Tag: Martin Luther King

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

November 29th, 2019 — 1:02pm

Songs of America by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw

Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize winning presidential historian who has written about Thomas Jefferson, Winston Churchill, Andrew Jackson, FDR, George Bush, and many more. Tim McGraw is Grammy Award winning musician who has sold more than 50 million records and he is the most played country artist as well as being an author. While this is obviously a joint project, Meacham wrote the narrative text whereas McGraw offered his take on selected songs in a framed presentation which probably just as well could have been blended into the book.

Nevertheless, the final product is an amazing presentation of the songs and music that have been part of the American fabric since its birth. The context of various musical pieces often including the actual circumstances in which the words and music were created, are frequently very familiar to the reader.

There will be some pieces that most of us never heard of such as the “Liberty Song” which was created in 1768. There is also “Yankee Doodle Dandy”, an American Revolutionary War song that which will probably be familiar to most children. The book winds its way through American history with a background of American music. Many of the readers will know the story of Francis Scott Key who eagerly looked to see if the American flag was still flying as the British and Americans battled in the war of 1812. The book also includes the words and songs that came from the oppressed slaves in America and not only accompanied them on the road to freedom but also became part of the fabric of American music especially jazz and beyond.

This book is much more than a recital of songs and music. It is an in-depth look at American history while at the same time using music and song to reflect the history that is being made. The journey includes the assassinations of Lincoln, Martin Luther King and JFK and much more. We are presented with a combination of a music and history journey through the great world wars, Korean, Vietnam wars as well as the cold war and American political wars. Intertwined in this wonderful historical piece are many of the words of songs, which have left their indelible mark on all of us who have experienced some small part of history and read about so much more.

As I read this excellent book, I could almost hear much of the familiar music and words in my head. I also could not help but think what a tremendous accomplishment it would be if the author could have created an audio book with much of the music described. I checked and found out that while there is an audio version read by the two authors, much of it only has the authors reading the words of the songs while the music and singing was largely excluded. Should the authors be able to obtain the rights to all or most of the songs described in the book and blend them with the narrative, it would surely be a classic that people might very well pay the extra cost for the royalty payments which would be necessary. I would hope that such a project would come to fruition.

As always your comments are welcome below

To obtain a copy of this book from Amazon please click here

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The Warmth of Other Sons: the Epic Story of America’s Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson

April 3rd, 2015 — 8:12pm

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The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration

by Isabel Wilkerson


About 50 years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation eliminating slavery in the United States, there began the Great Migration. Almost one by one “colored” people in the South would realize that they were not much better off than they were before the civil war. (I have to explain that I am comfortable using the word “colored” since I feel that it has a derogatory connotation. However, the word was used throughout most of the book since it was an acceptable descriptive word in the literature and speech during the time being described.) There were still lynchings and other types of murders of colored people in the South. This took place for no reason or for unproven accusations or insignificant acts such as a colored man talking to a white woman. The victims of this death and destruction also included children. Colored people could not sit with white people in movie theaters, restaurants, etc., and had to step into the street if confronted with a white person walking towards them on the sidewalk. These kind of situations persisted in the South into the 1960s. Even after President Lyndon Johnson signed the Civil Rights Legislation in 1964, it took another 10 years, and the effects of the work of Martin Luther King and others to make the worst of this discrimination to be a fading but still not eliminated shame of our country. Many of my generation of white people raised in the North supported the civil rights movement and some were quite active in it, but I would say that most could not fully understand what it was like to grow up in the Jim Crow South.

This is the power and strength of this book. Isabel Wilkerson, while a first time author, had already won a Pulitzer Prize for her newspaper work in Chicago when she approached this subject, not only as a black woman who knew her own family history, but as a journalist who found personal stories which she would present in great depth. She spent about 15 years researching and writing this book. She interviewed about 1,200 people who participated in the Great Migration from the South to the North. It was estimated that 4 Million “colored” people ultimately migrated between World War I into the 1970s. Wilkerson not only explained and analyzed the underlying factors in great detail, but by choosing three people to highlight, she brought a living vibrant understanding to this story that is unforgettable. Ida Mae Gladney, Robert Pershing Foster, and George Swanson Starling are the names of the people that we get to follow. She got to know them in the twilight of their lives over several years and spent many hours with each of them. The result is really three separate stories, each of which could have been a fascinating novel. We get to intimately know each of them as well as their families and friends. We appreciate what it was like growing up in the South; their hopes and aspirations, and sometimes the severe limitations that were put on them. We see how these three people made their decisions to go to Chicago, Los Angeles, and New York. We come to understand what happened to them and their families and as well as the next generation. Segments of their lives developed before our eyes in alternative chapters as we follow them into maturity and old age.

This book doesn’t end with the exodus from the South. There is an entire new complicated and painful realization that the reader has to face about the rest of the story. Employment and housing discrimination persisted in many places in the North, and unlike the European migrants who entered the big cities seeking a better life for themselves and their children, there were persistent obstacles for the people of the Great Migration and their children. Drugs, gangs and obstacles towards a good education for their children were constant issues.

Ms. Wilkerson has been recognized with the National Book Award as well as many other prestigious honors for this book. . It was also chosen as one of the 10 best books by the New York Times Book Review Section. This book should be mandatory reading for every American high school student. I found it painful but I’m glad that any repression that I may have had about this subject was reawakened.

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Power Concedes Nothing by Connie RIce

July 20th, 2014 — 12:58am

Power Concedes Nothing: One Woman’s Quest for Social Justice in American, from the Courtroom to the Kill Zones by Connie RiceScreen Shot 2014-07-19 at 6.40.49 PM

I seldom go around telling certain people that they must read a particular book. I did find myself dong just that in regard to this book. If you have been interested in the battle for social justice, especially in regard to Los Angeles, you will definitely find this book quite fascinating.

Connie Rice (who by the way is a distant cousin of former Secretary of State Condolezza Rice) grew up as the daughter of Air Force officer who was the great grandson of a slave and a mother who was a high school teacher who happened to be the great granddaughter of a slave owner. Her family moved several times before she completed high school. Her parents valued education and she also was quite bright and ended up attending college at Radcliff/Harvard and then going to N.Y.U. Law School. After clerking for some important judges, she could have worked in a prestigious law firm and have a very respectable corporate or white-collar law career. She certainly went on to achieve an extremely respectable career but she chose to do it confronting civil rights and gang violence. The journey that she has taken, the fights that she has undertaken, the forces that she has confronted, the allies that she has worked with and the accomplishments that she has achieved thus far in her still vibrant career are remarkable and are chronicled in this memoir.

Early in her career, she became a part of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund (known as the LDF). It was originally pioneered by Thurgood Marshall, before he became the first black Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. I thought I knew something about justice, particularly how capital punishment, was unfairly administered in the U.S. “I didn’t know jack.” The inside stories Ms. Rice reveals in this fight for justice, were eye opening. However, this phase of her career was tame compared to what was to come next when circumstances brought her out to the West Coast to open the Los Angeles branch of the LDF.

Ms. Rice became squarely involved in the battles for social justice in Los Anglees. She takes us through the Rodney King incident where a black construction worker was stopped by the police and  beaten for no cause. Subsequently there were riots in Los Angeles when the police involved in these beatings were exonerated by a trial, which had been moved to Simi Valley, which was a known area where many police families live. Ms. Rice was in many subsequent legal cases where she sued the police and represented victims of police violence. She also tells about the almost impossible to describe gang violence that existed in certain areas of Los Angeles that became known as the “kill zones.” She was known as the “ lady lawyer” as she was introduced to gang activities by a few former gang member who were trying (with mostly futile attempts) to make changes and were trusted within the gangs. Ms. Rice captures the horrible circumstances inside the gangs where there existed a culture dominated by frequent murder of opposing gang members. Two vignettes that she told will illustrate how bad things were and how vividly she was able to describe them.

#1 A teenage boy was approached by the leader of one gang and asked to become a gang member The boy stated that that his family didn’t want him to join and he was involved in schoolwork. After he politely declined a second time, he was asked to view a DVD. In it was shown his younger sister being brutally raped by gang members. He was then told if he didn’t join the gang, his sister would be raped again and murdered. He joined the gang.

#2 A ten-year-old boy was introduced to Ms. Rice by some gang members. She asked the child how he was involved in the gang. He proudly told her that he “shoots people.” When the gang wanted to murder someone, they lured this person to a street where the young boy was unobtrusively stationed. He pulled out the gun that he was trained to use and shot the victim and ran way.

These were just two of the many stories of how the gangs had taken away the lives of young people in more than one way.

The murder rate in Los Angeles was very high and the philosophy of the Los Angeles Police Department at this time was to “contain” the violence rather than try to eliminate it. There was also a certain amount of violence and corruption coming from the police department itself. Connie Rice was one of the soldiers in the battle to change this situation. She used her legal skills as well as her interpersonal ability to begin a sea change that is still going on in Los Angeles. She worked side by side with gang members, gang interventionists, enlightened members of the police department, politicians and other dedicated lawyers. She told of her experience with people from the gangs to others in the trenches with her. She names names, good and bad, from Mayors, police officers and attorneys. Among others, she developed a close alliance with Police Chief Bratton and up and coming Charlie Beck who subsequently became Police Chief when Bratton retired. One of the heroes of the book was Harry Bellafonte and it wasn’t for his singing. Rather it was for the emotional support he played as a father figure for many gang members as well as for his financial support for various programs. Ms. Rice has been an ongoing witness and a participant to bringing about changes in the kill zones that actually significantly reduced the murder rate there. She documented how each murder that did not occur saved close to a million dollars for society as well as the human savings.

Ms. Rice feels that the battle is not over yet. She champions the ideology of Martin Luther King who predicted that significant change wouldn’t occur until there was a “ radical restructuring of society itself and revolution of values.” If you care about the changes that have occurred in Los Angeles in the past few decades and those that need to occur in the future, I suggest that you should read this book.




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