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Harvard professor links Saint-Louis to the history of American racism | Book reviews

Just because Johnson teaches at Harvard doesn’t mean that the writing in “The Broken Heart of America” ​​is heavy or academic. He moves the story forward quickly and chronologically and shows an occasional flair. Franz Sigel, a figure of St. Louis in the mid-19th century, is portrayed as follows: “Of medium height, thin and stern, with hollow cheeks and dark sunken eyes, he looked like Johnny Depp dressed to play Dracula. . “

A few pages later, he describes the 20-foot statue of Sigel in Forest Park as that of a “frozen communist.” He quotes at length comedian Dick Gregory’s tongue-in-cheek observations on the effects of the segregation of St. Louis and describes local gentrification efforts in the concise words of activist Ivory Perry: “Abduction of Blacks by Approval of Whites “.

Johnson generally sticks to his main thesis, although some readers may find his discussions of union activities and Communist influence a bit too long and a bit too distant. But it brings the story of local racial history back to the present day with the murder of Michael Brown and the ensuing backlash that made “Ferguson” a synonym for the Black Lives Matter movement.

And he assesses the current situation:

“St. Louis, a national leader in both tax evasion and predatory lending, is once again a frontier city of the future, this time a pioneer in the modes of extraction and dispossession by which people who have been deprived of their ‘just about everything else – neighborhoods, jobs, education, healthcare, security – can be dried up.

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