Say Their Names
How Black Lives Came to Matter in America
This definitive guide to America's present-day racial reckoning examines the forces that pushed our unjust system to its breaking point after the death of George Floyd.
For many, the story of the weeks of protests in the summer of 2020 began with the horrific nine minutes and twenty-nine seconds when Police Officer Derek Chauvin killed George Floyd on camera, and it ended with the sweeping federal, state, and intrapersonal changes that followed. It is a simple story, wherein white America finally witnessed enough brutality to move their collective consciousness. The only problem is that it isn't true. George Floyd was not the first Black man to be killed by police—he wasn’t even the first to inspire nation-wide protests—yet his death came at a time when America was already at a tipping point.
In Say Their Names, five seasoned journalists probe this critical shift. With a piercing examination of how inequality has been propagated throughout history, from Black imprisonment and the Convict Leasing program to long-standing predatory medical practices to over-policing, the authors highlight the disparities that have long characterized the dangers of being Black in America. They examine the many moderate attempts to counteract these inequalities, from the modern Civil Rights movement to Ferguson, and how the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others pushed compliance with an unjust system to its breaking point. Finally, they outline the momentous changes that have resulted from this movement, while at the same time proposing necessary next steps to move forward.
With a combination of penetrating, focused journalism and affecting personal insight, the authors bring together their collective years of reporting, creating a cohesive and comprehensive understanding of racial inequality in America.
In this sweeping if uneven survey, five Black journalists explore how racism and the fight for racial justice have shaped America's past and present. NBC News reporter Bunn covers the emergence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the health-care disparities between racial groups magnified by the Covid-19 pandemic, and the generations of Black wealth erased in the destruction of Black communities in Wilmington, N.C., and Tulsa, Okla., in 1898 and 1921, respectively. Michael Cottman (Segregated Skies) and Patrice Gaines (Laughing in the Dark) trace the roots of policing in America to the creation of slave patrols in the 1700s and argue that post Civil War convict leasing programs served as "a stepping-stone toward" mass incarceration. Though platitudinous profiles of Black politicians including Barack Obama and Kamala Harris disappoint, Nick Charles delivers a nuanced and revealing exploration of tensions between traditional Black churches and the Black Lives Matter movement. Throughout, the authors skillfully draw on interviews with protestors, clergy members, scholars, and community organizers, and offer brisk yet insightful accounts of the Jim Crow era, the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, and other historical episodes. The result is an accessible introduction to the latest chapter in the ongoing struggle for civil rights in America.