Today I write to recommend OUR TOWN by Cynthia Carr, (Crown Publishers) a freshly published book that documents the lives of the author, her grandfather, a member of the Klue Klux Klan in Marion Indiana, the city’s people and institutions all of whom were impacted by a the tragedy of race relations in America. The central pillar of the book is the lynching of two black teenagers on August 7, 1930, the last known lynching in Indiana, the state that a decade earlier had the largest Klan membership in America. This magnificent book of 500 pages, spares little space to probe the details of this central Indiana city, its black and white population, its city power structure, its church life as well as those of the small towns in the region. It does all of this with a kind of dignity and respect that invites everyone to do a little better. Quakers who reached the area in 1840 and played a role in the abolitionist movement and the underground railroad are resurrected to be incorporated in the story. The sub theme of the book, America’s breach between the races, is handled personally, emotively and firmly. The author does not preach in the manner we have come to expect from those who leave our towns only to return years later to tell us how stuck we are. It listens to the pain of race relations from within and without. By doing so it helps all of us to tune up our ears in a more nuanced way. The occasional editorial statements that provide larger national and international cultural context add to the book’s depth.
I wish that this book would become a best seller in cities and towns of North America which is what it is about. If we could just get people to read it they wouldn’t put it down. There is definitely something here for every white American and Canadian. I am interested to know how African American friends will respond. I think they might be as bothered and upset as many whites but for different reasons.
I have participated in many Anti Racism and Diversity seminars over the years. In these experiences I have noticed repeatedly how us white folks come prepared with our liberal notions and broad sweeping social statements while the emotional power and content of these sessions is supplied almost exclusively by people of color. This book gives white people permission to delve into their own background, the hidden stories of unwholesome race relations in their own family lines and the manner in which this secret history has been either passed on or covered up. In its own way the book is a model of nonviolent writing because its stories and lack of harsh diatribes invite all of us to do better by facing our secrets. When I finished this book I wanted to write a history of race relations in my own family.