians, made note of their negro appearance. But Diop does not stop there and revisits the words of other scholars who visited the ancient kingdom and saw with their own eyes, the Egyptians and Ethiopians described by many of them as Negroes.
Some may be asking what is the point of proving that the Egyptians were negro? That is a very good question and I do believe the book speaks for itself. But I will say that the reason is that for thousands of years, the negro has been viewed as substandard and Africa has historically been viewed as a land of savages that needed “culture”. Those who study history will readily know how imperialism wreaked havoc across the continent as tribes were decimated while Christianity and Islam fought for converts. The late Harry S. Truman once said “the only new thing in this world is the history you do not yet know”. True words indeed. What is key to keep mind while reading this book is that history has for too long, been written to make those of color look inferior. But truth typically reveals much different pictures. For those readers who are African or Black American, you may find this book hits close to home. Personally, it confirmed many things I learned in high school regarding African culture. But sadly, across most history textbooks, you will be hard pressed to find these facts. Every Easter, The Ten Commandments is played on television. The film is a cinematic masterpiece regardless of what one believes about Christ, and the performances by Charlton Heston (1923-2008) and Yul Brynner (1920-1985) made the film legendary. But the film ignores the truth about the Ancient Egyptians and the role of Africans in the origin of civilization. The revelations in the book in no way seek to negate the contributions to society of Ancient Greece, Germany, the Sumerians or Mesopotamia. But the crux is that nearly all of these societies took their cues from the Egyptians who were much different from what many of us have believed for thousands of years as history was redacted or re-written.
The book is not an attempt to disparage other nations. Diop seeks only to highlight the truth which has been hiding in plain sight. And the artifacts, hieroglyphics and statues he uses in the book give credence to his words. Without question, he proves that there was more to the Ancient Egyptians than many have been willing to acknowledge. It might be worthwhile to brush up on world history, in particular the periods before Christ to keep up with Diop. His scholar background resulted in the book being on the heavy side with dates and names. A chart might be necessary for those readers who intend to continue down this path of research. Nevertheless, any reader can follow along and understand the concept of the book. Admittedly, there are many things about Ancient Egypt that we may never answer and Diop does not profess to have all of them. How and why the pyramids were built is still a mystery. We may never known how Egyptian architects made exact measurements without the aid of modern technology. Notably, in our lives today, we have many things that come from them that have been retained over time. In short, we owe our lives to them for they are our ancestors along with the Aztecs, Mayans and other ancient civilizations that possessed incredible knowledge and customs which still amaze us today.
On May 23, 1934, citizens across America tuned into news broadcasts coming from Bienville Parish, Louisiana that outlaws Clyde Barrow (1909-1934) and Bonnie Parker (1910-1934) had been shot and killed by law enforcement officials after a carefully laid trap to snare the wanted fugitives. Their deaths bring an end to crime spree that left several police officers dead and put the couple on the list of America’s most wanted. At the time of their deaths, both were under the age of twenty-five and their story has been both romanticized and distorted in films and books. The film taken of their car following the shooting can easily be found online. It is a chilling piece of a postmortem recording with Bonnie’s body sitting limp inside the front passenger side seat still clutching the partially eaten sandwich she had ordered for breakfast that morning. In death, they would become part of American lore from an era in which banks were robbed, V-8 engines ruled the road and the middle of the country was home to nearly every outlaw known to authorities. But who were the real Bonnie and Clyde? And how much of their story is truth and how much is fiction?
Author Jeff Guinn has investigated these questions and others as he presents to us the untold truth of the story of the couple. The story beings and takes place mostly in Texas with West Dallas serving as home base for both of them. But their life of crime spread out across several states, earning them the wrath of law men determined to see their demise. Without questions, their exploits are what attracts people to them. Like Charles Arthur “Pretty Boy” Floyd (1904-1934) and George “Baby Face” Nelson (1908-1934), Bonnie and Clyde are poster figures produced in a time in which the depression was in full swing, cars were easy to still, guns plenty and an organization known as the FBI was developing under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover (1895-1972). The past seems distant but it was less than one hundred years ago when these notorious figures traversed America on paths of destruction before meeting violent ends. But to understand these figures, it is necessary to understand their lives and this is where Guinn excels in revealing the truth to the story of Parker and Barrow.
The tendency we have when examining a person’s life is to seek a moment that explains their evolution to a new level of greatness or infamy. But with Parker and Barrow, it was not so much a moment but a series of events in each of their lives that led to the development of the most dangerous couple in American history. And what Guinn tells us might surprise readers expecting to find tragic childhoods for both. In fact, although poverty was an issue in rural Texas, both the Parkers and Barrows found ways to make ends meet and maintained strong bonds with the couple until the time of their deaths. Barrow’s mother Cumie, is perhaps the most pitiable for throughout her life she never stops loving her son. Bonnie’s mother Emma, is cut of the same cloth, never-ceasing to love her daughter even as she sinks deeper into a life of crime. And through Guinn’s words, they appear not just as violent outlaws, but as a couple deeply in love, dependent on each other and unable to keep their families’ hearts from breaking. Theirs’ is a tale of tragedy and violence that could not possibly end with redemption and a second chance.
In addition to presenting their story, Guinn clears up many erroneously reported facts, setting the record straight once and for all. In an era before television, the internet and social media, word of mouth spread quick and with each crime, Parker and Barrow grew into larger than life characters that put fear in the hearts of anyone they crossed. Clyde is rightfully credited as the leader of the Barrow Gang and the reason for Bonnie’s descent into a life of crime. But to understand the dark mind of Clyde Barrow, a visit to his past, in particular his time at Eastham prison, is necessary for his transformation from small time crook to feared outlaw begins there. That section of the book, like the shootouts with authorities, may not be an easy read for some. The descriptions are graphic leaving no stone unearthed so that the reader can fully understand the presence of death that was formed and remained with the Barrow Gang. The full nature of their murder spree and their willingness to gun down law enforcement officials was a times shocking and at other times jaw-dropping. In fact, as I read the book, I felt as if I were transplanted back in time looking over the shoulders of the gang as they slept in cars, traveled back roads a high-speed and allowed their minds to become filled with delusions of grandeur about a life together in tranquility after their life of mayhem was over.
The book is well-researched and well-written. Much has been written and said about the duo over the past seventy years but Guinn’s book stands as a complete and unbiased account from start to finish of the lives and deaths of Bonnie and Clyde. From the day I started it, I could not put it down as I was pulled into a masterpiece about two of America’s most dangerous and idolized historical figures.
Every summer, my parents make their annual visit to the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center in Ledyard, Connecticut to continue learning about the Pequot Indian tribe who lived in what is now the State of Connecticut. They are one of the many tribes that called North America home prior to the arrival of European settlers and the creation of the United States. Today, they can be found largely on reservations having been forced off of the only lands they knew to make way for a country that had liberated itself from British colonization. Far too often, their plight is ignored and history books have traditionally re-written the history of the foundation of the United States of America. This book by the late Dorris Alexander “Dee” Brown (1908-2002) challenges everything we thought we knew about our country and the scores of people often referred to simply as “the Indians”.
Hollywood has played a large part in the historical view by many of the Native Americans, the enemies of White Cowboys as depicted in Westerns and other television programs of the past. John Wayne is admired by many as the icon of the American West. The Native Americans, considered to be savages, uncivilized and dangerous became the object of the wrath of bloodthirsty soldiers filled with an ideology that could classified as genocide today. The true story was carefully and deceptively hidden from public light but it has come out in more recent times. And as the Native Americans and Indians of the Caribbean are shown in a more positive light, more of the truth will come to the surface. Several cities here in America have now replaced the holiday of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus was only a small part of the story and he never set foot on North American soil. But the actions of the municipalities were for the right reasons and I believe in time, more cities will follow suit.
In the wake of the American Revolution, a new nation was born with the desire to obtain as much land as possible under the guise of “Manifest Destiny” and its actions changed the course of history and nearly exterminated the continent’s native inhabitants. I am sure you have heard many of the names that became legends; Tecumseh (1768-1813), Sitting Bull( 1831-1890), Geronimo (1829-1909), Crazy Horse (d. 1877) and Cochise (d.1874). These leaders are revered in Native American history but are only small parts of a much larger and deadlier picture. Their lives crossed paths with American soldiers whose names have become both famous and infamous such as Kit Carson (1869-1868) and General George Armstrong Custer (1839-1876) whose last stand is sometimes fodder for situations in which a positive outcome is highly unlikely. The battles that took place across the plains of North America reveal a violent struggle as two opposing of forces sought to maintain their own ways of life. For the Native Americans, their goal was to live as they always had and not like the invaders who annexed territory and brought disease, starvation and death. For the American soldiers, the Indians were savages who needed to learn the White man’s way of life and give their hearts to Christianity. The two systems were never compatible but Washington refused to accept any deals that would preserve Native American land. The methods used to forcibly remove the natives are some of the darkest moments in American history.
It is imperative to keep in mind while reading the book that America did not yet have 50 states. In fact, the reader has to pay close attention to the location descriptions to form a picture of the region in which these events take place. In comparison to clearly marked state boundaries today, land then was sometimes loosely divided among tribes with recognized boundaries by each side. I do recommend having a map of Native American tribes while reading the book to gain a more accurate image. Brown also adds small bonuses at the beginning of each chapters as he highlights the most important events that occurred. Readers may find that they have bookmarked random facts that have nothing to do with the story at hand but are useful information to retain.
I warn the reader that the book is not always easy to read. The graphic descriptions of the atrocities committed in battle and the fate of the Native Americans are a rude awakening to any ideas about a graceful creation of America where the settlers and Indians worked side by side and everyone was friends. This is the unfiltered truth and to say it is ugly would be an understatement. Those of you who are of Native-American heritage will be familiar with the tragedies that befell your ancestors. For others, in particular Americans, this book is a chance to fully understand how violence played a crucial role in the development of what is now a superpower. We are unable to turn back the hands of time and change the course of history but what we can do moving forward is to acknowledge the tragic story of North America’s forgotten residents.
I firmly believe that this book, which was written in 1970, should be read by students in every history class across the country. These are the stories that you will not find in textbooks that seeks to portray the history of this nation in the most positive light possible. Interestingly, Native Americans are present in many of us today. Millions of American have their blood running through their veins. That heritage has sadly been forgotten or in some cases ignored. But it is never too late to learn about those who gave up so much so that we are able to enjoy the privileges afforded to us. Their lives have never been the same and their heritage was nearly destroyed. I hope that one day they too find the peace of mind that they have sought for so long. And the next time you think about wearing a Native American costume for a party, this book might make you think twice. This is the dark and ugly history of America and the mission to eradicate the Native Americans.