Once again, the epic drama of slavery and freedom is upon us. No, I’m not referring to Ferguson, although others have written extensively on links there to the nation’s history of bondage, legal violence, and avoidance of justice. While others protest, this weekend millions of moviegoers will behold Exodus: Gods and Kings. “Let my people go” will square off against law and order. The fish will die; so will the first born males. The Red Sea will separate, for a time, and then its crashing waters will destroy an army.
Exodus has been with Americans since the nation’s birth.
Why did northern whites support a limited set of rights for blacks during Reconstruction, but then abandon them in the 1870s, and do little to stop the racial violence of the 1880s and beyond? Two new books shed important new light on such questions.
Books change. They change us individually and collectively. Tom Paine’s direct style convinced countless colonists that it was Common Sense to become an independent nation. Henry David Thoreau lectured New England college students that they were better off hand-crafting knives than they were sitting in stuffy classrooms. He influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.
The Harriet Beecher Stowe of Nancy Koester’s new biography is not the one with which most readers are familiar—the “little woman who made this big war,” as Abraham Lincoln reportedly said about the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin.