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27 Jul, 2017

The Gilded Years

/ posted in: Book ReviewReading The Gilded Years The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe
on July 1, 2016
Pages: 379
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: eBook
Source: Playster
Setting: New York

Since childhood, Anita Hemmings has longed to attend the country’s most exclusive school for women, Vassar College. Now, a bright, beautiful senior in the class of 1897, she is hiding a secret that would have banned her from admission: Anita is the only African-American student ever to attend Vassar. With her olive complexion and dark hair, this daughter of a janitor and descendant of slaves has successfully passed as white, but now finds herself rooming with Louise “Lottie” Taylor, the scion of one of New York’s most prominent families.
Though Anita has kept herself at a distance from her classmates, Lottie’s sphere of influence is inescapable, her energy irresistible, and the two become fast friends. Pulled into her elite world, Anita learns what it’s like to be treated as a wealthy, educated white woman—the person everyone believes her to be—and even finds herself in a heady romance with a moneyed Harvard student. It’s only when Lottie becomes infatuated with Anita’s brother, Frederick, whose skin is almost as light as his sister’s, that the situation becomes particularly perilous. And as Anita’s college graduation looms, those closest to her will be the ones to dangerously threaten her secret.


I loved this story of a woman trying to get an education at Vassar before they accepted African-American students.  Her life is compared and contrasted to the life of her brother who was enrolled as a Negro student at newly desegregated MIT.  Where he is able to live relatively freely because the racists just ignored and/or avoided him, her attempts to keep from drawing attention to herself were thwarted by a roommate who is determined to be best friends.  Lottie drags Anita into a high class social life and introduces her to people who she knows wouldn’t talk to her if they knew she was black.

The book addresses the pain of having to cut family members out of your life if you are passing.

The author did a good job of incorporating the views of many different types of people – black people who saw this as a practical way to get an education, black people who wanted her to be a vocal proponent for civil rights, white people both for and against desegregation, and white people who were against bigotry until events touched their lives.

What I found most remarkable about this story is that it is based on real events.  I wasn’t surprised by a woman passing as white to attend a segregated college but I was surprised about some of the details that seemed a bit over the top that turned out to be based in reality.  I can’t discuss it all because of spoilers but make sure to read the historical note at the end.

A good companion to this book would be:

 A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in AmericaA Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in America by Allyson Hobbs

“Between the eighteenth and mid-twentieth centuries, countless African Americans passed as white, leaving behind families and friends, roots and community. It was, as Allyson Hobbs writes, a chosen exile, a separation from one racial identity and the leap into another. This revelatory history of passing explores the possibilities and challenges that racial indeterminacy presented to men and women living in a country obsessed with racial distinctions. It also tells a tale of loss.”

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Backlist Books
  • Books Set in North America
  • POC authors
16 Mar, 2015

Battle of the Books – Memoirs

/ posted in: Reading Battle of the Books – MemoirsPower Forward by Reggie Love
on February 3rd 2015
Pages: 224
Genres: Biography & Autobiography, Personal Memoirs
Published by Simon and Schuster
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library

Reggie Love is a unique witness to history, whose introduction to Washington was working in Junior Senator Barack Obama’s mailroom. As “body man” to Obama during his first presidential campaign, Love’s job was to stay one step behind the candidate, but think and act three steps ahead during a typical eighteen-hour workday. As President Obama’s personal aide during that momentous first term, Love sat yards from the Oval Office and often spent more time with the President than anyone else. While his experiences were unique, the lessons he learned during his tenure with the President are universal. Persistence. Responsibility. Passion for a cause greater than yourself. In short, maturity. Love has been singularly lucky in his mentors. At Duke University, where he was a walk-on and a captain of its fabled basketball team, Love learned from Coach Krzyzewski that sports builds character—from President Obama, Love learned that how you conduct your life defines your character. Accountability and serving with honor were learned during unsought moments: co-coaching with Malia Obama’s and Sasha Obama’s basketball team with the President; lending Obama his tie ahead of a presidential debate; managing a personal life when no hour is truly your own. From his first interview with Senator Obama, to his near-decision not to follow the President-elect to the White House, Love drew on Coach K’s teachings as he learned to navigate Washington. But it was while owning up to (temporarily) losing the President’s briefcase, playing pick-up games in New Hampshire to secure votes, babysitting the children of visiting heads of state, and keeping the President company at every major turning point of his historic first campaign and administration, that Love learned how persistence and passion can lead not only to success, but to a broader concept of adulthood. Power Foward is a professional coming of age story like no other.


It took me a few days after reading this book to figure out where it went wrong for me. At first I thought it was the overall “sports is a metaphor for everything” vibe but that wasn’t it. Then I thought that it was that he just tells anecdotes and not a chronological story that was bothering me.

I think the real problem is that he never tells the reader something real.

There are stories about campaign events and mistakes and visiting dignitaries but they are relayed in the matter of fact manner of well-rehearsed stories you pull out when you need to entertain. A memoir needs more. It needs to have heart, which is a term I totally hate but is applicable here. This book reads like, “I was in college and played sports and then I lucked into a job, and then I worked for the President and that was cool.” It stays on the surface so there is always nagging feeling that something is missing.


Yes, ChefYes, Chef by Marcus Samuelsson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Yes, Chef gets it right. Marcus Samuelsson was orphaned in Ethiopia at a young age. He and his older sister were adopted by a Swedish family. He went on to become an acclaimed chef.

The first chapter of the book is a discussion about how he has no memories of his mother but knows what she must have been like because her life would have been similar to women he’s met in rural Ethiopia now. It talks about the hardness of her life and then about her walking 70 miles to get him and sister to a hospital during a TB epidemic where she eventually died.

“My mother’s family never owned a photograph of her ,which tells you everything you need to know about where I’m from and what the world was like for the people who gave me life.  In 1972, in the United States, Polaroid introduced its most popular instant camera.  In 1972, the year my mother died, an Ethiopian woman could go her whole life without having her picture taken – especially if, as was the case with my mother, her life was not long.”  page 4

That chapter was compelling enough that I read it out loud to the husband and Z in the car.  Nothing in Power Forward made you feel the need to share it.

The rest of the books was also very good.  As a vegetarian, I’m always a little disturbed by food memoirs.  The food descriptions are just so disgusting.  He has to take the obligatory shot at vegetarians when he talks about being chosen to do the Obamas’ first State Dinner.  It was for the Prime Minister of Indian and his wife who are vegetarians.  Oh it is just so hard to make food that tastes decent without using meat!  How can it possibly be done?

(Power Forward talks about this dinner also from the security side and never once mentions the lack of meat. )

These books are both by black men who have nurtured their respective talents (sports and cooking) to rise to positions of prominence that they would never have imagined as children.  Yes, Chef‘s more powerful writing and willingness to look below the surface recounting of accomplishments gives it the edge here.

Photo Credit USDA Flickr
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.


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.