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02 May, 2017

Colour Bar

/ posted in: Reading Colour Bar Colour Bar: The Triumph of Seretse Khama and His Nation by Susan Williams
on 2007
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Nonfiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Library

London, 1947. He was the heir to an African kingdom. She was a white English insurance clerk. When they met and fell in love, it would change the world.
This is the inspiring true story of Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, whose marriage sent shockwaves through the establishment, defied an empire - and, finally, triumphed over the prejudices of their age.

Goodreads

I had never heard of Seretse and Ruth Khama until I saw an advertisement for the movie adaptation of Colour Bar.  It was only playing for one night here and I wasn’t able to go.  The story sounded interesting so as soon as I realized that it was based on a book, I got it from interlibrary loan.

Seretse Khama became the kgosi (chief) of his tribe at the age of four.  His uncle was installed as his regent.  They lived in Bechuanaland which is present day Botswana.  At the time this was under the control of England.  His uncle made sure that he was well educated by sending him to schools in South Africa and then sending him for a law degree in England.  There he fell in love with Ruth Williams, a white woman.

When he announced their intention to marry in 1949, opposition came from all sides.  They married anyway.  Eventually, he was able to convince his tribe that this marriage was acceptable.  He was not able to convince white people though.

The main objection came from South Africa.  They were in the process of codifying apartheid law.  They did not want the leader of a country on their border to be in an interracial marriage.  Since this was an hereditary position, the next leader would be mixed race.  If Bechuanaland was successful, it would make of mockery of the South African laws.  South Africa was an important part of the British Empire.  They fought to make sure that Seretse Khama was unable to lead his people.

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What followed was years of exile from Africa and abuse at the hands of British officials. This book is exhaustively researched. It quotes from many, many letters and official documents to let the English racism speak for itself. It is brutal. There is also a lot of discussion about what type of woman Ruth must be to be willing to marry a black man.

This book was fascinating but it is a slow read. It is very dense with details of meetings. It focuses on the political aspects of the story, not the human ones. You don’t get much of a sense of Seretse and Ruth’s personalities except for in a few of their reactions to what is being said. It doesn’t delve much into what is going on in their minds or the true stresses on their relationship while all this is going on.

I wasn’t surprised by the racism that they encountered but there times when I had to take a minute to digest the absolute depth of the hatred and ignorance in the writings and public statements of British officials. They were so willing to appease the hatred of whites living in southern Africa that they would go to ridiculous lengths. There was always a problem of getting the Khamas to and from Bechuanaland from England. They had to land in Rhodesia which was strictly segregated. You’d think they were negotiating a nuclear treaty the way they had to deal to allow planes to land with them onboard or to let Ruth and the children stay in a hotel overnight. (They basically had to promise that the children would not be seen so they didn’t offend delicate white sensibilities.)

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in Africa
02 Feb, 2017

Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston

/ posted in: Reading Black Titan – The Story of A.G. Gaston Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins, Elizabeth Gardner Hines
on December 2003
Pages: 330
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Alabama

The grandson of slaves, born into poverty in 1892 in the Deep South, A. G. Gaston died more than a century later with a fortune worth well over $130 million and a business empire spanning communications, real estate, and insurance. Gaston was, by any measure, a heroic figure whose wealth and influence bore comparison to J. P. Morgan and Andrew Carnegie. Here, for the first time, is the story of the life of this extraordinary pioneer, told by his niece and grandniece, the award-winning television journalist Carol Jenkins and her daughter Elizabeth Gardner Hines.

Goodreads

I had never heard of A.G. Gaston before this book showed up on Book Bub last year.  I’m glad I found out about him.  He had a remarkable life.

A.G. Gaston’s grandparents were slaves.  His grandfather worked with horses and his grandmother was an accomplished cook.  These were considered “privileged” positions.  When slavery ended they stayed on working for the family that previously owned them.  His grandmother taught his mother to cook and she also earned a living working for wealthy white families as a live-in cook and as a sought after caterer.  This put A.G. in contact with wealth at a young age.

When he was young there were two broad schools of thought about black advancement.  Booker T. Washington believed that black people should stay where they were and work hard to advance economically before looking for social equality.  W.E.B. DuBois believed in fighting for social equality and letting the “talented tenth” of black elites raise up the rest of the community.  A.G. Gaston spent his life firmly in Booker T. Washington’s camp.

After serving in WWI, he returned to Alabama and couldn’t find a good job.  He had to take work in the mines.  He saw widows begging for money to pay for their miner husbands’ funerals.  He started a burial insurance business.  From there he bought funeral homes.  Eventually he started a bank for black people and a business training school.

He was in his seventies and wealthy when the civil rights movement game to Birmingham.  He owned the only black hotel so Martin Luther King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference set up shop there.  I got the impression that he thought they were young radical whippersnappers.  He argued for moderation.  He wanted to negotiate instead of marching.  But, he was the person that repeatedly bailed them out of jail – whether they wanted bailed out or not.  He also argued vehemently against involving children in the marches and then secured the bond for the release of all the children jailed.  People spoke of him as being too deferential to the white businessmen, especially if they didn’t know that he was bankrolling a lot of the protests.

His hotel was bombed.   His house was bombed.  (He said he couldn’t be sure if it was white or black people who wanted to bomb his house.)  Bombs were set at other of his properties but were found before they went off.  He let the marchers on the way to Selma camp on one of farms one night.  He was even kidnapped.

After the protests moved away from Birmingham, he stayed and continued to serve the community.  He was a philanthropist.  Eventually he sold his business empire to his employees for a tenth of its worth to maintain local black control.

A.G. Gaston died at the age of 103.  His story is amazing.  He should definitely be better known.
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Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • POC authors
23 Dec, 2016

Hidden Figures

/ posted in: Reading Hidden Figures Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
on December 6th 2016
Pages: 368
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks
Format: Paperback
Source: Book Tour, From author/publisher
Goodreads

“Set against the backdrop of the Jim Crow South and the civil rights movement, the never-before-told true story of NASA’s African-American female mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program—and whose contributions have been unheralded, until now.
Before John Glenn orbited the Earth or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of professionals worked as “Human Computers,” calculating the flight paths that would enable these historic achievements. Among these were a coterie of bright, talented African-American women. Segregated from their white counterparts by Jim Crow laws, these “colored computers,” as they were known, used slide rules, adding machines, and pencil and paper to support America’s fledgling aeronautics industry, and helped write the equations that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.
Drawing on the oral histories of scores of these “computers,” personal recollections, interviews with NASA executives and engineers, archival documents, correspondence, and reporting from the era, Hidden Figures recalls America’s greatest adventure and NASA’s groundbreaking successes through the experiences of five spunky, courageous, intelligent, determined, and patriotic women: Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Christine Darden, and Gloria Champine.
Moving from World War II through NASA’s golden age, touching on the civil rights era, the Space Race, the Cold War, and the women’s rights movement, Hidden Figures interweaves a rich history of scientific achievement and technological innovation with the intimate stories of five women whose work forever changed the world—and whose lives show how out of one of America’s most painful histories came one of its proudest moments.”


In the 1940s airplanes were being studied in Virginia. Wind tunnels were built to evaluate minute changes in plane design in an effort to help win WWII. Large amounts of data were being collected. In order to process the numbers female mathematicians called computers where hired do crunch the numbers. Because Virginia was a segregated state, the women were kept in two areas. The East Computers were white and the West Computers were black.

A job as a computer was a step up for women with advanced degrees whose only hope for a job before this was teaching. This book covers the years from World War II to the beginning of the space age when Langley’s operations moved to Houston.

The author’s father had worked at Langley. The author grew up knowing several of the women but did not realize what they had done for space research. Most of the women were uncredited although several managed to get papers published over the years.

Eventually, women were absorbed into the labs that they had been supporting and the East and West Computer sections shut down. As machines became able to calculate faster than they could, they had to adapt to survive. Some moved more into research. Others became computer programmers to teach the machines the jobs that they previously did.

Among the women’s contributions were:

  • Calculating the time and location for a rocket to take off in order to have the capsule splash down near the Navy ships waiting to rescue the astronaut.
  • Calculating all the variables involved in getting the lunar landing module off the moon and able to meet up with the orbiting ship for the return to Earth.
  • Imagining the need for and then designing response scenarios for a systems malfunction like what happened on Apollo 13.

The scientific achievements of the black women profiled in this book were set against the backdrop of segregation and discrimination that they faced when they weren’t at work.  A good companion book to this would be Something Must Be Done About Prince Edward County about the shut down of all schools by a county that did not want to integrate them. Many of these very educated women were from this area and/or had families affected by the shut down of the schools.

I enjoyed this book.  I’m looking forward to seeing the movie also even though it appears that it will be focusing mostly on the John Glenn orbital flight.  Read the book to find out the whole story.

Purchase Links

HarperCollins
| Amazon
| Barnes & Noble

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About Margot Lee Shetterly

margot-lee-shetterly-ap-photo-by-aran-shetterly Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the
women in Hidden Figures. She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the
recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on
women in computing. She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Find out more about Margot at her website and connect with her on Twitter.

18 Oct, 2016

The Girls of Atomic City

/ posted in: Reading The Girls of Atomic City The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan
on March 5th 2013
Pages: 373
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Touchstone/Simon & Schuster
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Tennessee
Goodreads

“The incredible story of the young women of Oak Ridge, Tennessee, who unwittingly played a crucial role in one of the most significant moments in U.S. history.
The Tennessee town of Oak Ridge was created from scratch in 1942. One of the Manhattan Project’s secret cities, it didn’t appear on any maps until 1949, and yet at the height of World War II it was using more electricity than New York City and was home to more than 75,000 people, many of them young women recruited from small towns across the South. Their jobs were shrouded in mystery, but they were buoyed by a sense of shared purpose, close friendships—and a surplus of handsome scientists and Army men!
But against this vibrant wartime backdrop, a darker story was unfolding. The penalty for talking about their work—even the most innocuous details—was job loss and eviction. One woman was recruited to spy on her coworkers. They all knew something big was happening at Oak Ridge, but few could piece together the true nature of their work until the bomb “Little Boy” was dropped over Hiroshima, Japan, and the secret was out. The shocking revelation: the residents of Oak Ridge were enriching uranium for the atomic bomb.”


Oak Ridge was a temporary city in the middle of nowhere, hidden by topography, and never meant to see the light of day.  It had one purpose — to enrich uranium to feed the development of the nuclear bomb.  A lot of people were required to build and then run the huge plants.  How do you get a lot of people to agree to do a job that they aren’t allowed to know about or talk about?  Pay high wages and tell them it is for the war effort.

People left other jobs without knowing where they would be going or for how long.  Many were told to go to a train station and they would be met.  They had no idea where they were heading.

I can’t believe that people agreed to do this.  I’m too nosy.  If you gave me a job and told me to spend eight to twelve hours a day manipulating dials so that the readout always read the correct number, I couldn’t do it.  I certainly couldn’t do it for years without needing to know what I was doing.  I would have been fired and escorted out of there so fast.  How was the secret kept for so long?

Coming out of the Depression though, any job was a good job.  These jobs were hiring women and African Americans at wages they wouldn’t see elsewhere.  Of course, there was discrimination and segregation.  Housing for African Americans was poor and they were not allowed to live together if they were married.  When someone started wondering, “What happens if we inject this uranium into a person?” you know they picked a black man who just happened to have a broken leg to experiment on.  He did manage to escape eventually but not before they had done a lot of damage to him.

This book tells the stories of women in several different jobs – secretarial staff, Calutron operators, cleaning staff, and scientists.  They made a life in a town that wasn’t supposed to last long.  The audiobook was compelling listening.  The story sounds like a novel.

I went to vet school in Knoxville, which is 20 miles away from Oak Ridge.  I had friends who were from there and friends whose families had been forcibly removed from the area in order to build Oak Ridge.  It was interesting to hear what went on behind the scenes.

I would be interested in pairing this with this book:

Nagasaki: Life After Nuclear WarNagasaki: Life After Nuclear War by Susan Southard

“On August 9, 1945, three days after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima, the United States dropped a second atomic bomb on Nagasaki, a small port city on Japan’s southernmost island. An estimated 74,000 people died within the first five months, and another 75,000 were injured.

Published on the seventieth anniversary of the bombing, Nagasaki takes readers from the morning of the bombing to the city today, telling the first-hand experiences of five survivors, all of whom were teenagers at the time of the devastation.”

The Girls of Atomic City does discuss the reactions of the citizens of Oak Ridge when they found out what they had been doing.  It discusses the guilt that some people still have for their part in making the bomb.


You know what I kept thinking about while listening to this?  This scene from Clerks.

Randal: There was something else going on in Jedi. I ever noticed it till today. They build another Death Star, right?

Dante: Yeah.

Randal: Now, the first one was completed and fully operational before the Rebel’s destroyed it.

Dante: Luke blew it up. Give credit where credit is due.

Randal: And the second one was still being built when the blew it up.

Dante: Compliments to Lando Calrissian.

Randal: Something just never sat right with me that second time around. I could never put my finger on it, but something just wasn’t right.

Dante: And you figured it out?

Randal: The first Death Star was manned by the Imperial Army. The only people on board were stormtroppers, dignitaries, Imperials.

Dante: Basically.

Randal: So, when the blew it up, no problem. Evil’s punished.

Dante: And the second time around?

Randal: The second time around, it wasn’t even done being built yet. It was still under construction.

Dante: So?

Randal: So, construction job of that magnitude would require a helluva lot more manpower than the Imperial army had to offer. I’ll bet there were independent contractors working on that thing: plumbers, aluminum siders, roofers.

Dante: Not just Imperials, is what you’re getting at?

Randal: Exactly. In order to get it built quickly and quietly they’d hire anybody who could do the job. Do you think the average storm trooper knows how to install a toilet main? All they know is killing and white uniforms.

Dante: All right, so they bring in independent contractors. Why are you so upset with its destruction?

Randal: All those innocent contractors hired to do a job were killed! Casualties of a war they had nothing to do with. All right, look, you’re a roofer, and some juicy government contract comes your way; you got the wife and kids and the two-story in suburbia – this is a government contract, which means all sorts of benefits. All of a sudden these left-wing militants blast you with lasers and wipe out everyone within a three-mile radius. You didn’t ask for that. You have no personal politics. You’re just trying to scrape out a living.

____________

This book is basically the point of view of the people building the second Death Star.

 

 

28 Jul, 2016

Vivian in Red – Historical Fiction and a Ghost Story

/ posted in: Reading Vivian in Red – Historical Fiction and a Ghost Story Vivian In Red by Kristina Riggle
on September 13th 2016
Pages: 352
Genres: 20th Century, Historical Fiction, Occult & Supernatural
Published by Polis Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: New York
Goodreads

“Famed Broadway producer Milo Short may be eighty-eight but that doesn’t stop him from going to the office every day. So when he steps out of his Upper West Side brownstone on one exceptionally hot morning, he’s not expecting to see the impossible: a woman from his life sixty years ago, cherry red lips, bright red hat, winking at him on a New York sidewalk, looking just as beautiful as she did back in 1934.
The sight causes him to suffer a stroke. And when he comes to, the renowned lyricist discovers he has lost the ability to communicate. Milo believes he must unravel his complicated history with Vivian Adair in order to win back his words. But he needs help—in the form of his granddaughter Eleanor— failed journalist and family misfit. Tapped to write her grandfather’s definitive biography, Eleanor must dig into Milo’s colorful past to discover the real story behind Milo’s greatest song Love Me, I Guess, and the mysterious woman who inspired an amazing life.”


In 1999 Milo is the recently widowed patriarch of a high achieving family.  He lives surrounded by children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  He still goes into his production company even though his son is the running the place now.  The business isn’t doing as well as it used to and his son wants to do a revival of the last musical Milo wrote, The High Hat, along with commissioning a biography of Milo as a tie-in.  Milo is opposed to both.

He’s leaving the office after telling his son that when he sees a woman he knew in the 1930s.  She looks exactly like she did then.  She looks at him and he collapses.  When he wakes up he is unable to speak or use his right hand.  Robbed of ways to communicate, he has to figure out why Vivian Adair is haunting him without looking so confused that his family insists on a nursing home.

Now that Milo can’t voice his objections, the plans for the revival go ahead.  His granddaughter Eleanor is chosen to write the biography.  She is the only person who seems to understand that Milo is still lucid and aware and she doesn’t talk past him.  In her interviews with the son of his writing partner she hears the name Vivian and starts to investigate why that family thinks that this Vivian ruined everything.

I loved Milo and Eleanor! 

Milo’s mind is fast, as fits a lyricist, and he has a great sense of humor that comes through even when he is locked inside himself.  Eleanor has always been seen as the family misfit because she is quiet and she isn’t ambitious.  The rest of the family feels like they need to manage her life for her since she isn’t doing it up to their standards on her own.  She feels bad about being handed a book deal that is both a charity project for her and something that she knows her grandfather doesn’t want.  Now she’s gone and uncovered a scandal so everyone will be mad at her.

The author writes both time periods well.  There are little details from each era that anchor the writing firmly in that time.  Some of the social attitudes of the characters are jarring to modern thinking but seem accurate for the time and the place.

I stayed up past my bedtime to find out more about Vivian role in Milo’s past.  The mystery was well done with no easy easy to guess answers.

I would recommend this to any historical fiction fans even if you aren’t a fan of ghost stories.  The ghost aspect is just a way to get Milo to start focusing on this aspect of his past.  It isn’t written as a scary or horror-type story.  Ghost Vivian mostly just makes sarcastic comments that only Milo can hear.

4flower

freetogoodhome

 

30 May, 2016

67 Shots

/ posted in: Reading 67 Shots 67 Shots: Kent State and the End of American Innocence by Howard Means
on April 12th 2016
Pages: 288
Genres: 20th Century, History, Nonfiction
Published by Da Capo Press
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Set in Ohio

At midday on May 4, 1970, after three days of protests, several thousand students and the Ohio National Guard faced off at opposite ends of the grassy campus Commons at Kent State University. At noon, the Guard moved out. Twenty-four minutes later, Guardsmen launched a 13-second, 67-shot barrage that left four students dead and nine wounded, one paralyzed for life. The story doesn't end there, though. A horror of far greater proportions was narrowly averted minutes later when the Guard and students reassembled on the Commons.
The Kent State shootings were both unavoidable and preventable: unavoidable in that all the discordant forces of a turbulent decade flowed together on May 4, 1970, on one Ohio campus; preventable in that every party to the tragedy made the wrong choices at the wrong time in the wrong place.
Using the university's recently available oral-history collection supplemented by extensive new interviewing, Means tells the story of this iconic American moment through the eyes and memories of those who were there, and skillfully situates it in the context of a tumultuous era.

Goodreads

When I moved here four years ago the words Kent State only brought to mind the historical event of the shooting in 1970.  Suddenly I was working with several people who went to school there and didn’t cringe every time they said the words like they were invoking a horrific event.  It was weird for me.  Now instead of a scene of carnage it was just that place down the street.

I was interested in reading 67 Shots to find out more about what happened on that day when 4 students were killed by the National Guard.

This book made me furious – but not in the way that I expected

I’m a liberal politically.  I’m fine with protesting.  I’m anti-war.  I’m generally anti-violence but reading this book made me want to slap people.  I’m glad that right now I don’t have any Kent State students in the office or else I’d have to go symbolically slap them for their predecessors’ stupidity.

How stupid were they?  These people (believe me I ran through a list of other words before deciding on the neutral “people”) were rioting for days in town and on campus.  They torched a military building.  They hacked at the firemen’s hoses when they tried to fight the fire.  They repeatedly threatened and threw human waste at the military.  They refused orders to disperse.  Why?  Because they thought that the National Guard didn’t have live ammunition.  They thought they were untouchable.

I was thinking as I was reading that this couldn’t happen like this again because everyone knows now that the police or military will shoot you.  Then I came across this paragraph and footnote that summed it up.

“Until the moment of the shooting, an implicit social contract had prevailed at Kent State.  White, middle-class Americans could scream and shout at each other; they could give each other the finger and throw tear-gas canisters back and forth, and shout ‘Fuck!” as loud as they wanted to.  They could even chase each other with bayonets and helicopters, throw bricks and cement and bags full of shit, but as bitter and divisive as the times were, they didn’t shoot each other, and especially didn’t shoot each other dead.  The sixty-seven shots fired across thirteen seconds at 12:24 p.m. on May 4, 1970, changed that bargain, and Guardsmen seemed as surprised as students that whatever unspoken truce existed had fallen apart for good.*”

“*Black Americans had a different history.  At Kent State, they avoided the weekend demonstrations like the plague.

Emphasis mine.

Yep.  That’s it.  That’s the problem.  Spoiled little white brats thinking that they were invincible.  Reading their interviews decades after the event, a lot of them still don’t seem to think that they did anything that could be considered out of line.  You were throwing bags of urine and feces.  Sure, you weren’t shooting at people but you have crossed far over the line of basic human decency.  By the time you get out of kindergarten, let alone started college, you should have learned to keep your human waste to yourself.


I went to the site of the shooting at Kent State and visited the May 4 memorial and museum.  Being there gave me a better perspective on where the shooting happened.  Because there are hills and buildings that everyone was moving around, being there let me understand it better than just looking at it on a map.

The demonstration was in a large field around a Victory Bell monument (seen in the header photo). This is bowl shaped area with a building at the top. The National Guard marched up the hill and to the right of the building that you see in the background of the picture as they were trying to disperse the crowd. The shooting actually took place there. The people that were shot were in a parking lot behind the building.

The places where they were standing have memorials now.

You don’t seem to get a very complete picture in the museum. There is a gallery about the political climate of the 1960s. Then you watch a movie about the shooting. Then you move to a gallery about the political aftermath.

Things not mentioned in the museum:

  • The rioting for days before the shooting
  • Why the National Guard was on campus

Seriously? That’s a big omission.  If I knew nothing about this I would wonder why the National Guard was there or maybe assume that they were stationed there or something.  There was a line at the very beginning of the movie that says that the National Guard came in after the building burned.  It is very quick.  I might have missed it if I hadn’t specifically been listening for some explanation of the background events.

The museum gives the impression that students were peacefully gathering to sing Kumbaya and the evil National Guard swooped down out of nowhere and shot them for no reason.

What I Think Now

  • Yes, the protest at that point on May 4th was peaceful
  • Yes, shooting at the students was unwarranted
  • Yes, they shot at students who had left the area of the protest and that is why people who weren’t involved at all were killed or injured.  That is all bad.
  • No, I don’t want to say that the students had it coming but I’m almost to that point.  When the National Guard is called away from guarding people crossing the picket lines at a Teamsters’ Union strike and they say they felt safer there than on the Kent State campus, that’s saying something about the level of tension.
  • This is a story of privilege run amok.  I feel sorry for the bystanders caught up in it and for members of the Guard but I don’t feel sorry for anyone else.
22 Jul, 2015

The Wright Brothers

/ posted in: Reading The Wright Brothers The Wright Brothers by David G. McCullough
on 2015-05
Pages: 368
Genres: 20th Century, Biography & Autobiography, History, Nonfiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Owned

On a winter day in 1903, in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, two unknown brothers from Ohio changed history. But it would take the world some time to believe what had happened: the age of flight had begun, with the first heavier-than-air, powered machine carrying a pilot. Who were these men and how was it that they achieved what they did? David McCullough, two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, tells the surprising, profoundly human story of Wilbur and Orville Wright. Far more than a couple of unschooled Dayton bicycle mechanics who happened to hit on success, they were men of exceptional courage and determination, and of far-ranging intellectual interests and ceaseless curiosity, much of which they attributed to their upbringing. The house they lived in had no electricity or indoor plumbing, but there were books aplenty, supplied mainly by their preacher father, who encouraged their studying. As individuals they had differing skill sets and passions but as a team they excelled in any given task . That they had no more than a public high school education, little money and no patron to open doors to their desires, never stopped them in their goal to take to the air. Nothing did, not even the self-evident reality that every time they took off in one of their contrivances, they risked being killed, or, at the very least, maimed. In this thrilling book, master historian David McCullough draws on the immense riches of the Wright Papers, including private diaries, notebooks, scrapbooks, and more than a thousand letters from private family correspondence to tell the human side of the Wright Brothers' story, including the little-known contributions of their sister, Katharine, without whom things might well have gone differently for them.

Goodreads

Everybody sort of knows the story of the Wright Brothers but in listening to this book I realized that I didn’t know much about them as people.

They were the youngest sons of a preacher who traveled widely.  They were very well read and educated.  Even their sister graduated from college but Wilbur and Orville did not attend college.  They started a printing business and then moved to bicycles.

They had been fascinated with flight since playing with some flying toys as children.  To get started with real flight experiments they wrote to the Smithsonian and asked for copies of all the research papers they had.  From there they experimented.

They decided to go to Kitty Hawk North Carolina because of the constant wind.  They first built gliders that could replicate some of the wing movements of birds.  It didn’t flap but they could steer by slightly changing the angle of the wings.

They would spend the fall at Kitty Hawk and then go back to their store in Dayton Ohio to make enough money to finance the next year.

Eventually they were able to fly with a motor. They then moved everything back to Ohio and tried to convince the world that they could fly. No one would believe them. Local reporters wouldn’t cover the story and said they were cranks even though people went out to watch them fly all the time. They tried to get a contract with the government but the government said they couldn’t do that because there was no proof they could fly. No one from the government would come out to see. I was super frustrated for them while listening to this part of the story.

Eventually, they made contact with the French government and Wilbur and a plane went to France. Again, no one believed they could fly. French aviation was considered the best in the world so they couldn’t fly yet so there was no way some backwoods Americans were going to be able to. Public demonstrations were made and finally, the officials believed. Wilbur became a star in France.

Orville was doing similar demos in Maryland for the U.S. government until a crash that killed a passenger and critically injured Orville.

I’m impressed with the imagination it took to figure out how to do something brand new and then explain it to the world.

 


This book made me understand this other book better.

One Summer: America, 1927One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this book there is a lot of talk about the supremacy of French aviation. Now I know why they were so into it. Wilbur Wright was a sensation and he taught some pilots before he went back to the U.S. The French aviation industry was energized in the year Wilbur spent there.

23 Feb, 2015

Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson

/ posted in: Current EventsFeminismReading Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson Freedom's Daughters by Lynne Olson
on 2001
Pages: 460
Genres: 20th Century, Civil Rights, History, Nonfiction, Political Science, Social Science, United States, Women's Studies
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)

The first comprehensive history of the role of women in the civil rights movement, Freedom's Daughters fills a startling gap in both the literature of civil rights and of women's history. Stokely Carmichael, Andrew Young, John Lewis, and other well-known leaders of the civil rights movement have admitted that women often had the ideas for which men took credit. In this groundbreaking book, credit finally goes where credit is due -- to the bold women who were crucial to the movement's success and who refused to give up the fight.

Goodreads

I found this book because I wanted to find out more about Diane Nash, who was featured in the movie Selma.

The book starts with Ida B. Wells who was a journalist in the 1800s reporting on lynching.

After the Civil War, black women were able to apply their educations in jobs such as teaching more readily than black men were allowed.  These educated women organized social services and groups to fight against injustice.  The backlash came swiftly.  Black pastors accused them of being too powerful and taking on roles that should be filled by men.  The sexism grew.

“Once male slaves were freed, they sought to claim what they saw as those rights of ownership, particularly control over black women to which white men had previously laid claim.” pg 44

It was women who kept pressing for more rights during the early 1900s. Pauli Murray and Eleanor Roosevelt were featured among others.

A recurring theme is that women would start a project and then when it was getting successful, men would come in and take over.

“News coverage, which the leaders sought, was, as Murray pointed out, a matter of men reporting on men.  Stories on the movement often read like accounts of sports contests or wars, keeping score of who was up and who was down, who won an dwho lost.  Conflict was always emphasized, whether between civil rights organizations or between local white aurthorities and activitis.  The behind-the-scenes activity that women specialized in – organizing, building consensus, sustaining a  sense of community – did not make good television, nor did it lend itself to dramatic newspaper or magazine headlines. page 235

During the 1960s black and white women worked together in most of the major campaigns. Opposition to Civil Rights was often because of fears of black men sleeping with white women. For this reason, white women were often kept in the office and not allowed to go out into the field with black men. They started to chafe under the restrictions of their “women’s work.” Black women often did not see their point about sexism because they didn’t have the same prohibitions. This led to splits in organizations and several of the white women who had been very involved in the Civil Rights movement started working with feminist organizations. This disconnect between black and white women over sexism can still be seen in discussions today around race and feminism.

I learned about women that I didn’t know anything about previously, including Diane Nash. She was incredible!

This book was a good compliment to the Rosa Parks biography I read. I’d recommend this for anyone interested in women’s history that they may not have heard before.

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