Why Is New York City Planning to Sell and Shrink Its Libraries?

Defend our libraries, don't defund them. . . . . fund 'em, don't plunder 'em

Mayor Bloomberg defunded New York libraries at a time of increasing public use, population growth and increased city wealth, shrinking our library system to create real estate deals for wealthy real estate developers at a time of cutbacks in education and escalating disparities in opportunity. It’s an unjust and shortsighted plan that will ultimately hurt New York City’s economy and competitiveness.

It should NOT be adopted by those we have now elected to pursue better policies.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

No Available Publishers, Threat To Abandon The Book, Then A Pulitzer: Should Gilbert King’s “Devil in the Grove,” A Black Lives Matter Book About The Groveland Four, Be On Our List Of Suppressed Books?

Gilbert King, author of “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America” on Democracy Now and a picture of his book
 It’s about what happened 70 years ago.  The book about what happened back then came out in 2012.  It’s news now because Florida’s governor, Republican Ron DeSantis, just granted posthumous pardons to four young African-American men accused of raping a white woman near Groveland, Florida, 70 years ago.  Although the facts were already egregious enough, the book, by Gilbert King, “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” uncovered previously unknown unredacted FBI reports that had been suppressed, evidence that there had been, in Mr. Kings words, “a ton of perjury,” fabrication of false evidence, and that law enforcement agents admitting torturing the four black men from whom they wanted to extract “confessions” so as to accuse them of the rape of a white woman that almost certainly never occurred.

King also was the first person to see a report that was “quashed” by the FBI and the U.S. attorney that showed that one of the accused black men was murdered by the local sheriff and his deputy.

The book is also important as a sort of origin story about Thurgood Marshall, the nation’s first African-American Supreme Court justice.

Coverage of Florida Governor’s pardons and the underlying back story was available through Democracy Now this week: The Groveland Four: Florida Pardons Men Falsely Accused in Jim Crow-Era Rape Case in 1949, January  14, 2019.

Should we add  “Devil in the Grove” to our Citizens Defending Libraries list of books that have been suppressed?                   

The story of the book’s almost non-publication, its near disappearance from the public commons of the book world where it could be part of ongoing public discourse and then, finally, its receipt of the Pulitzer Prize (also nominated for an Edgar) is reminiscent of the tales that attach to some of the other of the books on our growing list of suppressed books, including other Pulitzer Prize winners.  See: Books As Catalysts In A World Where Information And Points of View Are Often Suppressed.

Mr. King tells how, the book was “rejected 38 times by publishers.”  When it was finally published “it didn’t really get a lot of attention, didn’t get a lot of reviews.”  Really?  Why?  And then his publisher informed him of their intent to abandon the book and remainder it.  Remaindering a book is perhaps not quite so squalid an end for a book as being “pulped” out of existence, a threat that faced other books on our suppressed list, but it’s similar.

And then the book’s merit was recognized when it received the  2013 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction, was nominated for a 2013 Edgar Award, and got the Book of the Year (Non-fiction, 2012) The Boston Globe, Christian Science Monitor!

Like other books on our list of suppressed books it was a catalyst for change- Would the Florida Governor’s pardons be forthcoming at this time without this book?  Doubtful.

Perhaps this book was not suppressed as obviously as other books already on our list, but it is important to recognize that in the tales of suppression that we have collected we are not talking about outright censorship, but about something more subtle.  The more subtle ways books on our list have been held back from the public is a continuum.   That continuum of suppression shapes public discourse, but it is hard to know where on this continuum to stop pointing out the effects of how the media industry is organized to deliver or not deliver content to us.

It will be noted that other books on our list of suppressed books deal directly with federal power or the power of the media, or some with issues of the surveillance and the intelligence community.   A book, like “Devil in the Grove,” about a racially based miscarriage of justice that occurred seventy years ago might not seem so equally challenging to government and existing power structures so as to be a candidate for suppression. . .   That is not unless you consider past to be prologue, in which case you can consider that this book is ever so relevant to today as a Black Lives Matter history book. 

Is the government threatened by “Black Lives Matter” thinking?  Apparently it is: The FBI, as documented in its own internal memorandum is, just like the old days, characterizing black activists protesting police brutality as terrorists.  The FBI has even labeled them with the newly coined term “Black Identity Extremists” (BIEs).  See:  ‘The Bureau Is Once Again Profiling Black Activists Because of Their Beliefs and Their Race’, by Janine Jackson, October 24, 2017.
Why is the Republican governor issuing his pardon for the Groveland Four now?  It is interesting to think that one reason may be that Florida voters just changed the law of the state reenfranchising and allowing to vote 1.4 million people previously convicted of felonies.  Florida is a state where about 10% of adults, 1 in 5 black adults, 1.5 million people in all were disenfranchised.  Crime convictions are often discriminatory: People who are poor, black or brown are tried and convicted for things others wouldn’t be . . .   Is the Republican governor’s pardon a political tip of the hat to that fact?  Is it also an acknowledgment to the newly reenfranchised voters that too often, as the convicted themselves must surely know, such people who are convicted are also innocent of the crimes of which they are convicted?

As noted, “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” was published in 2012.  The book was  rejected 38 times by publishers, but it was published.  It is interesting to think whether it would be published now.

The publishing world has changed.  In a recent sermon about Amazon given by Ana Levy-Lyons a Unitarian Universalist minister in Brooklyn Heights, Ms. Levy-Lyons suggested that the changes that Amazon has brought to the book world are bleeding money out of that world (with the consequent layoff of marketing and sales people and editors and the shrinking of author royalties and advances).  She said that, “publishers are less able to take risks on first-time authors or authors with some off-beat weird idea.”  She referred to her own book, No Other Gods: The Politics of the Ten Commandments,” published just recently in March 2018, and said that these changes are continuing to happen so fast that she knows “for a fact that” if she had pitched her book even one year later, her “publisher would not have bought it.”  Thus “authors are finding it harder and harder to make a living.”

The ways in which the book publishing world have changed recently have been so fast and so vast they are difficult to assess.  It’s a moving target.  That includes assessing any changes on the continuum of soft suppression of what does and does not get published . .

. .   So “Devil in the Grove: Thurgood Marshall, the Groveland Boys, and the Dawn of a New America,” was rejected 38 times by publishers, but would it have been published at all now?

If you are a New Yorker looking for this book in your public library you might face a challenge.  Non of the five copies the Brooklyn Public Library has are currently available.  None of the NYPL's four circulating copies is currently available.  The NYPL doesn't keep a reference copy of the Pulitzer Prize winner in its 42nd Street Central Reference library, so don't go there.  It does keep a reference copy on hand in the Schomburg Library.  If you want, you can try for the e-book or the audio book they have.  Queens residents will have the best time of it: Six of the ten copies on hand are currently available.  At least until recent years the Queens Library system was not as hell bent as the NYPL and BPL on getting rid of books.

No comments:

Post a Comment