I’ve recommended this book before in other forums, but it seems especially relevant in these times. ‘Darktown’ by Thomas Mullen is about the first “Negro” police officers in Atlanta and the challenges they faced to enforce the law, while the law itself did not recognize and accept them as the men and full citizens they were. Against the backdrop of Jim Crow and its many indignities, two police officers fight to learn what has happened to a missing young Black woman last seen being accosted by a white man, and fight also against their openly and deeply racist fellow officers who are as much of a threat to them as those committing crime.
I don’t need to tell folks how relevant this is in these times, but the relevance I focused most on are these truths: 1) that racism is baked into all facets of American life is an historical fact, and 2) Black people are often fighting on multiple fronts whether we want to, or not, just as the two officers in this story are – solving the problem at hand and combating the underlying bias of people who should and could be comrades, but are in fact antagonists.
Here’s my Goodreads review:Darktown by Thomas Mullen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This was well-constructed historical, noir fiction. Grim subject matter because set in the Jim Crow era where Black lives most decidedly did not matter. It was made more interesting because of the struggles of the main protagonists, who included two Black police officers, second-class citizens and now second-class law enforcement officers, not even allowed squad cars and restricted to the “colored” part of town, called “Darktown” by whites. I liked that the Black officers, Boggs and Smith were of different social classes — Boggs, the Morehouse graduate, son of an esteemed minister; and Smith, the working class war hero whose father was himself a soldier who got lynched after returning from war. Boggs is a thinker, Smith a hothead. Together they not only make an interesting duo, they also illustrate a socio-economic divide that still exists in the Black community today. And then there’s Rakestraw, the white officer paired with a virulently racist and brutal partner, Dunlow, whom he despises. They, too seem to represent the old and New South whites, the latter being not so much actively racist as they are silent and complicit, made occasionally uncomfortable by overt racism but generally unwilling to risk any of their privilege to combat it. The mystery at the center of the story was interesting, but very quickly became beside the point, as the author explored and explained the nature of the South, and the “race problem” through the characters. I recommend, but only if you’re not expecting the breakneck pacing of the average mystery today, and are prepared to confront just how little things seem to have changed between Then and Now.
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