Jackson, 1964 And other dispatches from fifty years of reporting on race in America

Calvin Trillin

Book - 2016

An anthology of previously uncollected essays, originally published in "The New Yorker," reflects the work of the eminent journalist's early career and traces his witness to the fledgling years of desegregation in Georgia.

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New York : Random House [2016]
Main Author
Calvin Trillin (author)
First edition
Physical Description
xxi, 275 pages ; 22 cm
  • Author's Note
  • Introduction
  • Jackson, 1964 Jackson, Mississippi, 1964
  • The Zulus New Orleans, Louisiana, 1964
  • During the Thirty-third Week of National Guard Patrols Wilmington, Delaware, 1968
  • A Hearing: "In the Matter of Disciplinary Action Involving Certain Students of Wisconsin State University Oshkosh" Oshkosh, Wisconsin, 1968
  • Doing the Right Thing Isn't Always Easy Denver, Colorado, 1969
  • Categories Provo, Utah, 1970
  • G. T. Miller's Plan
  • Not Super-Outrageous
  • Victoria DeLee-In Her Own Words
  • Kawaida
  • Causes and Circumstances
  • The Unpleasantness at Whimsey's
  • Remembrance of Moderates Past 1977
  • Black or White
  • The Color of Blood Long Island, New York, 2008
  • State Secrets Mississippi, 1995
Review by New York Times Review

HOW EVERYTHING BECAME WAR AND THE MILITARY BECAME EVERYTHING: Tales From the Pentagon, by Rosa Brooks. (Simon & Schuster, $17.) As a former high-ranking Pentagon official, Brooks was, as she put it, "part of a vast bureaucratic death-dealing enterprise." In her book - equal parts memoir and history - she charts the United States' shift in military strategy, accompanied by an uncomfortable blurring of boundaries between peace and war. THE INSEPARABLES, by Stuart Nadler. (Back Bay/Little, Brown, $15.99.) In this wise and witty novel, three generations of women suffer indignities in a time of increased scrutiny: Henrietta, widowed and desperate to improve her finances, has approved the reissue of the book she wrote decades earlier (and has regretted ever since); her daughter, Oona; and her granddaughter, Lydia, reeling and humiliated after a nude photo of her circulated among her classmates. JACKSON, 1964: And Other Dispatches From Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America, by Calvin Trillin. (Random House, $18.) As a reporter, first for Time and now The New Yorker, Trillin has covered over five decades of the civil rights movement and its aftermath. His book comprises essays and reporting from across the country, standing as a reminder of the progress that has, and has not, been made. THE SUNLIGHT PILGRIMS, by Jenni Fagan. (Hogarth, $16.) At the outset of Fagan's novel, it's 2020 and the residents of a fictional Scottish town are bracing for an unthinkably cold winter. The story centers on three characters: Dylan, a hapless Londoner; a woman, Constance; and her transgendered child, Stella, whose transition depends on getting the hormones she needs. Stella's inner turmoil matches the impending storm; our reviewer, Marisa Silver, praised how "ordinary, even banal, life dramas unfold while the existential noose is tightening." PINPOINT: How GPS Is Changing Technology, Culture, and Our Minds, by Greg Milner. (Norton, $16.95.) Milner examines how the Global Positioning System, better known as GPS, soared from its military origins to become a staple of everyday life, with a focus on its success as an engineering and technical marvel. Along with history, Milner looks at practical considerations that spring from knowing our exact location. HEROES OF THE FRONTIER, by Dave Eggers. (Vintage, $16.95.) Fleeing suburban life, a woman brings along her two children on a road trip to Alaska. The children, Ana and Paul, soulful and intelligent, form the novel's emotional core; our reviewer, Barbara Kingsolver, called them "a dynamic duo who command us to pay attention to the objects we find in our path, and stop pretending we already know the drill."

Copyright (c) The New York Times Company [August 30, 2019]
Review by Booklist Review

*Starred Review* Best-selling master essayist Trillin (Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin, 2011) has created an exceptional collection of the articles he has written as a staff writer on race and racism for the New Yorker between 1964 and 2008. These aren't flashy stories; in fact, they bring to mind the localism of a community newspaper. Yet in them Trillin addresses the sensitive, complex issues he raises from a national perspective. He brings us into numerous uncomfortable situations, exposing through perceptive observations and nuanced humor the insidious nature of discriminatory practices. From the title story and its revelations about the Mississippi voter registration and education drives of the early 1960s to the treatment of black student protesters in Wisconsin, Louisiana's black-blood laws, and the danger of accepting moderation when it comes to fighting racism, these inquiries expose the headwinds African Americans have faced in gaining equal footing under the law. Each piece is followed by a brief and telling update. Trillin's exceptional storytelling skills and deep sense of connection help us see each of the people he portrays as dignified individuals in profoundly trying situations. HIGH-DEMAND BACKSTORY: Popular Trillin is always a draw, and the subject of this caring compilation will double this volume's appeal.--Kaplan, Dan Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

Trillin (Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin), a regular contributor to the New Yorker since 1963, collects his insights and musings on race in America in previously published essays from over 50 years of reporting. They cover events from the 1964 voter registration drives in Jackson, Miss., to a 2006 deadly shooting on Long Island, N.Y., "the single most segregated suburban area in the United States." Providing abundant context and telling details, Trillin covers the Mardi Gras Zulu parade in New Orleans, the resistance to school integration in Denver, race relations in the Mormon Church in Utah, a stop-and-frisk with tragic results in Seattle, and the confrontation between Italians and African-Americans over the construction of an apartment building called Kawaida Towers in Newark, N.J. Most of these episodes take place in the 1960s and '70s, so Trillin provides updates at the end of each essay to show how the issues have evolved and what progress, if any, has been made. He also delves into the definitions of black and white in modern-day Louisiana and the qualities of a southern "moderate" in the 1970s, and invites a black civil rights activist to tell the story of her hardscrabble life in Dorchester County, S.C., in her own words. As Trillin notes in his introduction, today's African-American students are more isolated than they were 40 years ago, education policy makers have abandoned integration as a cause, and a number of states have recently passed laws meant to suppress non-white votes. What's shocking is how topical and relatively undated many of these essays seem today. Agent: Eric Simonoff, William Morris Endeavor. (June) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Many fans of journalist Trillin might not associate him with the civil rights movement, but this work is here to remind us that the complications of race in America have always been a vehicle for his sharp writing and criticism. In his introduction, the author explains his ambivalence about being labeled a hero of the Freedom Rides when he was covering them for Time in the 1960s. These New Yorker essays span the gamut from a long piece on a fizzled boycott of the Zulu Mardi Gras parade to a recent racially charged murder trial on Long Island. The most striking is a simple transcript of black voting rights activist -Victoria DeLee's life story in a dated Southern dialect. While each of these essays are interesting in their own right, many meander with trivial details, and Trillin does not make much of a case for their cohesiveness or why the compilation is really necessary. VERDICT This book is supposedly a contribution to the current "volcanic national conversation about race and racism," but it makes one wonder whether or not more relevant analysis can be offered on this crucially important topic than rehashed essays from a prolific white writer.-Kate Stewart, American Folklife Ctr., Washington, DC © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

A veteran reporter collects some significant pieces about race that originally appeared in the New Yorker, his publishing home since 1963.The author of some 30 titles, Trillin (Dogfight: The 2012 Presidential Campaign in Verse, 2012, etc.) revisits the last half-century's racial struggles in various regions of the country, and readers are likely to come away thinking, "so much has not really changed all that much." The first essay, the titular piece, deals with the struggle for voting rights in Mississippi, and older readers will find themselves swept back into sanguinary events that will seem both historical and immediate. "No sophisticated study of public opinion is needed," writes the author, "to establish the fact that in the United States, North and South, a white life is considered to be of more value than a Negro life." Later on is a 2008 piece about the racial foundations of a 2006 shooting on Long Island. (Progress, we see, has been incremental and even barely visible in some cases.) Trillin investigates the racial aspects of Mardi Gras parades, racial turmoil at a Wisconsin university, the vast racial differences in criminal sentencing in Texas, housing disputes, racially discriminatory admissions to a Boston disco, a woman's struggle to change the racial labeling on her birth certificate, and much, much more. Throughout, the author's tone remains calm, analytical, and reasonablethough he invariably finds a detail or two, or comments by principals, that ascend to the level of symbol. He quotes, for example, a Texas district attorney about a case involving a man who sold a single marijuana cigarette and was sentenced to 30 years: "I don't see that this is a very unusual verdict." Trillin ends each piece with a brief update about the situation and the players involved. Haunting pieces that show how our window on the past is often a mirror. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Jackson, 1964 Jackson, Mississippi 1964 To people who happen to be admirers of Spanish Civil War literature, Jackson as the headquarters of the Mississippi Summer Project is likely to conjure up visions of Madrid as the capital of the Spanish Loyalists. Physically, Jackson could hardly look less like Madrid, but the Summer Project--­a statewide program of voter registration and other civil rights activities being carried out by some six hundred volunteers and some one hundred paid workers--­is so thoroughly caught up in a tangle of frenetic planning and propagandizing that a reader of George Orwell and Ernest Hemingway half expects to come across military strategists mapping out campaigns against mountain villages or to see clusters of ideologists arguing and plotting in small, dark bars, their conversations occasionally interrupted by a stray bomb. One difference, of course, is that the Council of Federated Organizations, or COFO--­the amalgam of civil rights groups that runs the Summer Project--­does not actually control even the part of Jackson where it is permitted to exist, and there are constant reminders of who does. A number of editorialists and columnists on the Jackson daily newspapers are not merely segregationists but segregationists of the type who are inclined to indicate their position by referring to Martin Luther King, Jr., as "the Rev. Dr. Extremist Agitator Martin Luther King, Jr.," or by suggesting that President Johnson's theme song should be "The High Yellow Rose of Texas," or by telling cannibal jokes; the community bulletin board of a local radio station occasionally includes, among reports of rummage sales and church suppers, the announcement that Americans for the Preservation of the White Race will hold its weekly meeting that evening and "all interested white people are invited to attend"; the chatty gray-­haired lady in charge of a local bookstore, whose inventory appears to begin with the writings of the John Birch Society and move to the right, is available for political arguments with the civil rights workers she refers to amiably as "those COFO things"; one can telephone Dial for Truth, a recorded announcement by the Jackson Citizens' Council of the evils that race-­mixing has brought upon the world during the previous week; and the Mississippi Numismatic Exchange, Inc., has a sign in its window reading, kennedy half dollars 25¢. that's all we think they're worth! (The sign says in smaller letters that the case that goes along with one costs fifty cents.) Still, Jackson, which prides itself on maintaining law and order, has been relatively careful about protecting civil rights workers, and there has not been enough civil rights action within the city limits to provide what COFO people tend to call a confrontation; all in all, the city is more of a communications-­and-­planning center than a scene of battle. At the COFO headquarters, a storefront office on Lynch Street, in the Negro business district, efficient white girls in cotton print dresses decorate the walls daily with fresh "incident reports" listing arrests or beatings of COFO workers in other parts of the state, but whenever the stray bomb lands--­as on the second day of my visit, when two workers were beaten, though not seriously, just a few blocks from the COFO office--­the first reaction is that somebody must have broken a truce or wandered out of a demilitarized zone by mistake. At the office, COFO workers in overalls and work shirts who have come into Jackson on errands from small towns in the Delta stroll in and out, and members of the office staff shuttle back and forth incessantly between a row of typewriters and a row of telephones. On Farish Street, in another part of the Negro business district, two groups of lawyers use offices across the street from one another--­each on the top floor of a drab two-­story building--­to deal with the litigation brought on by the constant civil rights arrests. In an office nearby, the National Council of Churches, which has provided ministers, lawyers, and the training facilities for the Summer Project, regularly holds orientation sessions for new arrivals, and a group of respectable-­looking clergymen regularly watch quietly as a COFO worker demonstrates how to protect one's kidneys when knocked down. ("Is it considered permissible to get in a punch or two and then run?" a young minister asked the day I was there. "How good a runner are you?" the COFO demonstrator asked in reply.) Over in the white business district, workmen are installing an interior staircase in the expanded FBI office, which now occupies one floor and part of another of the new First Federal Savings & Loan Building, and is still in the unpackaging stage, with crates on the floor and pictures of J. Edgar Hoover leaning against the wall. At the state capitol, a few blocks to the north, where a statue of Governor (and Senator) Theodore Bilbo, the late racist, dominates the ground floor, and vividly tinted portraits of Mississippi's two Miss Americas are enshrined in the rotunda, investigators for the State Sovereignty Commission, the agency charged with preserving segregation, go through Negro newspapers, civil rights literature, and the Worker in order to keep track of which left-­wingers are where. All in all, there are so many visitors in town that it is practically impossible to rent a car, and the provision of restaurant and hotel accommodations for the visitors has become a minor industry. Under these circumstances, a conversation about the Catalan separatists or the anarchists of the POUM might not sound out of place, but instead the visitors talk about SNCC (called "Snick" and standing for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), or the National Council (of Churches), or the LCDC (Lawyers Constitutional Defense Committee), or the (National) Lawyers Guild, or the APWR (Americans for the Preservation of the White Race), or the Citizens' Council, or the Klan. Jackson has never stood apart from the rest of Mississippi the way Atlanta has stood apart from Georgia, say, or New Orleans from Louisiana. Traditionally, it has merely been a larger town than the other towns in the state, and not until after World War II was it very much larger. In 1940, it had a population of sixty-­two thousand. Now, however, with a population of a hundred and fifty thousand and with ambitions for further expansion, Jackson is the logical place to expect to see any significant indications of moderation on the race issue in Mississippi--­simply because it now has the most to lose through the chaos that total defiance of federal desegregation provisions could bring. Such indications appeared recently when it began to look as though the city might comply peacefully with a federal court order that schools start desegregating this fall, and when the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce made a surprise statement advising businessmen to comply with the public accommodations section of the new civil rights law. After the fact, it is not difficult to find a number of good reasons for the Chamber's statement. This summer marks the first time Jackson businessmen have ever been faced with anything approaching the power of a federal law. Previously, it was possible to see the conflict as one between the state and a group of Negroes; the civil rights law expanded it, potentially, into one between each individual businessman and the federal government. (There is a theory in Jackson that Mississippi fell victim to its own propaganda; that is, there was so much publicity about how a civil rights law could result in a decent American businessman's being hauled off to court or to jail by the federal dictator for choosing his own customers that the local businessmen were psychologically prepared for an early surrender.) It is said that business in Jackson was damaged somewhat by the demonstrations and boycotts of last summer, and that businessmen--­particularly those directly affected by the law--­were happy to be able to make the inevitable transition peacefully by blaming it on the federal government, especially since many of them apparently believed (erroneously) that all those COFO things in town were likely to stage an impressive demonstration for all the FBI people in town on the Fourth of July. Although the national headquarters of the Citizens' Councils of America is in Jackson, the local Council has never embraced all the important businessmen, as it does in some smaller Mississippi towns, and the suggestion has been made that its point of view seemed to be dominant only because a segregation issue of vital importance to business had not come up. According to one person who was close to those who drafted the Chamber's statement, "Folks didn't realize the number of people here who are able to recognize the inevitable when it arrives." Those people, who had remained silent while the inevitable was approaching, acted with a suddenness that caught the Citizens' Council element by surprise. There is reason to believe that their action will result in preserving almost complete segregation while avoiding public disturbance--­since the facilities, if made available without challenge, are not likely to be used by a great many Jackson Negroes--­but in the past, even that argument was not enough to justify a public statement in favor of desegregation. So while people familiar with Jackson are able to explain why such a statement was wise, they admit surprise that it was issued. The Chamber's statement, according to one member of its board, was "a calculated risk," and once it had succeeded--­of the fourteen hundred firms affiliated with the Chamber, only four resigned--­there was bound to be less pressure against those willing to recognize the possibility of change in Mississippi. A few days after the Chamber advised compliance, the mayor of Jackson supported its stand, and a week or so after that, when Mississippians for Public Education, a group composed mainly of housewives, announced its existence and its intention of opposing any scheme that might damage the public schools--­such as the establishment of private segregated schools supported by state tuition grants--­its members, to their amazement, met with practically no abuse. Four days after the group's announcement, its president had received only two letters criticizing her position (one of them asked, among other things, if she realized that "academic standards have fell in any place that has had integration"), and none of the officers in Jackson had received a single unsigned hate letter or late-­night phone call. Excerpted from Jackson 1964: And Other Dispatches from Fifty Years of Reporting on Race in America by Calvin Trillin All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.