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Review: ‘Sister’ by Jody LePage and Sylvia Bell White

Review: ‘Sister’ by Jody LePage and Sylvia Bell White post image

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!

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jennifer August 16, 2013, 8:48 am

    Thanks so much for reviewing this one Kim! (Read your review at The Cap Times as well) I’d never heard of this book or case and I’m definitely going to look for it.

    • Kim August 19, 2013, 3:41 pm

      I’ve read a few books this year about Milwaukee and the civil rights movement, and they’ve all be interesting to me. I hope you like this one if you get to read it!

  • Laurie C August 18, 2013, 9:19 am

    It’s hard to include all the details in a review that can only be a certain length! The historical context for each chapter is a good idea and one that will make it more accessible to students and other readers who might not be as aware of the history.

    • Kim August 19, 2013, 3:42 pm

      I thought it was a really smart way to organize the book, and useful for the audience that both of the authors were trying to reach.

  • susan August 19, 2013, 9:21 am

    Sounds like an interesting read. Is Sylvia still alive and in Wisc? Their thoughts on the Martin case would be quite interesting as well.

    • Kim August 19, 2013, 3:43 pm

      Yes, she is still alive but living in a home because she has Alzheimers. Jody told me that she had good days and bad days, but enough good ones lately that she knew the book came out and was able to enjoy a publication-day party for it.