When Cane River was published in 2001, Lalita Tademy established herself as the chronicler of her own family's life, since their arrival here as slaves in the 1800s. Mixing family history, fiction, and fact made the story rich and unforgettable enough that Cane River became an Oprah's Book Club®. Now, with Red River, Tademy has done it again. Writing is a second career for Tademy, who is a former vice-president of Sun Microsystems. She left the corporate world to immerse herself in her family's history--and the history of the south.
In 1873 in the small southern town of Colfax, Louisiana, history tells us there was a riot. The Tademy family knows different. "1873. Wasn't no riot like they say. It was a massacre..." The blacks are newly free, just beginning life under Reconstruction, with all its promises of equity, the right to vote, to own property and, most importantly, to decide their own future as individuals. Federal Government troops are supposed to arrive to protect the rights of the colored people--but they are not yet on the scene.
In one wretched day, white supremacists destroy all the optimism and bright promise by taking Colfax back in an ugly and violent manner. The tragedy begins with the two sides: the white Democrats of Montgomery and the colored and white Republicans of Colfax in the courthouse, finally meeting face to face to discuss their differences. Then, a group of white thugs kills a colored man who was not involved in the courthouse struggle. He was home minding his business and the ugliness came and found him.
The confrontation that follows results in the death of more than 100 black men, killed by white supremacists bent on denying them their voting rights and keeping in office those who uphold the status quo prior to the Civil War. The massacre is only the beginning of Tademy's story. Using reliable sources wherever they may be found, she tells the hard and proud story of Sam Tademy, Israel Smith and their families as they fight their way back from the massacre. They get a foothold in Colfax, finally starting a school, owning land and businesses and becoming full-fledged citizens, as they were meant to be.
Tademy tells part of our history that we would like to forget; she also tells the story of her family, which is a story worth remembering. --Valerie Ryan
From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Four generations of African-American Southerners claw their way up from the ruins of Reconstruction in this engrossing family saga by the author of the bestselling Cane River. Tademy begins with a harrowing recreation of the notorious 1873 massacre at Colfax, La., where 150 blacks, gathered in defense of local Republican officials—and their own citizenship—were killed by white supremacists. Her narrative continues into the 1930s with a fictionalized chronicle of her forebears in the Tademy and Smith clans as they struggle against poverty, buy land and pursue their dream of starting a school for African-American children, their progress challenged by floods, hunting accidents and the Ku Klux Klan. It's an unabashed story of racial uplift (sample dialogue: " 'We getting old, and it up to us to move the race forward'"), but there's plenty of drama and grit to keep it from becoming cloying. Through her characters, the author paints an indelible portrait of rural life under Jim Crow, built around backbreaking farm labor, blood ties that bind and chafe, and the omnipresent fear of a capricious white racism that can undo in a moment the work of a lifetime. Combining family anecdotes with historical research and a rich imagination, Tademy crafts another American epic. Photos. (Jan. 3)
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