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Unspeakable: The Story of Junius Wilson (Caravan Book) Hardcover – November 19, 2007
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Adroitly untangle[s] the twisted web of race, class, gender, and disability that ensnared Wilson for much of his life. . . . A significant contribution to African American history and the burgeoning fields of deaf and disability histories. . . . A remarkable and humane study.--H-Net Reviews
An engrossing and insightful look at changes in how race and disability have been viewed from the perspective of one man's life.--Booklist
Remarkable. . . . In large part, a history of the changing culture in North Carolina, the change in treatment of the deaf, and the political developments of the nation. . . . A fine and worthy book.--The Journal of American History
Extensively documented. . . . A well-researched history book that sensitively documents the life of one black, deaf man but seeks to instruct us all.--Journal of Deaf Studies and Deaf Education
[A] brisk and compelling narrative that proves surprisingly uplifting.--Star News
A heart-rending story of race and disability in the Jim Crow South.--American History
Riveting.--Journal of Blacks in Higher Education
With Unspeakable, Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner reveal a gruesome picture of official abuse and neglect. In simple, powerful language, they describe the life of Wilson, who spent 76 years in the State Hospital, apparently for no other reason than that he was deaf. . . . In understated language, Burch and Joyner describe his evolution from a confused, frightened, occasionally belligerent boy to a docile adult. . . . The overwhelming injustice done to [Wilson] is mind-boggling, and Burch and Joyner have told his story with thoroughness and passion.--Washington Post
American deaf history is steeped with the presence of African American deaf people, but there is precious little written about them, or about black deaf schools and the sign language of black deaf communities. This book tells the story of one African American deaf man who was born in the early twentieth century, at a time when segregated black deaf schools were found in every state in the South, and when ignorance about sign languages and deaf people was deeply institutionalized. Through a blend of scholarship and skillful narrative, the authors guide the reader through a history of the twentieth century as it was lived by one man whose skin color and condition of deafness made him a victim of many institutional failures, condemning him to spend his entire adult life in a mental institution.--Carol Padden, University of California, San Diego
Unspeakable is to be commended for embracing the complexity of Junius Wilson's story and for a sensitive but unflinchingly honest portrait of his life. What emerges is a revelatory piece of historical writing and biography that gets at Mr. Wilson's life and the social forces of his era from many different points of view, none of them predictable, all of them thought-provoking, many of them unsettling. This is an extraordinarily important book.--David Cecelski, coeditor of Democracy Betrayed: The Wilmington Race Riot of 1898 and Its Legacy
Susan Burch and Hannah Joyner deserve appreciation from deaf people and other advocates for their highly successful description about the importance of diversity among human groups. The authors' honest and well-balanced description of Junius Wilson's life and the different views of professionals will certainly turn a new page in the professional perspectives of health and social studies.--Yerker Andersson, Ph.D., LL.D.; Former Chair, Deaf Studies Department, Gallaudet University
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It is a must read for anyone interested in social justice. It also provides insights into the challenges faced by members of the deaf community that are insightful and important.
As someone who works at a public library, I was curious to see if the public library in Wilmington, North Carolina, carries this book. The New Hanover County Public Library carries two copies of this 2007 book. The library's web site indicates how many times this book has been signed out. Three times. We've got to do better than that.
The authors have taken a subject for which records are scarce and sometimes inconsistent and constructed an impressively cohesive narrative. Unfortunately, due to the sheer lack of evidence and record keeping the book is at times very dependent on the subjective assumptions made by the authors about Junius Wilson's experience. Nevertheless, Unspeakable provides valuable insight into the untold stories of the African-American and larger deaf community as a whole throughout the 20th century.
Overall, the book is powerfully written, well-researched, and also very important in our understanding of our society as a whole. However, regardless of its broader implications, the story of Junius Wilson is one that must be told, not only as a tribute to Junius, but as a tribute to the many deaf men and women for whom our educational, medical, and social systems have failed.