Charles Preston’s account of being a white Communist working for a radical black newspaper, the Clarion, vividly recreates the US of the 1930s and 1940s.
The book takes a while to get going, and at first I wondered why it wasn’t more “political”. By the end I was fascinated.
Preston captures the excitement of working on a radical paper at a time when the pressure for social change is growing and is starting to break through.
He talks about the “bread and butter” stories that made up the Clarion – sensationalist tales of violence and scandal – and paints a moving picture of those who work on it. The Clarion gave space to cases where police framed black men for crimes they didn’t commit, and campaigned against the injustice. It reported cases of racist police brutality and flagged up stories of struggle and resistance when no other papers mentioned them.
When Preston becomes sports editor, it may seem a step back from politics. Yet, as he puts it, sport was an arena where “black people could see themselves beginning to move into the national consciousness”. He describes how sport brought young people together across racial lines and was a site of political campaigns.
The book does a very good job of telling the story of Preston’s life, effortlessly merging the personal, political and simply mundane.
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