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Posted: August 9, 2020

A masterful piece of writing

Book Review

By Derryll White

Mullen, Thomas (2016).  Darktown.

Thomas Mullen has selected a stunning time and place for a truly chilling story.

Postwar, pre-civil rights Atlanta gives credence to this story about the first black cops to patrol Atlanta’s negro districts. It will break the reader’s heart to discover just how harsh and blatant racism was in the South. Canadians have a hard time comprehending the ‘colour line’ in the United States, but after reading “Darktown” they will no longer be able to deny its existence. The story may even bring some Canadians to analyze our own First Nations ‘colour line.’

Mullen points out that the South voted Democratic in the late ‘40s, still resenting the Republican move to free the slaves.  That fact alone will surprise many readers.

This is a powerful story and a masterful piece of writing. The pre-civil rights South existed within the lifetime of this reader and Mullen looks seriously at the society that resisted the changes of the 1960s. He has done society a distinct favour by bringing this repugnant time back to consideration.

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Excerpt from the novel:

ATLANTA – Atlanta, Georgia. Two parts Confederate racist to two parts Negro to one part something-that-doesn’t-quite-have-a-name-for-it-yet. Neither city nor country but some odd combination, a once sleepy railroad crossing that had exploded due to the wartime need for materiel and the necessities of shipping it. Even after the war, all those factories and textile mills and rail yards were still churning, because normalcy had returned and Americans were desperate for new clothes and washing machines and automobiles and the South was very good at providing cheap, non-unionized labor.  So Atlanta continued to grow, the trains continued to disgorge new residents and the tenements grew more crowded and the moonshine continued to be driven down from the mountains and the streets spilled over with even yet more passion and schemes and brawls, because there on the Georgia piedmont something had been set loose that might never again be contained.

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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