Wednesday, October 24, 2007


Red River, Lalita Tademy, Warner Books, 2007, 414 pp

I read and enjoyed Tademy's first book, Cane River, a story of the women from whom she is descended. Red River is told from the men's side of the family. After the Civil War and for about 10 years, Negroes who had been slaves were free and could vote. Lalita Tademy's great-grandfather was one of a few hundred black men in Colfax, Louisiana, who tried to put the Republicans they had voted into office in their town, into office in actuality. They took possession of the courthouse and held off the southern white men who opposed them for many days, as they waited for federal troops to come to their aid. The troops never arrived and over 200 black men were massacred.

The incident came to be known as the "Colfax riot", a justification by whites for why the blacks had to be killed. Sam Tademy, who survived, went on to found the first colored school in Colfax and to hand down a legacy of hope to his fellow black people. The first half of Red River is the story of the massacre and the second half is life in and around Colfax from 1873 to 1937. It is a tale of perseverance, integrity, incredible suffering and strong family and community ties. She lays bare the effects of racism, especially on black men, while celebrating the human spirit and the miraculous results of people who have vision and purpose.

It is amazing to me how hard those people worked, how strong was their sense of survival and how completely insane racism is. Her writing is as powerful as Richard Wright's and though I liked Cane River better for its emotional impact, Red River is a very close second.

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