From bestselling author and beloved New Yorker writer Calvin Trillin, a deeply resonant, career-spanning collection of articles on race and racism, from the 1960s to the present
In the early sixties, Calvin Trillin got his start as a journalist covering the Civil Rights Movement in the South. Over the next five decades of reporting, he often returned to scenes of racial tension. Now, for the first time, the best of Trillin’s pieces on race in America have been collected in one volume.
In the title essay of Jackson, 1964, we experience Trillin’s riveting coverage of the pathbreaking voter registration drive known as the Mississippi Summer Project—coverage that includes an unforgettable airplane conversation between Martin Luther King, Jr., and a young white man sitting across the aisle. (“I’d like to be loved by everyone,” King tells him, “but we can’t always wait for love.”)
In the years that follow, Trillin rides along with the National Guard units assigned to patrol black neighborhoods in Wilmington, Delaware; reports on the case of a black homeowner accused of manslaughter in the death of a white teenager in an overwhelmingly white Long Island suburb; and chronicles the remarkable fortunes of the Zulu Social Aid & Pleasure Club, a black carnival krewe in New Orleans whose members parade on Mardi Gras in blackface.
He takes on issues that are as relevant today as they were when he wrote about them. Excessive sentencing is examined in a 1970 piece about a black militant in Houston serving thirty years in prison for giving away one marijuana cigarette. The role of race in the use of deadly force by police is highlighted in a 1975 article about an African American shot by a white policeman in Seattle.
Uniting all these pieces are Trillin’s unflinching eye and graceful prose. Jackson, 1964 is an indispensable account of a half-century of race and racism in America, through the lens of a master journalist and writer who was there to bear witness.
Praise for Jackson, 1964
“Trillin’s elegant storytelling and keen observations sometimes churned my wrath about the glacial pace of progress. That’s because to me and millions of African-Americans, the topics of race and poverty—and their adverse impact on the mind and spirit—are, as Trillin acknowledges, not theoretical; they’re personal.”—Dorothy Butler Gilliam, The New York Times Book Review (Editor’s Choice)
“These pieces . . . will continue to be read for the pleasure they deliver as well as for the pain they describe.”—The New York Times
“With the diligent clarity, humane wit, polished prose and attention to pertinent detail that exemplify Trillin’s journalism at its best . . . Jackson, 1964 drives home a sobering realization: Even with signs of progress, racism in America is news that stays news.”—USA Today
“These unsettling tales, elegantly written and wonderfully reported, are like black-and-white snapshots from the national photo album. They depict a society in flux but also stubbornly unmoved through the decades when it comes to many aspects of race relations. . . . The grace Trillin brings to his job makes his stories all the more poignant.”—The Christian Science Monitor
“An exceptional collection [from] master essayist Trillin.”—Booklist (starred 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.