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Books  >>  History

Harper Barnes

Never Been a Time

Harper Barnes Never Been A Time The 1917 Race Riot That Sparked The Civil Rights
 
 


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The dramatic and first popular account of one of the deadliest racial confrontations in the 20th century—in East St. Louis in the summer of 1917—which paved the way for the civil rights movement.

In the 1910s, half a million African Americans moved from the impoverished rural South to booming industrial cities of the North in search of jobs and freedom from Jim Crow laws. But Northern whites responded with rage, attacking blacks in the streets and laying waste to black neighborhoods in a horrific series of deadly race riots that broke out in dozens of cities across the nation, including Philadelphia, Chicago, Tulsa, Houston, and Washington, D.C. In East St. Louis, Illinois, corrupt city officials and industrialists had openly courted Southern blacks, luring them North to replace striking white laborers.  This tinderbox erupted on July 2, 1917 into what would become one of the bloodiest American riots of the World War era. Its impact was enormous. “There has never been a time when the riot was not alive in the oral tradition,” remarks Professor Eugene Redmond. Indeed, prominent blacks like W.E.B. Du Bois, Marcus Garvey, and Josephine Baker were forever influenced by it.

Celebrated St. Louis journalist Harper Barnes has written the first full account of this dramatic turning point in American history, decisively placing it in the continuum of racial tensions flowing from Reconstruction and as a catalyst of civil rights action in the decades to come. Drawing from accounts and sources never before utilized, Harper Barnes has crafted a compelling and definitive story that enshrines the riot as an historical rallying cry for all who deplore racial violence.

“A sobering look at white-black history in this country and how it informs race relations today...Barnes brings fresh light to a troubling past that white Americans would prefer to forget and black Americans cannot.”—Scott Martelle, Los Angeles Times

“There is a secret history of American race relations, things they never taught us in school—the wanton terrorism visited upon African-Americans by white mobs from the end of the civil war to the beginning of the modern civil rights movement. Harper Barnes takes one of the very worst episodes—the East St. Louis race riot of 1917—and uses it to illuminate and exorcise a past that we need to confront. This is a very important book, heartbreaking and riveting, history that is as fresh as today’s news.”—Joe Klein, Time Magazine columnist

“You put Never Been a Time down and think, ‘How can I imagine myself an educated American and not know this?’ A terrifying account, by a masterful writer.”—Paul Solman, economics correspondent for the NewsHour with Jim Lehrer

Never Been a Time uncovers one of those buried chapters in our country’s defining narrative of race and vividly lays out the nexus of economic desperation, corporate ruthlessness and racial antagonism that resulted in what Gunnar Myrdal called this ‘mass lynching’ in the American heartland. Harper Barnes is a natural reporter and an extremely elegant writer.”—Diane McWhorter, author of Carry Me Home and A Dream of Freedom

“America’s worst race riots are pivotal moments in the nation’s history with a great deal to teach us. Barnes skillfully places this shocking and important story in its full historical context and conveys a powerful sense of place: the dangerous streets and vice dens of East St. Louis, the foul winds from the smokestacks and slaughterhouses, and the city’s toxic stew of greed, corruption, labor competition, and racism. Never Been a Time vividly recounts a horrifying massacre, but it is also a testament to human resilience, a celebration of a city that against all odds has produced so many famous cultural figures and drawn them back home to fight for its survival and its children’s future.”—Barnet Schecter, author of The Devil’s Own Work

“Harper Barnes has written a brilliant account of a tragic event in the American experience.  He places the bloody East St. Louis Race Riot in its historical national context—demonstrating that it was more than an explosion of local pressures, but also a violent intersection of larger societal forces.  He does a fine job synthesizing existing scholarly literature and the latest academic analyses alongside his own primary work.  This well-researched and cogently-written book makes a meaningful contribution to the understanding of the infamous 1917 riot as well as race relations generally, and deserves the attention of scholars and citizens alike.”—Andrew J. Theising, Ph.D., director of the Institute for Urban Research, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, and author of Made in USA:  East St. Louis

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