A well-researched, potent, timely investigation of yet another element of systemic racism.



How the legacy of discrimination still affects opportunities for Black students in the realm of higher education.

Atlantic staff writer Harris, a former reporter at the Chronicle of Higher Education, makes his book debut with an illuminating examination of Black students’ access to college, arguing forcefully that integrated colleges have failed Blacks. Even though Black colleges “educate 80 percent of Black judges, 50 percent of Black lawyers and doctors, and 25 percent of Black science, technology, math, and engineering graduates,” they remain severely underfunded. The author traces the history of educational opportunities for Blacks beginning in the 19th century, when two noted institutions were established: Oberlin, in Ohio, and Berea, in Kentucky. Both were determined to offer interracial education, often flouting local laws—and, in Berea’s case, the wrath of slaveholders—to do so. Berea’s original structure was “burned to the ground by slaveholders and their supporters.” After the Civil War, 45 Black colleges opened, but Blacks were barred from attending even public, land-grant colleges. The Plessy v. Ferguson decision of 1896 upheld segregation, allowing states to pass laws making it illegal to educate Blacks and Whites together. Harris recounts lawsuits by students petitioning to attend all-White schools. In 1948, for example, when Ada Lois Sipuel sued to be admitted to the law school at the University of Oklahoma, the Supreme Court ruled that Oklahoma “was required to provide her a legal education.” In response, Oklahoma quickly established a law school at the all-Black Langston University. Later, when the University of Oklahoma grudgingly admitted Black students, it sat them at the back of the classroom or set up railings to separate them from Whites. Harris suggests ways that the government can offer reparations for its history of hampering Blacks’ education—perhaps as “targeted debt cancellation and tuition-free college,” cash transfers to students, or the redistribution of endowments—but discrimination is still widespread, “bending and twisting until it fits within the confines of the system it is given.”

A well-researched, potent, timely investigation of yet another element of systemic racism.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-06-297648-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.


Why the Supreme Court deserves the public’s trust.

Based on his 2021 lecture at Harvard Law School, Supreme Court Justice Breyer offers a selected history of court cases, a defense of judicial impartiality, and recommendations for promoting the public’s respect for and acceptance of the role of the judiciary in the future. The author regrets that many Americans see the justices as “unelected political officials or ‘junior varsity’ politicians themselves, rather than jurists,” asserting that “nearly all” justices apply “the basic same interpretive tools” to decide a case: “They will consider the statute’s text, its history, relevant legal tradition, precedents, the statute’s purposes (or the values that underlie it), and the relevant consequences.” Although Breyer maintains that all try to avoid the influence of ideology or political philosophy, he acknowledges that suggesting “a total and clean divorce between the Court and politics is not quite right either,” since a justice’s background, education, and experiences surely affect their views, especially when considering the consequences of a decision. The judicial process, Breyer explains, begins as a conference held once or twice each week where substantive discussion leads to preliminary conclusions. Sometimes, in order to find a majority, the court will take a minimalist perspective, allowing those who differ “on the broader legal questions to come together in answering narrower ones.” Noting that, in 2016, only 1 in 4 Americans could name the three branches of federal government, Breyer suggests a revival of civics education in schools so that students can learn how government works and what the rule of law is. He believes that confidence in government will result from citizens’ participation in public life: by voting, taking part in local governance such as school boards, and resolving their differences through argument, debate, cooperation, and compromise, all of which are “the embodiment of the democratic ideal.”

A cogent overview of the court’s crucial role, the application of which is sure to be discussed among scholars.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-674-26936-1

Page Count: 104

Publisher: Harvard Univ.

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2021

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This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

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The powerful story of a father’s past and a son’s future.

Atlantic senior writer Coates (The Beautiful Struggle: A Father, Two Sons, and an Unlikely Road to Manhood, 2008) offers this eloquent memoir as a letter to his teenage son, bearing witness to his own experiences and conveying passionate hopes for his son’s life. “I am wounded,” he writes. “I am marked by old codes, which shielded me in one world and then chained me in the next.” Coates grew up in the tough neighborhood of West Baltimore, beaten into obedience by his father. “I was a capable boy, intelligent and well-liked,” he remembers, “but powerfully afraid.” His life changed dramatically at Howard University, where his father taught and from which several siblings graduated. Howard, he writes, “had always been one of the most critical gathering posts for black people.” He calls it The Mecca, and its faculty and his fellow students expanded his horizons, helping him to understand “that the black world was its own thing, more than a photo-negative of the people who believe they are white.” Coates refers repeatedly to whites’ insistence on their exclusive racial identity; he realizes now “that nothing so essentialist as race” divides people, but rather “the actual injury done by people intent on naming us, intent on believing that what they have named matters more than anything we could ever actually do.” After he married, the author’s world widened again in New York, and later in Paris, where he finally felt extricated from white America’s exploitative, consumerist dreams. He came to understand that “race” does not fully explain “the breach between the world and me,” yet race exerts a crucial force, and young blacks like his son are vulnerable and endangered by “majoritarian bandits.” Coates desperately wants his son to be able to live “apart from fear—even apart from me.”

This moving, potent testament might have been titled “Black Lives Matter.” Or: “An American Tragedy.”

Pub Date: July 8, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9354-7

Page Count: 176

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2015

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