Stephen Hahn's A Nation Under Our Feet came in the mail yesterday (thanks for the recommendation, guys). Today, I got the second volume of Louis Harlan's Booker T. biography. I thought Norrell's was really well-written, but I found its polemical aspects unconvincing. I'm going to knock out Capitol Men by week's end, then tackle this Wells Towers joint. I need a fiction break.
I'm having a rather layered reaction to all this reading on Reconstruction. It's surreal to read about P.B.S. Pinchback, or any of the seemingly numerous dudes who were slaves, walked to another state, went to college and then became lawyers. But at the same time it's very hard to take the tragedy of it all. On a personal level, it's hard to read about getting your ass kicked repeatedly by the most vile elements of the country. I've got a bio on "Pitchfork" Ben Tillman waiting for me, but I'm scared to read it. All you need to know about this dude is that his name was "Pitchfork." Pitchfork Tillman. He just sounds like he should be leading a lynch-mob.
I get a lot of comments about my blogging style. A lot of folks want me to twist the knife more, or go a little harder, or throw a few more elbows. I understand the impulse. Part of its racial--they're just so few black writers who get to get on the mic. And there are so many sucker MCs spewing weak shit about black people. You want to see someone force some humility on these dudes.
But the one thing about reading a quality book is that, if you're in the right frame of mind, you're reminded that you're in no position to humble anyone. I remember being young, with my beads, with my tie-die book-bag, my Bob Marley tee-shirt, and my baby dreads. I thought all you needed to know of the world was somewhere between Cointelpro and Kimet. What did I know of class struggle, then? I didn't know even Jack & Jill existed. What did I know of "women's issues?" What do I know now?
I went off to college, and my mind was blown. Mostly by how many fucking bad-ass honeys were walking Howard's campus. Man listen--I used to have to sit down on the steps of Douglass Hall, because I could barely make my way across the yard. I'm losing my balance just thinking about it. But, in all seriousness, it was Levering-Lewis right along with Fitzgerald, it was Hurston right along with Steinbeck. I remember thinking, "How can I know so little of the world? How could have been so wrong?"
I'm not hedging, and I'm not holding back. But since I've started blogging, I've had to take in so much information, and while it's made me smarter, it's also made me aware of--again--how much there is to know. I'm almost done with Capitol Men, and I'm actually getting great insight on the late 19th century white moderate perspective on Reconstruction. They were pulling troops from the South to steal land from the Indians. There were fighting over women's suffrage. The railroads were blowing up. There was class struggle everywhere. There were bank panics. And the country was just turning 100. The South had basically worn them out. I'm actually sympathizing with the white America of the period. I actually understand why they couldn't keep fighting. Isn't that sick?
That sympathy, that sickness is bracing--it's not what I came to the book to get. But it's what I got nonetheless. It's good to remember how little power you have over what you know, and how you'll see it in five years. We have no idea where we're headed. It's blasphemy to act like we do