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Hands Up! Read This!

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December 15, 2014

Richard Prince's Book Notes™: Journalists' Holiday Gifts: Teri Agins, Ruben Castaneda, Farai Chideya, Nick Chiles, Nunyo Demasio, Audrey Edwards, Howard W. French, Charisse Jones, Dick Lehr, Betty Medsger, Lisa Frazier Page, Rod Stodghill, Alex Tizon, Caroline Brewer, Todd Steven Burroughs, Dinah Eng, Harold Holzer, Quincy T. Mills, Suzette Martinez Standring (12/15/14).

Dick Lehr

Dick Lehr, a journalism professor at Boston University and former Boston Globe reporter, has written "The Birth of a Nation: How a Legendary Filmmaker and a Crusading Editor Reignited America's Civil War" (PublicAffairs, $26.99 hardcover; $26.99 ebook).

In the Wall Street Journal, Glenn Frankel called this "a lively and well-researched book about the film," and said Lehr "focuses his lens on two men: [D.W.] Griffith, the Kentucky-born son of a slaveholder who wrote, produced and directed it; and William Monroe Trotter, the Boston-born son of a slave who, as a fiery editor of a pro-civil-rights newspaper [the Boston Guardian], led the effort to have the film banned. Both were difficult, complicated and blustery men prone to self-aggrandizement and outlandish rhetorical flourishes. Mr. Lehr, a longtime journalist and a professor at Boston University, nicely draws the parallels between them even as he chronicles their bitter divisions over race, politics and culture."

Tom Meek added for Boston's WBUR-FM website, "As with all his works, Lehr tries to put himself in the shoes of his subjects, going to the places they frequented and cherished. 'It's essential,' Lehr says, 'to get the details right to let people know what it was like to be there back then.' The book holds many such nuanced immersions into the time and place. The breadth and depth is great and meticulous, and it captures a righteous occurrence of civil disobedience in our city’s rich past while revolving around an esoteric figure who, thanks to Lehr, should become less so now."

Trotter is the namesake of the Trotter Group of African American columnists, and of the William Monroe Trotter Institute at the University of Massachusetts Boston.

Betty Medsger

Betty Medsger, a founding member of Investigative Reporters and Editors and founder of the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism at San Francisco State University, has written "The Burglary: The Discovery of J. Edgar Hoover's Secret FBI" (Knopf, $29.95, hardcover; Vintage, 16.95, paper).

On March 8, 1971, a group broke into an FBI office in Media, Pa., and stole every document. Medsger told Journal-isms in January, "The racial files that emerged initially and later are, to me, the most important aspect of what we discovered about Hoover's secret FBI. As long as he was alive, black people never had a chance to have their case for basic rights taken seriously."

Medsger writes at one point, "It was clear from the documents that black students were regarded as potentially violent and therefore as appropriate subjects to be watched and to have their actions recorded in FBI files. . . ."

Washington Post columnist Colbert I. King is quoted in a blurb, "Imagine a revered despot who believed African-Americans were a threat to the Republic and had to be kept under constant surveillance. That's not a nightmare. It happened, including actions destructively worse . . . The Burglary captures every disgusting and chilling detail. Could it happen again? "

Lisa Frazier Page

Lisa Frazier Page, a former editor and writer at the Washington Post now living in Louisiana, where she is community news managing producer for Nola.com and the Times-Picayune, has co-written with Howard Fuller"No Struggle No Progress: A Warrior's Life from Black Power to Education Reform" (Marquette University Press, $20 paper).

If ever one wonders how the ideals of the 1960s play out in the new millennium, just ask Fuller. As he recounts in this memoir, "I'd worked as a community organizer in North Carolina in the mid- to late 1960s and had been hated by the white political establishment there. I'd also founded Malcolm X Liberation University in 1969 and was a Black Power advocate known by the African name that the university students bestowed on me: Owusu Sadaukai. I got involved in the African Liberation Movement in the early 1970s and later even studied Marxism as a union organizer."

Fuller says this in explaining why in the new millennium he was advising George W. Bush on education policy. Fuller became superintendent of schools in Milwaukee and today is an advocate of school vouchers, which he sees as an extension of his work on behalf of poor black children.

Writing in Education Week, Rick Hess wrote in September that Fuller's book "is as forceful and engaging as its author. . . Part autobiography, part policy treatise, part manifesto, the book is stuffed with telling detail and from-the-shoulder wisdom. The best description I can offer is that it was like spending a half-day listening to Howard tell stories and impart hard-won wisdom. If you know Howard, I don't really need to say any more than that. If you don't know Howard, think of a long conversation with your no-illusions, straight-talking, seen-it-all uncle. Let me keep it simple: read this book. . . ."

Page, who has collaborated with others on memoirs, told a National Press Club audience at the book's September launch that the pair worked on the project for two years. Her task with Fuller was "to push him to remember and take him to places in time that were not always pleasant to visit. He was open and at times very vulnerable. He was not one to point fingers and where there were failures, he took all of the credit."

Fuller said at the press club, "I wanted for young people who read the book to realize that struggle is a long-time proposition. It takes perseverance and you have to have a commitment to something larger than yourself. I'm on a rescue mission now. I want to rescue as many of my people as I can. If I can just rescue one kid — two kids— eight kids, nobody in this room knows what that may mean to the world."

Rod Stodghill

Rod Stodghill, a longtime journalist who is assistant professor and director of diversity, workforce, and small business development at Johnson C. Smith University, has edited "Let There Be Light: An Anthology Exploring How Charlotte's Historic West End Is Shaping a New South" (Johnson C. Smith University, $14.95, paper). Journalists Mary C. Curtis, Eric Frazier, Mae Israel and Mary Newsom are among the contributors.

"I have remained haunted by that abrupt borderline that marks the boundary between Charlotte's two very different worlds," writes Dr. Ronald L. Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith, referring to the haves and have-nots, in the foreword. Carter said he turned to Stodghill, a former New York Times reporter and onetime editor of Savoy magazine, "to oversee efforts to bring the Corridor's forgotten history to light and to give voice to its residents. My belief in necessity of empowering the forgotten and disenfranchised to speak is the inspiration and driving force for this book. . . . In fact, I see this volume as merely the initial effort in a multi-volume series."

Alex Tizon

Alex Tizon, a former reporter for the Los Angeles Times and the Seattle Times who teaches journalism at the University of Oregon, has written "Big Little Man: In Search of My Asian Self" (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $24 hardcover; $27 ebook).

Tizon, who came to the United States from the Philippines as a 4-year-old, has written a fascinating book that will be revelatory for those who are not Asian American men.

"In the America that I grew up in, men of Asia placed last in the hierarchy of manhood. They were invisible in the high-testosterone arenas of politics and big business and sports. On television and in the movies, they were worse than invisible: they were embarrassing. We were embarrassing. The Asian male in cinema was synonymous with nebbish. They made great extras. In crowd scenes that required running away, Asian men excelled. They certainly did not play strong male lead roles, because apparently there were no strong Asian males with sex appeal. On the public sex appeal scale, Asian men did not even register. They were hairless, passionless, dickless. Tiny minions. Houseboys. . . .

"At school, it was as much what was not taught. Asians simply did not come up in history class, except as victims who needed saving (Filipinos, South Koreans, South Vietnamese) or as wily enemies who inevitably lost (Chinese, Filipinos, Japanese) or as enemies who managed not to lose by withstanding mind-boggling casualties (North Koreans, North Vietnamese.)"

Tizon articulates the toll that the prevailing while male standard takes on others' psyches. Tizon devotes entire chapters to such subjects as why Asian Americans are shorter than many Asians in Asia, Asian American women's preference for white men, and even a discussion of the size of Asian American men's private parts. He travels to the Philippines and to China, where he finds that unlike in the United States, "the manliest of men were philosopher-warriors, and more philosopher than warrior."

The standard also plays out in the news media. "Television places a premium on physical attractiveness — telegenic appeal — and Asian women and men, as we know, are perceived to occupy opposite ends of the spectrum," Tizon writes. "But you could never get TV news executives to say this publicly. . . ." Yet, he adds, "It remains to be seen whether the widespread acceptance of Asian women in anchoring roles will lead to executive posts with real decision-making power in news organizations."

Tizon's story can resonate with other journalists of color as he turns his "otherness" to an advantage. "My own lifelong sense of feeling invisible, and living with others like my father who experienced the same, somehow became useful. I developed the sensory apparatus to apprehend fellow invisibles. . . ."

Hans Rollman wrote of Tizon in PopMatters, "by telling his own story, he has also told the story of countless others. Or at least, he has revealed the complicated stories lurking within millions of other racialized Americans and immigrants. To have the insight and courage to tell such a story undoubtedly places him among those daring pioneers, the absence of which he felt so acutely in his own childhood."

Joyce Chen wrote in Hyphen, "What is particularly impressive is that what the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist-cum-professor achieves in breadth, he just as effortlessly presents in depth."

  • Jay Caspian Kang, New York Times Sunday Book Review: Minority Report (Sept. 5)

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