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The Defender

How the Legendary Black Newspaper Changed America; from the Age of the Pullman Porters to the Age of Obama
Narrated by: William Hughes
Length: 22 hrs and 8 mins
Categories: History, American
4.5 out of 5 stars (33 ratings)

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Publisher's Summary

Giving voice to the voiceless, the Chicago Defender condemned Jim Crow, catalyzed the Great Migration, and focused the electoral power of black America. Robert S. Abbott founded the Defender in 1905, smuggled hundreds of thousands of copies into the most isolated communities in the segregated South, and was dubbed a "Modern Moses", becoming one of the first black millionaires in the process. His successor wielded the newspaper's clout to elect mayors and presidents, including Harry S. Truman and John F. Kennedy, who would have lost in 1960 if not for the Defender's support. Along the way, its pages were filled with columns by legends like Ida B. Wells, Langston Hughes, and Martin Luther King Jr.

Drawing on dozens of interviews and extensive archival research, Ethan Michaeli constructs a revelatory narrative of race in America from the age of Teddy Roosevelt to the age of Barack Obama, and brings to life the reporters who braved lynch mobs and policemen's clubs to do their jobs.

©2016 Ethan Michaeli (P)2016 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

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    5 out of 5 stars
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A must read for all AMERICAN'S

This book was an eye opener. Anyone who loves history and/or The Black Experience will love this book. It is well written, well researched and well performed. I think it's a great addition to one's personal library. A MUST READ.

1 person found this helpful

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There's an unexpected genius here

This may well be my favorite history book ever and I tackle a lot of history. What makes the book so good is a subtle genius that is probably under appreciated. This is probably the longest review I have written, but I hope you read it through.

Before I go on, I think it is important to share something about myself. I am a middle-aged, white moderate conservative. A few years ago, I started reading Civil War history as it was a pivotal moment in America. From there I started reading more about the causes of the Civil War and the consequences of the war. This has lead me to an interest in Black History and an appreciation for the fact that we seem to gloss over it. So I picked this book up.

Immediately, the book starts talking about Obama and the role the Defender played in his election as President. In my first Good Reads note about the book I wrote, “What a phenomenal book. I wish it didn't start off with Obama because I think that will turn off some people, but those aren't the target audience.” The target audience was clearly the black community and liberals interested in black history.

The story about the Chicago Defender was fascinating. Robert Abbott saw a niche and started the paper with a quarter (about $7.00 today). He took the stories of the day and gave them a black spin. The spread of the paper was intriguing-- railroad porters would smuggle his newspaper to other states---including the Deep South.

The story of the Defender and the story told captured me.

One of the stories that I found intriguing was the way he talked about the “Great White Hope.” I remember watching the movie when I was a kid and did not really think anything about it. Michaeli discusses how the Defender and Chicago Tribune covered the real life Jack Johnson. Michaeli does not weigh in on the coverage; he simply contrasted how these two great papers covered the same event. He lets the readers take from them what they will.

He also talked about the Thomas Dixon film “Birth of a Nation.” For those not familiar with the film, it is considered by many historians to mark the rebirth of the KKK. Woodrow Wilson had a private screening of the film in the White House and Wilson was a racist. Most history books only give these incidents a cursory mention. Michaeli discusses Wilson’s history with Dixon and the film itself. He talks about the contents of the film and the message. Again, he contrasted the Defender and the Tribune’s coverage (a common thread in the book). He also talks about the reception and opposition to it. Again, I was riveted. (He also talks about how Wilson had a change of heart and became a champion for the African American when he compared the KKK to the Germans during WW I and condemned lynching. The Defender praised Wilson for doing so.)

The news reports on the Rise of Unionized labor and the black scabs who crossed the line takes on a different tone. The Defender encouraged blacks to cross the line. Not to break the strikes, but to break the unions! If the unions were not going to allow blacks, then they could not expect blacks to recognize the strike. Again, stories that I was familiar with, but as reported by the Defender had a different take.

There were also stories that I did not know. Stories such as the Great Migration and the Great Northern Drive. These stories are an important part of American history, but prior to a year ago when I purchase “The Warmth of Other Suns” (which I have not read) I had never heard of them.

Then there were obscure stories that I can't imagine many are familiar with (the black woman who moved to France to learn how to fly) that were covered in the paper.

It did not take me long to realize that the book was not just about the Defender, but a book about black history.

I LOVED the stories and the way they were told. Let me stress that, I LOVED this book.

And I started to think about “Why do *I* enjoy this book so much?” Then it dawned on me. The book is telling me a story that is part of *MY* legacy. It may be a dark part of my legacy which as a white guy sometimes makes me a little uncomfortable, but it is told in a way that got me to listen.

While I read a fair amount of black history, this one reached me in a way others had not. Again, I asked why? I realized it was because Michaeli does not judge the actions. He is simply telling the story about HOW the Defender reported the events.

The stories captured me and drew me in. They slipped pass any barriers I might have had because Michaeli is not evaluating history or saying “what a tragedy”, he is simply reporting what the Defender did.

Before long, I started thinking this book is one that more white people should read, if only it was not for that introduction talking about Obama. I mean, some of the people I know who should read this book have some reservations about Obama.

Therein lies the genius of this book, by talking about the story that might make conservative white guys the most uncomfortable early on, he sets the tone. The books isn't going to go radical when talking about Obama, he's going to present the story. I did not realize it at first, but by doing so, I lowered my guard.

By the time I finished this book, I realized that the target audience is not who I thought it was. It is really a book for the middle-aged white moderate conservative.

1 person found this helpful

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The Defender Gets The Biography It Deserves

Ethan Michaeli gives the Chicago Defender the biography it deserves. Well-written and definitive, this book chronicles the founding by Robert Abbott and it's rise to prominence in American-American communities throughout the country. Abbott used his platform to encourage the Great Migration, becoming "Black Moses" in the process. The Defender pushed for the desegregation of the military and was part of the process in switching the African-American electorate from Republican to Democrat.

I had previously read Isabel Wilkerson's The Warmth of Other Suns and this coincides nicely. I highly recommend, despite a few glitches (e.g. Harry Truman was part of the Kansas City machine, not St. Louis, etc.). I also wished Michaeli would have spent more time covering the 1980s-2000's. Seemed rushed in comparison to the pace of the first 80%. Again, highly recommend...

Especially wonderful narration by William Hughes. I'll be aiming to listen to him in the future.

1 person found this helpful

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Wow

This book tells all about black history in America in detail from the 1900 to present should be the text book in all schools to tell the second half of blacks in America

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Excellent!

A walk through a very important part of African American history. A must read for any student of history.