Nineteen sixty-six was the last year of the family outings to Atlantic City. Things were changing. The world was changing. My family was changing. A moment may feel endless but never is. I was a teenager; everything was sharp and awkward.
Posts by Gerald Early
Doubtless, Frederick Douglass’s famous 1852 oration, “What, to the Slave, is the Fourth of July” will find itself more popular this year in some quarters than it may have been in the past. The mood of the country is fraught. There is a sense that perhaps the nation is on the brink […]
• When I was a boy, I might have added actress Janet Leigh to this list after seeing her in the film Houdini, playing the wife/assistant of the famous magician/escape artist. I would not have been wrong as women assistants worked hard in magic, curling up inside boxes and cabinets, providing sex […]
Last Friday (June 24), I attended a Las Vegas Aviators baseball game at Las Vegas Ballpark, located in Summerlin. The Aviators are the AAA-affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, the Major League team that many Las Vegans feel will move to Sin City one day soon. It was over 100 degrees at the start […]
What makes Little Brother important and a must-read certainly for St. Louisans is its powerful account of a slice of Black life in our region, a vivid picture of the good and the beautiful and the bad and the ugly of North County, a life cordoned off from the rest of St. Louis as if it were a leper colony. Westhoff’s account of the families, the male bravado, the petty crime, the violence, the art and aesthetic of its rap culture, all of this is worth the price of the book. For what Westhoff reveals is the vast profundity buried in the absurdity of Black urban life that also reveals the inadequacy, hypocrisy, and flawed nature of White bourgeois life.
At the retirement subdivision where I live in Las Vegas, there was a ceremony on Memorial Day morning 2022 in front of the community center. I had read about it in the subdivision’s newsletter and promptly forgot until Ida, my wife, and I were walking toward the center to use the fitness […]
One may reasonably disagree with the views of Black people who attended the recent Old Parkland Conference this month in Dallas. But it is the height of intellectual, cultural, and political dishonesty and irresponsibility to call these people Uncle Toms or sellouts. They can only be understood as part of a Black tradition of thought, the rise of new ideological descendants of Booker T. Washington.
Here is the story of how the development of nuclear power that had peacetime possibilities and Hyman Rickover’s personality merged at an essential moment to create a reactor that worked by 1953. Someone else could have developed the nuclear sub, but no one could have done it as quickly and as well as Rickover did.
James Baldwin once described American society as “much given to smashing taboos without thereby managing to be liberated from them,”¹ or more precisely, liberated from the need for them. It might be said about America today that we gleefully smash taboos while energetically creating new ones which, one supposes, are improvements over the […]
Shot at a Brothel tells, crisply and succinctly, the story of the rise and fall of Oscar Bonavena, a significant, though not great, boxer of the 1960s and 1970s. Like the other books in the Hamilcar Noir series, it shows the underbelly of the world of boxing through short biographies of fighters who sustained tragic ends.
It seems fitting to refer to Bessie Coleman as an aviatrix, not an aviator. It was how she identified herself. The fact that she was Black was important to her but the fact that she was a woman was equally important. Some feminine versions of nouns are useful, even compelling, poetical: actress, […]
Now that our picture is finished, I find that I have a great deal more respect for all motion pictures, even the bad ones, than I had before. However unsatisfactory they may be from the artistic viewpoint, immense pain and effort, many disappointments and much agony went into […]
Integrated into this flattering memoir of Limbaugh is Golden’s autobiography, his adventures in radioland as a data analyst, a producer, a call screener, and an on-air personality. The book also devotes considerable space to Golden’s political views as a Black conservative.
I learned last night while catching up on the news that Will Smith slapped Chris Rock on the stage of the 94th Academy Awards ceremony, aka the Oscars, for making a joke about Smith’s wife. Now, I thought, the Oscars have figured out how to make this long, boring show interesting: have the participants assault […]
James Traub’s short biography of Judah Benjamin is a fine, highly accessible introduction not only to Benjamin but to the subject of southern Jews, their relationship to the Confederacy, and their experience as slaveholders.
1. The Obsessed Raider of the Lost Black Ark When I was a schoolboy, Black History Month was known as Negro History Week. It was celebrated during the week of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday, February 12. (I especially liked the month of February as a child because there were two national holidays: […]
“The tension between Negroes and Jews contains an element not characteristic of Negro-Gentile tension, an element which accounts in some measure for the Negro’s tendency to castigate the Jew verbally more often than the Gentile, and which might lead one to the conclusion that, of all white people on the face of […]
For almost every metropolis—and even a few towns—with streets, neighborhoods, and businesses there is a song with melody, harmony, and a beat.
For almost every metropolis—and even a few towns—with streets, neighborhoods, and businesses there is a song with melody, harmony, and a beat.
Such a Gorgeous Kid Like Me Selar Shaik’s great ambition as a child was to follow in his father’s footsteps and become a great mahout, a keeper and driver of elephants, for the Maharajah of Mysore. He mounted an elephant for the first time at the age of three. He was […]
All the Young Men became my equivalent of Burt Lancaster’s The Flame and the Arrow, the Black boy’s fantasy movie about an impossibly heroic person, an impossibly competent person, who fights for king and country. Poitier’s character made me proud to be an American, made me feel as if I was an American without any hesitation or crippling doubt.
For Black Americans, the questions might be asked, what does Christmas mean to us? And how can we make Christmas something usable for us? If, as Frederick Douglass argues, Christmas was tainted by the power politics of slavery, as the stories in Collier-Thomas’s collection make clear, it was equally tainted by Jim Crow and segregation.
Taking a break from writing on Christmas Eve, I watched a few episodes of an old jungle adventure series called Ramar of the Jungle, something that baby boomers probably remember as a live-action staple of their children’s television programming (along with Our Gang and The Three Stooges comedy shorts). The show was similar […]
I must have been 12 or 13 when someone, perhaps my Sunday school or perhaps my public school, took a class of us children to see G.F. Handel’s Messiah. It was during the Christmas season and I had to dress up for it. I knew nothing about this music. Except for one part, I […]
“Filmmaking is cheating . . .” —Film Editor and Director Peter Hunt¹ “With Goldfinger, the Bond writers created a new agent, an indestructible man who would survive any situation. It was no longer a question of whether Bond would survive, it merely became a case of which button he would push, or […]
I met the late bell hooks, the influential Black feminist scholar, only once. Some years ago, she came to Washington University as an Assembly Series Speaker, which meant she was invited to speak to the entire university and was not just a guest of a particular department or school. This indicates how well-known […]
In re-reading Nadine Cohodas’s Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records (2000) for the Jazz St. Louis Book Club, I stumbled on the fact that personality disc jockey Alan Freed, who named a genre of music “rock and roll,” was born on December 15. The story of his […]
“We Just Changed, Got a Brand-New Funky President”¹: Teacher Shirley Chisholm Takes the Nation to School in 1972
1. In the Shed I taught a class in the fall of 2020 entitled “Barack Obama and the Idea of the African American Presidency.” This AFAS course was created for two reasons: First, it was thought a good idea for AFAS to have a course about Obama and a course […]
Giving thanks, as Melanie Kirkpatrick reminds us, is an American preoccupation, a powerful religious and civic expression of our nation. Kirkpatrick’s fear is that the left’s attempt to banish gratitude unravels our country by denying it any dimension of humanity except its quest for power.
Some might be inclined to think that F. H. Buckley, a Trump supporter and conservative, must be a bit tongue-in-cheek with this. But he is not. He makes a plausible case that the country can separate, despite the Civil War which seemed to cement the states for good, and that it really ought to.
Gene Mauch, born November 18, 1925, was the first Major League Baseball manager I grew to know as a fan when he managed the Philadelphia Phillies from 1960 to 1968. The Phillies, my hometown team, I had to learn about on my own. My sister Rosalind, who taught me about baseball when we […]
The Black Patriotic Songs of Shirley: Remembering a Black Children’s Writer Who Did Not Start Out that Way
The last two times I taught African Americans and Children’s Literature I went out of my way to teach a book by Shirley Graham Du Bois (born November 11, 1896). There were three reasons for this: First, I wanted students to understand that children’s literature was more than fiction and poetry, that non-fiction […]
On November 2, 1963, South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem was assassinated, the victim of a military coup. Twenty days later U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas in what was apparently another coup, although it remains unclear who wanted it and why. This is clearly what Malcolm X was referring […]
Calling the Spirits is a nifty survey of the western world’s supposed interactions with the spirits of the dead. Lisa Morton’s book reveals that our quest for ghosts is an expression of humanity, a way to cope with how overwhelmed we are when we lose someone close to us, how unbearable it is to think that the person is gone forever.
On October 27, 1964, Ronald Reagan went from being a former B-movie actor to a rising political figure by giving a speech in support of Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater. The speech is called “A Time for Choosing,” although in conservative movement circles it is simply referred to as “The […]
I have learned that the highest-grossing film in China is The Battle at Lake Changjin (the Chinese name for the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir), a film about China’s entry into the Korean War, which coincided with one of America’s worst military defeats in the winter of 1950-1951. The Korean War (1950-1953) is largely […]
I saw No Time to Die yesterday. The much-publicized Lashana Lynch’s turn as the Black 007 was just a bit of PC tokenism. She was a sidekick, and a second-rate one at that, not even offering the hero a comic foil that might have impressed an audience. (This criticism has nothing to do […]
I would not think that Bette Davis is remembered much today or much known among younger audiences. Perhaps I am wrong. I hope I am. Thirty-two years ago today, October 6, the famed actress died. The first Davis movie I ever saw was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in about 1963 or 1964 […]
On September 29, 2015, one day after her 68th birthday, my oldest sister died. She had had a stroke but that is not what killed her. She survived the stroke, not without some brain damage and paralysis. But when she was hospitalized for the stroke, it was revealed that she had terminal pancreatic […]
Thirty years ago, on September 29, 1991, trumpeter Miles Davis died at the age of 65. His death may have been untimely in one sense as, by today’s standards, we do not consider him to have been of an especially advanced age. On the other hand, Davis had not been in good health […]
In thinking about the current controversy between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, who have emerged as America’s latest special-interest identity groups, it might profit to think about the history of the conflict between smokers and non-smokers. Smokers are not precisely analogous to the unvaccinated but there are important similarities. Smoking and COVID-19 are associated […]
I think I was thirteen years old when I first heard drummer Chico Hamilton. It was the summer of 1965, when I was reading Thor Heyerdahl’s Kon-Tiki, that my sister bought a brand-new jazz album called El Chico. I think she bought the record for two reasons: first, it was themed as Latin […]
On September 15, 1978, forty-three years ago on this day, Muhammad Ali, at the age of thirty-six, became the first heavyweight champion to win the title three times. This is a mixed distinction, as, while it may indicate tenacity and longevity to win a title three times, it also means Ali had the […]
Larry Elder, the Republican candidate in the California gubernatorial recall race, was chased from a homeless encampment yesterday, one of his campaign stops. The first question is, why would Elder, a conservative, fish for votes among the homeless. Any campaign operative would say that is a waste of time for him: how many of […]
On this day (September 9), 94 years ago, jazz drummer Elvin Jones was born in Pontiac, Michigan, to a musical family. He cut his teeth as a professional musician in post-WWII Detroit, a hothouse of great Black musicians that included his brothers, Thad, a cornetist, who went to considerable fame as co-leader of […]
American Argument provides historical depth in our consideration of how Blacks and Whites came together to enact the ritual of conversing across racial lines in the hope of better understanding each other. But it is remarkable how well it still speaks to us today, as aspects of that conversation have not changed.
The unvaccinated have been called stupid, selfish, dangerous, everything, as my mother used to say, but children of God, which, of course, whatever else they are, they are that too. Their disobedience casts a shadow that makes the virtue and rationality of the vaccinated shine all the more brightly. This reminds me of […]
Rising Justice is a magisterial book by a master historian, an epic sweep of Robert Kennedy and his time as a public figure. It is not a standard biography, but it has the narrative drive of a good biography. There is precious little here about Kennedy as a father, a husband, a son, just a few bits. Much testimony but little gossip. Yet one learns a great deal about Robert Kennedy person as well as Robert Kennedy the politician.
I am not so sure if Williamson is a conservative as much as he is a contrarian, at times a kind of White Stanley Crouch, though less verbose. At times, a kind of Hunter Thompson but less gonzo. I did not always agree with his interpretation of the world as he saw it, but I always found what he saw stimulating and more than occasionally trenchant.
Sowell has forthrightly challenged his critics and detractors with the sheer volume of his work. In the blood sport of academic disagreement, that production is the sign of the bruiser. Whatever the reason for the neglect of Sowell, Jason L. Riley provides us with a much-needed book.
Julia Sweig’s richly researched, extraordinarily detailed biography of Lady Bird’s term as First Lady is a substantial attempt to bring needed and deserved attention to the woman who was essential to Lyndon’s self-understanding and his ambition.
Hank Aaron was an incredible player. He lived a long life. And he got his due, his accolades, his recognition, while he was alive. That is good. So many Black players from the Negro Leagues never did. Those Black barbers from my boyhood knew more than I did.
The Modern Christmas in America is an account of the evolution of Christmas in the United States between 1880 and 1940; these were the years of the formation of Christmas as we celebrate it today.
It was Christmas and Bobby was a good boy and we worked hard for our money. All of that must mean something. What is the point of a God and His Son if this hardship does not mean anything, you know, the hardship of this life, the grinding of it cannot be pointless, can it?
Connery had achieved his fame as the definitive film version of a pulp adventure hero in a film series that became not simply successful but mythical and went out of his profession portraying a decent version of another pulp adventure hero in a vastly inferior film. His presence is the only reason the film will not ever be completely forgotten. It happens that way with actors. It happens that way with their fans too.
These essays are not necessarily despairing, although they would have every right to be; rather, they are, in some ways, expressions of hope as much as they are affirmations of how the struggle of Black humanity has so deeply enriched and empowered much that is good and worthy, profoundly moral and artistically innovative about American life.
Black women, as a group, are not known for their conservatism. They are, in fact, more likely to vote Democratic and along progressive lines than Black men. So, Uprising and Blackout are worth thinking about in this context. Why are some Black women openly, even aggressively as in the cases of Owens and Diamond and Silk, identifying as conservative?
Camelot’s End is not a scholarly book. But it is a solid, journalistic account of an important moment in the history of the Democratic Party and the United States.
What does it mean to be great, after all? In taking Bill’s measure, I think about Freedom and Fate, the poles around which all human lives orbit. Most of us keep them in a poor balance, misusing, abusing, and wasting our Freedom, cursing and railing against our Fate. Bill kept such an equipoise of these Lords of our Life, an easy meshing of the exuberance of Freedom and the acceptance of Fate.
How can remedies for Blacks, because of their unique subjugation, be colorblind and still work? Will they not be simply co-opted by the White majority? To this, the Black conservative responds that Blacks let their race over-determine their views and their fate while intensifying their sense of alienation, failing to understand that they are Americans too and benefit from policies that are good for Americans on the whole.
I was nine months old when my father died. After his death, my mother remained a widow until December 29, 1979, when she married Cooper, who, by virtue of this fact, became my step-father, although I was twenty-seven at the time and hardly in need of a new parent. But Cooper was not new to me.
The novel’s attraction is solely its dystopian vision of a fascist America. None of its characters or situations are memorable. That is not to say that some of the characters are not interesting or diverting.
The program to eradicate smallpox was always underfunded, encountered numerous obstacles from obstructionist, incompetent governments to floods, civil wars, famines, and droughts. It is a story that makes one believe that human beings are worth believing in.
I had driven a few blocks, but pulled the car over. I looked at my daughter for a moment and realized that God does indeed give only ironic gifts.
Pipes’s book works hard at making Nixon-in-winter a true conservative as he emerged from his worst days of physical and emotional wreckage after leaving Washington to become a kind of consul without portfolio, the eminence grise of the Republican Party.
The faith Willie had in me to protect him from anything untoward, even from being hurt by the elements, mirrors the faith I had in my grandfather to protect me from the street gangs when he took me to a game over fifty years ago.
Day’s characters seemed to give her fans not only a coping fantasy but a sense of inspiration. One of the problems with the intelligentsia is that it will not respect or take seriously any fantasy that is not built on some idea or resistance to hegemony, which Day’s fantasy clearly was not.
The OO7 Diaries reveals filmmaking as both a nearly heroic exercise in tenacity and an astonishingly pure expression of absurdity.
I suppose mothers are always trying to save their sons. And sons are always making their mothers suffer, always making their mothers need to save them. Despite my stupidity, my unworthiness, my mother was determined to save me anyhow.
Alou is one of the best baseball autobiographies of recent years because it offers the story of race and baseball not from a non-American perspective, but from someone who got to know the United States very well as both a resident and a subject of its foreign policy, as both insider and outsider.
The basic facts are here, from Spahn’s upbringing in Buffalo to his last year in baseball with the New York Mets and San Francisco Giants, as well as some useful quotes but there are two problems with Freedman’s book.
Slugfest is a fun book for anyone interested in comic books, in American popular culture generally, or in the obsessive and sometimes pathological nature of business competition. But it is not the incisive book about this industry that still awaits its author.
What we have in Black Fortune is not just a proto-black version of the Rich and the Famous, although it is on some level precisely that, but also another kind of origin story of the black elite or of a black economic elite or leisure class and how it saw its racial duties, this last being a major obsession with successful blacks.
There was a time when I had dreams, infrequently but strikingly, that my mother had died. These occurred some years ago when I did not talk to her very regularly or see her often.
Corrigan’s book is well-conceived and well-executed, written with a polemical chip on its shoulder, to be sure, but with an earnest intelligence that makes it a compelling and at times even absorbing read, revealing a striking self-awareness of the stakes and the drama of the psy-war that prison custodians and their prisoners engage in.
An incomplete listicle of how we think about animals.
Never Caught is a fascinating, absorbing account of slavery and freedom in the early days of our nation and is especially accessible for the non-specialist, non-academic reader.
In some ways, the current wave of African-American football players kneeling during the national anthem replicates the Bebop revolution that changed the public persona of the black male jazz musician. Now it is black players demanding that audiences recognize that their attitude is not the same as their white peers.
The story of the rise of Reagan is the story of the successful rise of movement conservatism through rebranding the Republican Party. As Shirley writes astutely, if somewhat glowingly, in Reagan Rising: “In fact, the party was broadening the base by narrowing the appeal. Instead of trying to be all things to all people, the GOP, with Reagan’s gutsy leadership, was becoming one thing to all people.”
I now think about my mother every day. I did not do this before she came to St. Louis to live. There was, in fact, a stretch of years when I did not think about her much at all …
Cop Under Fire is a rambling monologue, aggressively expressed if not always cogently persuasive as a set of arguments. It would serve Clarke adequately as a campaign book as it expounds his policy views in a number of areas, some only tangentially related, at best, to law enforcement.
Maybe money changed us a long time ago and there is really nothing it can do for us now as it is, in the human mind, both everything and nothing.
William F. Buckley and Gore Vidal were each other’s opposite because they were nearly identical twins in many respects. As a result, their 1968 confrontations would establish the template for televised political exchanges of the future.
Trump’s slash-and-burn march to the White House, one of the most stunning accomplishments in the annals of American politics no matter how loathsome the man may be to so many, ended the dynastic claims of two powerful political families: The Republican Bushes and the Democrat Clintons.
Roberto Durán made and spent millions, winding up broke, as most poor boys who became successful athletes do. During his salad days, he had a huge entourage, manzanillos, the “Panamanian slang for people who leech off the rich and famous,” as Durán puts it in his autobiography, to whom he gave away thousands a day. He drank, ate, whored, had children out of wedlock for which his wife forgave him. He apologizes for none of it. His autobiography is a defense of his life, an apologia, not an expression of contrition.
For Schlafly, Trump, as a personality, is clearly a break from the moderately conservative Republican nominees of the last few elections like Romney and McCain, which is part of Trump’s appeal. His crudity, his bluntness, and his bouts of incoherence are signs of authenticity, of an utter refusal to submit to the sensibilities of liberal/leftist zeitgeist.
In the days when it was a piece of furniture, TV was both the dark mahogany stranger in the house and the loyal companion, both threatening and familiar, something that seemed to control and something that seemed to transport. The mistake people today make is assuming that television audiences of 50 years ago were more naïve than they are today.
Both the LeDoux and Inoki fights are mere footnotes on Muhammad Ali’s athletic resume. Yet Paul Levy’s biography of LeDoux, The Fighting Frenchman, and Josh Gross’s exhaustive account of Ali vs. Inoki, give readers another way of looking at fights that elevated their importance, if not for Ali, then for the men who opposed him in these bouts.
Some grace notes to our original May 3 listicle of great films about jazz.
From Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” to Jack Yellin and Ted Shapiro’s “Life Begins at Forty,” music has our number when it comes to growing old.
Twenty films on, and about, jazz hit every note in the genre. And then some.
Pitch by Pitch is exactly what its title states: Gibson describes the first game of the World Series by recounting every pitch he threw in the game and why he threw it. (He also analyzes every pitch McLain and the opposition threw as well.) It is as detailed an account as a reader can ever get of how strenuous pitching is
The Magnificent Seven became a defining masculinist film in a way few other films of its era could match. No character emerged more stylized from the film that Brynner’s character Chris, and the film itself symbolized the liberal, consensus, interventionist politics of the Cold War era.
Beyond the photo, there is little known about Private Lewis Martin, also known as “Louis Martin,” but Heyworth seems to have found what little there is, and that little is actually of some importance.
There was something about Mayberry that evoked a kind of Southern nowhere-ness. It was the not the New South of Henry Grady, not the romanticized South of a natural and benign unequal social order like Thomas Nelson page’s. How could Mayberry be that when it had, amazingly, no black people?
I guest-edited an issue of Daedalus on American Music in 2013 and did not think I would revisit the subject quite so soon with this issue of The Common Reader on popular music. In some ways, it is quite fortunate that I have looked at the subject of music in such different forums so recently. […]
Despite a mountain of insecurities and sheer craziness, Peggy Lee remained undaunted. Engaging, and at times challenging, she made remarkably sophisticated music well into the 1980s, refusing to be an oldies act. But perhaps her greatest claim to public attention was that the blonde, North Dakota-born singer sounded black.
The reign of Frank Rizzo was also the era of the rising black political power in Philadelphia. Nowhere was the clash of racial interests more intense than the police department.
Two new biographies reveal that police work is not so simple and straight-forward—cops versus robbers, order versus chaos—as many might think. Those enlisted in the job of enforcing the law are more complicated in their impulses and motivations, more conflicted or contradictory as human beings about the meaning of what they are doing, than partisans of either side willing to concede.
A journey down the Mississippi River shows that our search for authenticity recedes forever. Like the horizon at the end of the mind, it is always just around the bend in the river.
As children, all of us thought that what made Believe It or Not so compulsively readable, so seductive, was the strange facts we learned. It was not until I was a bit older, a college student, that I discovered that this was not true, certainly not entirely so.
Americans were more fully aware that modern life, urban life in the late 19th century, made heat more unbearable than ever. As Salvatore Basile writes in Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed Everything: “America was realizing that a heat wave was much more unpleasant in cities than in rural areas: the larger the city, the more brick and stone and human bodies, the more hellishly hot it felt.” A man-made heat was being created that could only be controlled, ultimately, by man-made cooling. Slowly, inchoately, but tenaciously, the quest for coolth had begun.
The Common Reader’s inaugural essay by Lafcadio Hearn, one of the most acclaimed journalists of the 19th century. Born 1850 in Lefkada, Greece, Hearn became most famous for his writings about Japan. Before that, however, he was a well-known New Orleans journalist.
“Most blacks, without question, would rather be successful capitalists, however “exploitative” of land and labor, than wards in an egalitarian socialist state because, in the end, even members of a persecuted group, the dream is to have power, not justice. Or put another way, the acquisition of power becomes its own form of justice. The problem with Riley’s book is not its conservative message, but that the message is not sufficiently framed to appeal to black folk’s sense of racial destiny and pride. In short, it is insufficiently chauvinistic, less chauvinistic than the title promises.”
Jackie Robinson’s famous 1944 court-martial revealed not just the hierarchy of power in language, but also the tension between the U.S. Army’s efforts of integration and the ongoing struggle of black soldiers in their fight against Jim Crow.