Apparently, this is the week where I am posting pieces everywhere on the Internet except this blog.
Earlier this month I mentioned reading Sister: An African American Life in Search of Justice by Sylvia Bell White and Jody LePage, an oral history by a woman who grew up in the segregated south then migrated to Milwaukee at 17. I also had a chance to interview Jody LePage about the book for a story that was published this week in The Cap Times in Madison (a newspaper I interned for in grad school and still do some writing for now).
The reason Bell White is, perhaps, more well-known in her community than the average person is because of an incident in 1958. Her 22-year-old younger brother, Daniel, was murdered by a Milwaukee police officer after a traffic stop. After the officers involved realized they couldn’t justify Daniel’s shooting, the planted a knife on his body and made up a story that Daniel was a fleeing felon. It took decades for the truth to come out, and Sylvia was one of the more vocal advocates for her brother and her family.
There were a lot of fascinating things about this book, some that I got to mention in my review and some that I didn’t. The structure, for one, was really cool. Every chapter opens with some historical details that LePage provided as context for the sections that Sylvia narrated in her own voice. It gives you this wonderful sense of who Sylvia was — her sense of humor, her tenacity, her bright spirit — in a way that you don’t get in books that mix quotes and context together.
When I interviewed LePage, one of the things we talked about is the similarities between Daniel’s murder and Trayvon Martin’s death. She pointed out that Martin’s murder reinforces one of the main ideas of the book, understanding the subtle racism that still pervades the world and how it influenced Sylvia’s own quest for social justice. I didn’t get to write about that much in the review, but it really does give this book a hook that is hard to ignore.
Anyway, I hope you’ll take a minute to check out the review over at The Cap Times. It was a difficult piece to get right, especially for a book that I think is an important read and that I wanted to do justice to. I’m proud of how it turned out (and even more appreciative of the smoothing that my editor did that really made it better).
If you have any more specific questions about the book, please leave them in the comments here and I’ll try to answer them!