They Left Great Marks on Me: African American Testimonies of Racial Violence from Emancipation to World War I

 by Kidada E. Williams 

Well after slavery was abolished, its legacy of violence left deep wounds on African Americans’ bodies, minds, and lives. For many victims and witnesses of the assaults, rapes, murders, nightrides, lynchings, and other bloody acts that followed, the suffering this violence engendered was at once too painful to put into words yet too horrible to suppress.

 In this evocative and deeply moving history Kidada Williams examines African Americans’ testimonies about racial violence. By using both oral and print culture to testify about violence, victims and witnesses hoped they would be able to graphically disseminate enough knowledge about its occurrence and inspire Americans to take action to end it. In the process of testifying, these people created a vernacular history of the violence they endured and witnessed, as well as the identities that grew from the experience of violence. This history fostered an oppositional consciousness to racial violence that inspired African Americans to form and support campaigns to end violence. The resulting crusades against racial violence became one of the political training grounds for the civil rights movement.

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OK, NPRBooks Brain Trust, we need your help. We’ve got some upcoming weddings here and we’d like to know: Can you think of great book passages to use as readings during a wedding ceremony? Here’s one to get you started, from George Eliot’s Adam Bede:

What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?

What else is out there?


Fowler’s Zelda is reassuringly normal. She’s easy to relate to even as she runs wild, sensible while allegedly insane. The unappealing aspects of her historical personality receive a contemporary, reader-friendly makeover. Zelda’s early letters to F. Scott were the basis for Rosalind’s tart misogyny in “This Side of Paradise,” and in her biography Milford noted Zelda’s lack of interest in female companionship. But Fowler furnishes her with a gang of lifelong girlfriends from back home in Alabama, plus growing feminist convictions.

I’ve said this before but one reason why I love Zelda is that she was so human. She wasn’t perfect. Zelda didn’t have many female friends (most of them were friends from Montgomery or couple friends like the Murphys) and she vastly preferred the company of men. I would say that Zelda had feminist leanings but she also internalized a lot of misogyny. It may make her more sympathetic to have Zelda have more good qualities (for lack of a better word), but it is a lie. 

In “Z,” Zelda speaks the language of therapy; in “Call Me Zelda,” she is therapeutic. She suffers, but her suffering helps others grow.

This is one of my least favorite tropes, to have a woman suffer so that she can inspire others (it’s a small consolation that she isn’t suffering to inspire a man). 

And in “Beautiful Fools,” R. Clifton Spargo writes in reconciliation sex with a paunchy F. Scott, the mere mention of whose nipple and wispy chest hair was more unsettling than anything else I’ve read this year.

And there’s another book on the Fitzgeralds I won’t read. I don’t want to know more about Scott’s naked body or his sex life. I’m haunted by what I know already.

If you read a lot, you can get jaded. You can forget how a reader has to be generous to a book as much as a book has to be generous to its reader. You feel like maybe everything worth doing has been done, and nothing will ever blow you away ever again.

And then you read a book like Eleanor and Park, and you are shocked out of your complacency and grateful to be alive. As you can tell from my review in the New York Times Book Review, I really love this book. Months later, I’m still thinking about it.

You’re gonna love it, too. Read it. 

You can find it at indiebound, or, or amazon.

This is one of the best books. I really love it <3

1.) The Bible (eBook) - “to learn that it’s easier to be told by others what to think and believe than it is to think for yourself.”

2.) The System of the World by Isaac Newton (eBook) – “to learn that the universe is a knowable place.”

3.) On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn of our kinship with all other life on Earth.”

4.) Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn, among other satirical lessons, that most of the time humans are Yahoos.”

5.) The Age of Reason by Thomas Paine (eBookAudio Book) – “to learn how the power of rational thought is the primary source of freedom in the world.”

6.) The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that capitalism is an economy of greed, a force of nature unto itself.”

7.) The Art of War by Sun Tsu (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that the act of killing fellow humans can be raised to an art.”

8.) The Prince by Machiavelli (eBookAudio Book) - “to learn that people not in power will do all they can to acquire it, and people in power will do all they can to keep it.”