Wrong email address or username
Wrong email address or username
Incorrect verification code
back to top
Search tags: history-fiction
Load new posts () and activity
Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-02-21 10:05
Snow-Storm In August by Jefferson Morley
Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 - Jefferson Morley

On the night of August 4th, Arthur Bowen, an eighteen-year-old slave, stumbled into the bedroom where his owner, Anna Thornton, slept. He had an ax in the crook of his arm. An alarm was raised, and he ran away. Word of the incident spread rapidly, and within days, Washington's first race riot exploded, as whites fearing a slave rebellion attacked the property of the free blacks. Residents dubbed the event the “Snow-Storm," in reference to the central role of Beverly Snow, a flamboyant former slave turned successful restaurateur, who became the target of the mob's rage. In the wake of the riot came two sensational criminal trials that gripped the city. Prosecuting both cases was none other than Francis Scott Key, a politically ambitious attorney famous for writing the lyrics to “The Star-Spangled Banner,” who few now remember served as the city's district attorney for eight years. Key defended slavery until the twilight's last gleaming, and pandered to racial fears by seeking capital punishment for Arthur Bowen. But in a surprise twist his prosecution was thwarted by Arthur's ostensible victim, Anna Thornton, a respected socialite who sought the help of President Andrew Jackson. Ranging beyond the familiar confines of the White House and the Capitol, Snow-Storm in August delivers readers into an unknown chapter of American history with a textured and absorbing account of the racial secrets and contradictions that coursed beneath the freewheeling capital of a rising world power.





The synopsis gives you the gist of the "snow-storm" portion of this book, the largely forgotten 1835 race riot in Washington D.C., primarily between white lawmakers / defenders and former slaves, a key (if unintended) player being the bi-racial (male) chef & restaurateur Beverly Snow. Snow not only suffers attacks on his business but also has his home vandalized and the safety of his family threatened. 


That story alone would be powerful enough but Morley's work here -- an expansion on his 2005 Washington Post article -- offers readers so much more. We also get an education in the early development stages of our nation's capital, then known simply as Washington City. Morley also gets into the topic of colonization and which of D.C.'s bigwigs were on what side. You might be surprised to learn how it pans out! 


Some of my takeaways from this book:




* Where to set up shop for the nation's capital? Hmmm. Well, the U.S. had racked up a mountain of debt after the War of Independence. Secretary of Treasury Alexander Hamilton wanted to set up the capital in Pennsylvania but Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson countered, saying he had a debt plan but Southern members of Congress would never go for it unless Congress' Northerners agreed to set up the capital in a more southern region. Pennsylvania was also largely anti-slavery, had a strong Quaker (recognized abolitionists) population. Jefferson recommended putting the capital along Virginia-Maryland territory, where there were good banking options and slavery was still legal. Hamilton appeared to have no objection. 


* The design for D.C. was modeled after Paris -- the canals, boulevards, stately buildings -- so much so that George Washington even hired French engineer Pierre L'Enfant to oversee the project. Prior to this Parisian design, author Charles Dickens had had a visit to the city and likened it to a wild, western frontier town. Morley adds, " 'The whole affair,' said another visitor, ' looked as if some giant had scattered a box of his child's toys at random on the ground.'


* D.C.'s Capitol Bldg was designed by William Thornton, a slaveholder who pushed for colonization. In one story in this book, Thornton came to the aid of the battered wife of a French diplomat, proclaiming, "I know the laws of humanity and I mean to uphold them." Thornton was also rumored to be the father of Arthur Bowen, son of Maria, house servant to Anna Thornton (William's wife).


Personally, I was left with mixed feelings on Thornton. Morley describes him as having "a thirst for liberty but a weak will", creative dreamer type, high ideals, distracted easily but highly personable... but he also seemed to lack much of a backbone, often going with majority rule.






* The Commonwealth of Virginia had an 1806 law on the books that basically said that freed slaves must leave the state within a year or they could be apprehended and sold back into slavery, only being allowed to stay within the Commonwealth area past that first year IF they could get a signed endorsement from a white citizen, petitioning the state legislature to allow the freed person in question to stay. 


* By the 1830s, colonization had become quite the divisive topic around Washington. Colonization was the suggested idea that freed slaves could be sent back to Africa to set up a new colony of freed people. There were supporters for this idea in both white and black communities. White racists saw it as a way to get rid of those they deemed second-class citizens, while some black communities saw it as an ideal opportunity to distance themselves from said racists and slaveholders who seemed determined to make free life miserable for them. But colonization was sort of an all or nothing proposition... the intent was that if some went, everyone had to go... and some, as in the case with Beverly Snow, had a perfectly good life in DC that they didn't want to give up. There was quite a large group of supporters for the idea though, including some of Snow's white friends! 




* By the 1830s, Washington D.C. had developed a solid horse racing community. Even President Andrew Jackson was said to make a big show of placing bets (though it seems his luck wasn't so good lol). Beverly Snow first developed clientele in the city as a street vendor outside racing arenas. After developing some success on that front, he went on to open an oyster house, becoming the first restaurateur to offer fine dining experiences in D.C. Pity that a cholera outbreak in 1832 ended up wiping out nearly 500 citizens, putting a bit of a dent in his business! But he hangs in there, and once the first restaurant does well, he moves on to open a second, even more upscale establishment. 


* Snow was pretty innovative for his time when it came to the restaurant business! He became well known for his turtle soup, which he would offer only periodically, advertising that the soup was "restorative"... see? promo-ing health benefits, whether they're proven or not! By the way, consider yourself warned here, vegans/ vegetarians: Morley includes a play-by-play of how this turtle soup was prepared. 




* Famously penned the poem that would later turn into the U.S. national anthem... many years after it was set to the music of a drinking song we stole from our British cousins ;-) The popularity of that poem turned out to be a much needed reputation restorer for Key after an embarrassing display of turn-tail-and-run during the War of 1812. Key had the poem published in papers, later got the idea to set it to music. Also, weirdly, barely mentioned any of this to his wife but thoroughly discussed with his brother-in-law, Roger Taney. Taney was a racist lawyer famous for the Dred Scott case as well as his backing of a South Carolina law allowing black seamen to be arrested once they stepped off their in-port ships.


* Supporter of colonization and, it seems, not quite so anti-slavery as you might have been taught in school. Key had a public persona for being an ally for black citizens, periodically defending them in court (at least at the beginning of his legal career), but his actions in his off-time suggested opposite leanings. 


* Key, who served as D.C. district attorney for 8 years, was called in as prosecuting attorney for both the Snow case and that of Arthur Bowen, (see Thornton sect. above). Bowen was said to have been found in the bedroom of Anna Thornton one night, holding an ax over her head as she slept. Arthur's mother was also in the room (asleep) at the time, once awakened was able to usher Arthur out of the room, tried to get him out of the house but police had already been summoned. Key sought capital punishment for Bowen. 

        > Anna Thornton tried to fight for Arthur's freedom. For his protection, she tried to get him resold before his trial date but everyone she appealed to declined to help her. Anna went directly to Key, even requested a meeting with President Jackson himself, after writing him an 18 page letter (which she got in a carriage, rode to WH and hand delivered herself!) pleading Arthur's case, this letter including a petition sheet full of signatures from others also begging for the man's freedom. Bombarded with all this, Jackson eventually instructed Key to go along with the request. 

       >Two days after Arthur's arrest, abolitionist Reuben Crandall was arrested for being suspected of distributing anti-slavery periodicals / pamphlets (Good laugh over the bit that discusses Key's own words being turned on him during this trial!). A white mob developed shortly after and since they couldn't get to Crandall, they went after Beverly Snow (after a rumor got around that Snow was liberally tossing around "coarse or derogatory remarks" regarding white women of Washington. Snow's professional successes combined with his perceived cockiness had already made him the enemy of many white men in town. 

       > Snow escaped harm to himself but the mob did trash his home & establishment, though they were instructed not to break any of the furniture, as Snow had it on loan from a white man.  



Though it does take a bit of time (approx. 120 pages) to get into the bulk of the race riot topic, the "snow-storm" as it's termed, the history here is fascinating. BTW, also mentioned in this book: the bungled / thwarted assassination attempt on Andrew Jackson.


It doesn't leave you with the most glowing image of some of our country's most notable names in history, but it is history that is vitally important to be aware of just the same. Morley also includes an inset of pages featuring photographs, paintings, and news articles of the period showcasing some of the key players in this unsavory bit of history. 



Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-01-29 07:55
Waking From The Dream: Struggle For Civil Rights In The Shadow Of MLK by David L. Chappell
Waking from the Dream: The Struggle for Civil Rights in the Shadow of Martin Luther King, Jr. - David L. Chappell

The author of A Stone of Hope, called “one of the three or four most important books on the civil rights movement” by The Atlantic Monthly, turns his attention to the years after Martin Luther King’s assassination—and provides a sweeping history of the struggle to keep the civil rights movement alive and to realize King’s vision of an equal society. In this arresting and groundbreaking account, David L. Chappell reveals that, far from coming to an abrupt end with King’s murder, the civil rights movement entered a new phase. It both grew and splintered. These were years when decisive, historic victories were no longer within reach—the movement’s achievements were instead hard-won, and their meanings unsettled. From the fight to pass the Fair Housing Act in 1968, to debates over unity and leadership at the National Black Political Conventions, to the campaign for full-employment legislation, to the surprising enactment of the Martin Luther King holiday, to Jesse Jackson’s quixotic presidential campaigns, veterans of the movement struggled to rally around common goals. Waking from the Dream documents this struggle, including moments when the movement seemed on the verge of dissolution, and the monumental efforts of its members to persevere. For this watershed study of a much-neglected period, Chappell spent ten years sifting through a voluminous public record: congressional hearings and government documents; the archives of pro– and anti–civil rights activists, oral and written remembrances of King’s successors and rivals, documentary film footage, and long-forgotten coverage of events from African American newspapers and journals.






Waking From The Dream examines the years immediately following the murder of Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and how that tragedy affected the movement as a whole. This book covers a good chunk of history you likely were not taught in school. 


It turns out a number of men tried to step in as MLK's successor as one of the key leaders in the Civil Rights Movement -- Reverend Ralph Abernathy, Reverend Jesse Jackson, and even actor Ossie Davis (who later portrayed Dr. King in a 1978 NBC documentary) were all approached with offers to take over. 


One of the sections of the book that held my interest most were the years concerning MLK's widow, Coretta Scott King, and the journey she took to build and maintain her husband's historical legacy. Following the death of her husband, Coretta was often brought out as a kind of figure of the cost of the movement, but she came to really despise this move. She said she was tired of being used as a pawn to drum up sympathy and anger in crowds. While reaching large audiences was important to the cause, she felt this method just felt wrong. She decided she would try to fly solo while continuing her husband's work. 


Dr. King & wife Coretta Scott King


In 1978, Coretta King heads up the Full Employment Action Council, whose purpose was to address the plight of impoverished black and white citizens alike. By 1979, Coretta begins to campaign for a national MLK Day. Other activists in the Civil Rights Movement had tried for this immediately following Dr. King's death and every year after -- musician James Brown even met with President Richard Nixon AND President Ronald Reagan to try to get the process moving -- but their requests continued to fall on deaf ears. Those in opposition to the holiday would often give speeches tying Dr. King to communism or would imply that his work actually low-key incited violence.  Dr. King's opposers would claim that he was okay with prejudiced behavior as long as it swung in favor of the black community. They'd also imply that he knew how to work around the law, not with it. Surprisingly, even the Congressional Black Caucus came forward and said there were bigger fish to fry.


                                    musician James Brown & Rev. Al Sharpton

at the White House in 1982




Even with Coretta's efforts, the holiday wasn't made official until 1983, under President  Reagan (though it took some time before he was fully on board with the idea). Once MLK Day was made official, Reagan came forward with this statement:


"Though Dr. King and I may not have exactly had identical political philosophies, we did share a deep belief in freedom and justice under God. Freedom is not something to be secured in any one moment of time. We must struggle to preserve it every day. And freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. History shows that Dr. King's approach achieved great results in a comparatively short time, which was exactly what America needed...What he accomplished -- not just for black Americans, but all Americans --- he lifted a heavy burden from this country."


Ronald Reagan signs document making MLK Day 

a national holiday


Mrs. King went on to develop a friendship with President Jimmy Carter, even awarding him the MLK Nonviolent Peace Prize in 1979. Senator Ted Kennedy and Carter started using the award as a icebreaker that would develop into a platform to win votes for the Democratic Party. Coretta Scott King was not given credit whenever the award was mentioned. 


The portion of this book that's the toughest pill to swallow is the light author David Chappell sheds on Dr. King, the man, not the historical figure. This means readers will read information regarding such topics as MLK's fondness for ladies and rumored infidelity as well as the plagiarism scandal around his college papers (and whether his PhD had been honestly earned) that rocked Boston University. 


Clayborn Carson, the editor of Dr. King's papers said that in his research he found that there were "instances of plagiarism" in King's works, but that "in most instances King was probably sloppy rather than deliberately deceptive." Dr. Jack Boozer, a professor of religion at Emory University, discovered that some of his work had been plagiarized by Dr. King. After Boozer's death, his widow was interviewed and said that Dr. Boozer never cared all that much that King used his words, instead was glad he could be of help to the man. But she also admits that when Boozer first heard the story that he didn't speak on the matter at all for a full two days. 


There were also quite a few pages in King's dissertation paper missing footnotes that should have cited source material. No one could quite agree whether this was intentional or not, but it looks especially bad when combined with suspected plagiarized passages. One of the large reasons it caused such controversy is that any other university student in line for a doctorate would have likely been failed over such oversights. King's naysayers were quick to point out that King held a C average while at Morehouse University, arguing that clearly this was a case of racial bias. Some were further angered by the fact that years later, when Brown U officials looked into the matter, they came back with the response that suspicious material had been found in King's files but that the college had decided against retroactively retracting his PhD. 


But this book isn't meant as a means to shatter the legacy of Dr. King, but to offer a balanced presentation of the man and his life, and the impact of his work generations later. It might not be the best book out there on the topic (which I cringe to say, after reading that the author spent a decade putting this material together). Some material, such as that regarding the Little Rock Nine, was pretty glossed over.  Still, it remains an important read towards developing a well-rounded education. Yes, it's disheartening to read of the struggle of civil rights activists, the way our government drafted Civil Rights Acts but watered them down so much before having them passed that they offered little to no help. But as some activists were known to say at the time, "If you are digging a trench with a spoon and someone offers you a shovel, you don't turn them down because they didn't offer you a bulldozer."


If baby steps is how we get to progress and success, then so be it. And in the process it's important to learn ALL the facts, take in ALL the information available and make informed decisions from there. That might mean that some of the veneer gets chipped off our heroes in the process, but I personally find it beneficial to be reminded that at the end of the day, these great feats were carried out by mortal, flawed, everyday humans just like me... not infallible gods. It helps make my little efforts all the more meaningful. 


Lastly, there's a footnote in this book that stunned me, which says that when Martin Luther King was leaning over the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, TN, talking to Rev. Jesse James standing in the parking lot on that fateful day... well, it's hypothesized that had Dr. King been standing fully upright rather than leaning over the balcony, he likely would not have been shot in the face and could have possibly survived. 



Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2018-01-12 18:48
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America by David von Drehle
Triangle: The Fire That Changed America - David von Drehle

This was a dud. I guess I had higher expectations for this book than I was aware of because all I am feeling is disappointment. Yeah, the book does explain (not that well enough in my opinion) what happened and how it happened, but I felt that the author was much more interested in writing about the men of Tammany Hall. Basically this book is almost all about every man involved, however loosely, in the strike of 1909 and the Triangle Shirtwaist Company fire. Seriously, I felt that every man in Lower East Side of NYC got a full back story and like maybe 3 women did.


The writing was a little over the top, especially when the author was describing what each character looked like, including the shape of heads. Also he was pre-occupied with how plain or pretty the women in the book were and how feminine they acted. It was a bit weird and not really added any value to the narrative.


Tip of the hat to the author for working on a list of victims who died in the fire. His author note on sources was more entertaining than a lot of the book, the way he detailed how he went about trying to find the names from varying sources and using detective work to whittle down the list.


I did give an extra half star for the author adding in details about Francis Perkins early days prior to working with and then for FDR.



Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
review 2017-11-08 09:18
Review: March Volume 3 by Rep John Lewis et al
March: Book Three - Andrew Aydin,Nate Powell,John Lewis Gaddis

The final book in the March trilogy takes on the Selma march as the main plotline, but also shows how the differing CRM groups had conflicting agendas and intra-fighting led Lewis away from SNCC and towards working with all the groups. He also takes on the bombing of the church that killed four young girls, the assassinations of JFK, RFK, and Malcolm X along with a trip to Africa to speak with activists working for their respective countries' independence from colonial rule. There is a lot of history, both personal and country, packed in this book.


I think LBJ gets a little too much credit for the signing of the Civil Rights legislation, and the story from Rep John Lewis about how that legislation came about shows the shrewd back room manipulations that are very familiar to modern readers.


I don't know how to explain it, but this series made history come alive in a way I just couldn't get from history textbooks or documentaries - those resources look at the Civil Rights Movement era in such clinical terms and dates/places. Rep John Lewis' story focused on the people and their work, setbacks and victories that make them relatable to modern readers and activists.


Highly recommend.

Like Reblog Comment
show activity (+)
text 2017-04-18 20:43
ARGH! Read 50 out of 352 pages
We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese - Elizabeth M. Norman

The story of these nurses is one I have been eagerly wanting to read. The women profiled (20 of the 99 original POW nurses) are starting to blend into one another - all farm fresh-faced, glossy hair, cute, perky, boy/man-crazy. These women have such an important story to share and the author is focusing on the most trivial crap in these women's lives - all while under enemy fire/invasion! I just feel like their story should have better writing than what is here...I am going to finish this book because the story needs to be told, but the book itself is going to probably get a low rating due to the awful writing.


On top of author's choices in what to write about and how she wrote the story, it is very academic - dry, textbook, with no sense of creative non-fiction storytelling. And the graphic descriptions of injuries/surgeries/piles of amputated limbs and jungle animals crawling on nurses/patients in the night are starting to get repetitive and certainly not needed in the amount that is present.

More posts
Your Dashboard view:
Need help?