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A searing portrait of the racial dynamics that lie inescapably at the heart of our nation, told through the turbulent history of the city of St. Louis.
From Lewis and Clark's 1804 expedition to the 2014 uprising in Ferguson, American history has been made in St. Louis. And as Walter Johnson shows in this searing book, the city exemplifies how imperialism, racism, and capitalism have persistently entwined to corrupt the nation's past.
St. Louis was a staging post for Indian removal and imperial expansion, and its wealth grew on the backs of its poor black residents, from slavery through redlining and urban renewal. But it was once also America's most radical city, home to anti-capitalist immigrants, the Civil War's first general emancipation, and the nation's first general strike -- a legacy of resistance that endures.
A blistering history of a city's rise and decline, The Broken Heart of America will forever change how we think about the United States.
This exhaustive and politically minded history of St. Louis, Mo., by Harvard history professor Johnson (Soul by Soul) indicts the city's treatment of its minority residents. Opening with the 1804 Lewis and Clark Expedition, which set out from St. Louis and led to the forcible removal of Native Americans from their lands, Johnson details Missouri's admission to the U.S. as a slave state; the Supreme Court's 1857 decision in the Dred Scott case, which originated in St. Louis; and the emergence of ragtime music from the "barrooms and bordellos" of the city's Deep Morgan district. In later chapters, he explores how the redevelopment of the city's riverfront and the construction of the Gateway Arch in the 1960s displaced black residents, and argues that the 2014 police shooting death of Michael Brown in nearby Ferguson, Mo., and the unrest that followed "exemplif the history of structural racism" in the region. Johnson makes a persuasive case that "St. Louis has been the crucible of American history," and his celebration of the city's defiant black culture heightens the book's potency. Progressive readers interested in African-American and Western history will savor this incisive and troubling account.