If you are a fan of historical fiction, then Crow by Barabra Wright might be a good book for you. Crow follows 12-year-old Moses Thomas, a black boy who in 1898 lives in Wilmington North Carolina. Wright’s book describes the Wilmington Race Riot, which took place 35 years after the Emancipation Proclamation and was started by white Southern Democrats, who wanted to get rid of black leaders and professionals. This book describes real events and many of the characters are based on real people.
Moses lives with his parents and Boo Nanny, his grandmother and a former slave. His father, Jackson, who has been a free man all of his life, is one of the town’s Aldermen and works at the largest black newspaper in the south. Moses’s mother, Sadie, works for a white family in town, taking care of their children. Boo Nanny does the laundry for people on Moses’s street while also making healing potions for those who need them. Moses spends most of his time with his friend Lewis or at school, which his father is adamant he attend. Moses has experienced isolated instances of racism in his life, but when the violence begins and the black printing press is destroyed, he is not prepared and his life is never the same.
One of the biggest personal conflicts in the book is between Jackson and Boo Nanny. Moses’s father and grandfather were free men who also had good educations and went to college. Boo Nanny, however, had a very hard and traumatizing time being a slave, and when Moses asks about it, she refuses to answer. Because it was illegal for slaves to learn how to read or write, she is illiterate. Due to his experiences, Jackson isn’t much of a realist and constantly tells Moses that as long as he is respected and can give a firm handshake he will be fine. Jackson is also mainly book-smart and understands what has been in a book, but might not understand what is right in front of him. The conflict between Jackson and Boo Nanny becomes more important when the editor of the black newspaper responds to a white woman’s opinion article in a white newspaper, which happens before the riot. While Boo Nanny is definitely superstitious, she is also very much a realist, so when Moses tells her about the conflict going on in the town, she immediately knows there is going to be trouble while Jackson is slow to understand.
Stumbling over some of the words, I read: “Every Negro lynched is called a big, burly black brute, when in fact many of those who have thus been dealt with had white men for their fathers and were not only not black and burly but were suffieciently attractive for white girls of culture and refinement to fall in love with them.” Rocking in her chair, Boo Nanny murmured, “That ain’t gone sit well.” (Wright 114-115).
Because of these two different backgrounds, there is often a lot of conflict between the two characters, but eventually Jackson sees the tension in the community changing and realizes that things are not how he hoped they would be.
The entire book is a build up to the riot - the major conflict - which results in the printing press burned, many people killed on the streets, and black leaders and professionals forced out of town. This riot was an important part of history because it was the first and only time that government officials were forcibly removed from office. The riot is also where there is a real change in the relationship between Moses and his father. Moses was not prepared for the dangers he could face and when the violence starts, he comes to the realization that his father and Boo Nanny had not prepared him. Jackson had let Moses believe that they lived in a world where everything is fine and will be alright, and Boo Nanny never told Moses what violence she had experienced. Jackson even apologizes to Moses at the end of the book because he wishes he had prepared him.
“There’s a lot more ugliness out there then I’ve led you to believe, and I haven’t prepared you for it. I saw this clearly when you told me about Mr. Manly’s escape. You didn’t realize the danger you were in, and because of that, I could very well have lost you...” (Wright 202).
I enjoyed reading this book, but it definitely was hard because, based on the history of the Wilmington Race Riot, I understood that there would not be a happy ending. I think that the writing was very good and the author did a great job painting pictures of what the characters were like. Learning about the riot is important because while a lot of people don’t talk about it, it changed the population in the town to a majority being white and took away the opportunities that the black people had. In the end I would rate this book three out of five stars.
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