Monthly Archives: July 2014

Review: The Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Historic Murder Trial of George Crawford

Although the full title of David Bradley’s book, “The historic murder trial of George Crawford : Charles H. Houston, the NAACP and the case that put all-white southern juries on trial” is grandiose but it is accurate. The trial is historic, it involves Charles H. Houston and the NAACP, and Jim Crow restrictions on who can serve on Southern juries start to fall. I was a little concerned when I learned that Bradley is a writer for a small town newspaper but his style was pleasant surprise. He is a talented writer and his first article on the Crawford trial was back in 2002. He has had plenty of time to do research.

The trial concerns the deaths of two women of wealth women, murdered in their home in northern Virginia. Suspicion immediately falls on George Crawford, recently fired from his position as their chauffeur, and Paul Boeing, the brother of one of the woman who the town saw as “effeminate”. Given that the murder was in the old South and Crawford was black, he was the suspect the police pursued.

Luckily for him the police could not find him, as Bradley points out this was the era, and an area known for lynchings. When Crawford is finally found and arrested in Massachusetts the NAACP’s new legal strategy to challenge Jim Crow takes up his case. This is not Dred Scott or Roe v Wade but it is an important case. Several Southern states took notice and began putting African-American men into the jury pools immediately. The Scottsboro Trial in Alabama was going on at the same time as the Crawford trial and the book shows the distrust and class struggle between the “Talented Tenth’s” NAACP and the American Communist Party.

Billy Mitchell, the father of naval aviation, is a minor character in the story. He lived in the town where the murders took place and, being Billy Mitchell, felt the need to put himself into the investigation. Walter White, president of the NAACP and W. E. B. Du Bois, founder of the NAACP and editor of it’s magazine The Crisis, show up her also and the aftermath of the trial shows the fault lines in the organization and the unease with the small, slow steps their legal strategy was taking. Charles H. Houston, Crawford’s lead attorney at trial, was a law professor at Howard University. His students, including Thurgood Marshall, would bring that strategy to its high point twenty years after Crawford’s trial with Brown v Board of Education.

The persecution Houston endured after the trial was a revelation for me. Saving Crawford’s life was enough for Houston but a vocal minority of supporters were willing to put Crawford back at risk to argue against the exclusion of blacks from juries in court. They argued for this knowing that they had already won representation on juries in several Southern states and many Virginia counties directly from the efforts made on behalf of Crawford.

I enjoyed this book, it is a well written popular history that can put flesh on the bones of Depression Era history. Full disclosure I received my copy free as part of LibraryThing.com’s Early Reviewer program.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Review: Going to the sources : a guide to historical research and writing

Going to the Sources

Going to the Sources

Dr. Anthony Brundage earned his PhD from UCLA in 1970 and his popular historiography, “Going to the sources : a guide to historical research and writing “ was first published in 1989. This review is of the new 4th edition, published in 2013. Intended to be an introduction to the art and science of doing history Brundage managed to explain the schools of historical thought on agency, what causes history to happen as it does, in a short 18 pages. He had to cut to the bone of the ideas and the explanations are not in depth but for an introductory text such as this they work.

The remaining chapters are just as cursory but they accomplish the goals of the writer by providing a basic understanding of the different types of sources, how to locate them, how to read them and what skills a historian will need. I wish I could endorse the work as a basic introduction to the field of history but I cannot.

Although Brundage goes to great lengths to explain intellectual honesty and its importance he neglects the issue that took the forefront in every college class I have attended in the last decade, plagiarism. What makes Brundage’s omission stand out is the praise he heaps on a historian exposed as a serial plagiarist. Although the facts of the case were not public when the book was first published they were well known in time for both the 3ed and 4th editions to be revised. I am concerned how including high praise for a known plagiarist in an introductory work will influence new students. Could an introductory book on finance praise Bernard Madoff?

In spite of the advantage of this book’s brevity I would have to recommend looking for an introduction to the field of history that is more than serviceable and one that makes it clear that doing your own work is not simply a virtue, it is a necessity.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, Education, History

Review: Henry Clay and the War of 1812

Henry Clay and the War of 1812

Henry Clay and the War of 1812

When I first saw this book offered in LibraryThing’s Early Reviewer program it caught my interest. For several years I have been researching the early 1800s in central Kentucky and southwestern Ohio and Henry Clay keeps popping up. I thought this would be a great way to learn more about Clay and the Second War of Independence. Ninety year old author Quinton Scott King has produced as detailed a book on the topic of Clay and the War of 1812 as I can imagine ever reading. When the 400+ page book started with Clay’s childhood I thought it would be more of a biography of Clay than a work looking at his actions during a particular period. I was wrong. The book ends with the end of the war and the incredible details of Clays early life that King includes are a window to Clay’s motivations and beliefs.

King’s book is well written and well researched. Anyone interested in Clay or the war that he helped end would enjoy reading it. My only complaint is with the decision to use a two column layout when printing the book. Two columns per page is, for me, harder to read. My eyes won’t stay focused on the one column. Fifty plus years of reading has conditioned my eyes to sweep across the page. That is an issue for the publisher, not a problem with the author or his work. By all means if Henry Clay or the War of 1812 interest you, read this book.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book review, History, Politics