Wednesday, August 4, 2010


Nothing makes me yearn for a good beach read like a heavy dose of non-fiction. More informative than enjoyable, this book is about corruption and civil rights in coastal McIntosh County, Georgia, in the 70s. Since it's a true story, I hesitate to use the word "characters," but the two main ones are white sheriff Tom Poppell and black resident Thurnell Alston. Neither is all good or all bad, and certainly the shades of gray are an improvement over some of the fiction I've read lately. Poppell is trying to keep the future at bay by denying the blacks an opportunity to hold any real public office, to serve on a jury, or to occupy white-collar jobs. He's also the force behind blatant criminal activity, as roadside stands routinely hoodwink travelers into ponying up their entire vacation stash and more in rigged games of chance. On the other hand, he looks the other way whenever a semi spills its cargo in a crash, allowing the poor black families to pillage the shoes, dry wall, or whatever. Alston, a boilermaker on disability, becomes the spokesperson for the disenfranchised black population, but he's no saint and eventually degenerates into a flawed figurehead. Two unfortunate events define his later life, and he sinks even further, although there appears to be some sliver of hope for redemption at the end. The author and her husband both worked for the Georgia Legal Services Program during the time that GLSP assisted the blacks in McIntosh County in their quest to achieve representation. Greene's participation in that effort obviously afforded her the opportunity to see both the good and the shortcomings of the people on whose behalf GLSP filed suit. This book is definitely not a celebration of victory but is a stark look at an ongoing struggle for self-respect and equality.

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