Synopses & Reviews
In 1656, a Maryland planter tortured and killed an enslaved man named Antonio, an Angolan who refused to work in the fields. Three hundred years later, Simon P. Owens battled soul-deadening technologies as well as the fiction of and#147;raceand#8221; that divided him from his co-workers in a Detroit auto-assembly plant. Separated by time and space, Antonio and Owens nevertheless shared a distinct kind of political vulnerability; they lacked rights and opportunities in societies that accorded marked privileges to people labeled and#147;white.and#8221;
An American creation myth posits that these two black men were the victims of and#147;racialand#8221; discrimination, a primal prejudice that the United States has haltingly but gradually repudiated over the course of many generations. In A Dreadful Deceit, award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of Antonio, Owens, and four other African Americans to illustrate the strange history of and#147;raceand#8221; in America. In truth, Jones shows, race does not exist, and the very factors that we think of as determining itand#151; a personand#8217;s heritage or skin colorand#151;are mere pretexts for the brutalization of powerless people by the powerful. Jones shows that for decades, southern planters did not even bother to justify slavery by invoking the concept of race; only in the late eighteenth century did whites begin to rationalize the exploitation and marginalization of blacks through notions of and#147;racialand#8221; difference. Indeed, race amounted to a political strategy calculated to defend overt forms of discrimination, as revealed in the stories of Boston King, a fugitive in Revolutionary South Carolina; Elleanor Eldridge, a savvy but ill-starred businesswoman in antebellum Providence, Rhode Island; Richard W. White, a Union veteran and Republican politician in post-Civil War Savannah; and William Holtzclaw, founder of an industrial school for blacks in Mississippi, where many whites opposed black schooling of any kind. These stories expose the fluid, contingent, and contradictory idea of race, and the disastrous effects it has had, both in the past and in our own supposedly post-racial society.
Expansive, visionary, and provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped four centuries of American history.
"MacArthur Fellow and Bancroft Prize winning historian Jones's aim in this heartfelt book is to redefine our ideas of what constitutes 'race' while arguing that the entire foundation of racial categorizing is unscientific and deeply injurious historically. While that argument is widely held by scientists and scholars, it still lacks widespread acceptance. So in what is the most persuasive and satisfying feature of this authoritative book, Jones relates the stories of six 'black' Americans across different eras spanning nearly half a millennium. These riveting tales emerge from Jones's deep knowledge of African-American history and her brilliant use of previously unexploited sources. If at times unsubtle Jones finds it necessary to keep reminding us that 'race' is mythic, not real she leaves no doubt that ever-changing racial mythologies 'have nothing to do with biological determinism and everything to do with power relations.' Racial ideologies, she shows, have long been a pretext for injustice, are always in flux, and while they deeply affect us all, have never extinguished the robust determination of the oppressed to gain safety, dignity, and a rightful place in the nation's civic life. Agent: Geri Thoma, Writers House." Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
2014 Pulitzer Prize Finalist
Publishers Weekly, Best of 2013
and#147;Jones forcefully demonstrates how racial ideologies are used to uphold existing power relations and perpetuate injustice, denying some citizens their rightful place in civic life.and#8221;
New York Times Book Review
and#147;These six stories, told in vivid detail, are fascinating and a pleasure to read...her book is a call to renounce the very idea of race as a dangerous misconception.and#8221;
Wall Street Journal
and#147;Her book is a moving and painstakingly researched, at times almost novelistic, group portrait of five black men and one woman from different eras that, taken together, lays bare the ideology buttressing the notion of race and the and#145;peculiar institutionand#8217; it justified.... Ms. Jonesand#8217;s achievement is substantial.and#8221;
Chronicle of Higher Education
and#147;[An] arresting and engrossing new book...few historians have written more powerfully or impressively about very large, and racially diverse, sections of the American working class.and#8221;
and#147;[A] smart, provocative new bookand#133;a persuasive, deeply researched, readable argumentand#133;so intricately researched as to feel novelistic.... Though she never quite acknowledges how a biological myth becomes real cultural identity, Jones gives a lot to chew on.and#8221;
and#147;Provocativeand#133;fascinatingand#133;The strength of Dreadful Deceit lies in its wealth of detail and the precise picture it offers of specific places and times.and#8221;
ESPN.com, Tuesday Morning Quarterback
and#147;[This] volume may have a lasting impact on American thought.... A Dreadful Deceit may put into the national conversation the notion that categorizing by and#145;raceand#8217; is an obsolescent idea. Skin color tells nothing more about a person than eye color; there is simply one human race. That is a powerful, progressive idea.and#8221;
Kirkus, starred review
and#147;A powerful exploration of an enduring myth that has haunted America over the centuries, from one of our best chroniclers of Americaand#8217;s struggle with racial inequality.... [Jones is] a graceful writer and natural storyteller...a masterful book about its history.and#8221;
Publishers Weekly, starred review
and#147;Heartfelt.... In what is the most persuasive and satisfying feature of this authoritative book, Jones relates the stories of six and#145;blackand#8217; Americans across different eras spanning nearly half a millennium. These riveting tales emerge from Jonesand#8217;s deep knowledge of African-American history and her brilliant use of previously unexploited sources.and#8221;
Kirkus, "Best of the Year"
and#147;For readers who wonder about the impact, for better or worse, of racial framing and discourse in America, Jacqueline Jones weaves a powerful narrative argument against the construct of race.and#8221;
and#147;Jones offers a provocative analysis of and#145;raceand#8217; and the abuse of power.and#8221;
Thomas J. Sugrue, David Boies Professor of History and Sociology, University of Pennsylvania, and author of Sweet Land of Liberty: The Forgotten Struggle for Civil Rights in the North
"Jacqueline Jones is one of the most distinguished scholars on race in America and this book shows why. A Dreadful Deceit is both sweeping and intimate, exploring the long history of racial injustice in America and the inspiring struggle against it through beautifully drawn biographical vignettes. Powerful, eye opening, and original, it reminds us that race and power are the central themes of American history."
Edward L. Ayers, author of In the Presence of Mine Enemies: Civil War in the Heart of America
"'Race' is one of the most charged words in Americans' public vocabulary, and Jacqueline Jones dismantles it century by century, life by life. The revealing and memorable stories she tells show how the language of race became so pervasive, so deceptive, and so damaging over four centuries of American life."
Darlene C. Hine, Northwestern University, co-author of The African American Odyssey
and#147;A masterful work of history, biography, and searing analysis of Americaand#8217;s race conundrum. By skillfully unraveling the fiction of race and its use to rationalize institutional oppression and exploitation over the past four hundred years, Jacqueline Jones has produced an important book of uncommon grace and grit. It is essential to understanding Americaand#8217;s racial legacy and the true calculus of lives that have been diminished and destroyed by the dreadful deceit of race. This book is absolutely required reading.and#8221;
Joe W. Trotter, Giant Eagle Professor of History and Social Justice, Carnegie Mellon University
and#147;In a variety of settings at different moments in time, this extraordinary book shows just how contingent, malleable, and resilient the notion of race has been in U.S. capitalist development. It also underscores how contemporary usage of race, shorn of its specific historical contexts, obscures more than it explains. Most important, through a meticulous reexamination of myriad permutations of race in American society, this book advances a powerful alternative narrative of U.S. history itself.and#8221;
In 1656, a planter in colonial Maryland tortured and killed one of his slaves, an Angolan man named Antonio who refused to work the fields. Over three centuries later, a Detroit labor organizer named Simon Owens watched as strikebreakers wielding bats and lead pipes beat his fellow autoworkers for protesting their inhumane working conditions. Antonio and Owens had nothing in common but the color of their skin and the economic injustices they battledyet the former is what defines them in Americas consciousness. In A Dreadful Deceit
, award-winning historian Jacqueline Jones traces the lives of these two men and four other African Americans to reveal how the concept of race has obscured the factors that truly divide and unite us.
Expansive, visionary, and provocative, A Dreadful Deceit explodes the pernicious fiction that has shaped American history.
About the Author
Jacqueline Jones is the Walter Prescott Webb Chair in History and Ideas and the Mastin Gentry White Professor of Southern History at the University of Texas at Austin. Winner of a MacArthur Fellowship, a Ford Fellowship, a Woodrow Wilson Fellowship, and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship, she has previously taught at Brandeis, Brown, and Wellesley. She is the author of seven previous books, including Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow, which was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in history and which won the Bancroft Prize for American History, the Philip Taft Award in Labor History, the Brown Memorial Publication Prize awarded by the Association of Black Women Historians, the Julia Spruill Prize awarded by the Southern Association for Women Historians, and the Gustavus Myers Center Prize for Best Book on Racial Intolerance. Her book Saving Savannah received the Malcolm Bell, Jr. and Muriel Barrow Bell Award for Best Book in Georgia History, was a finalist for the Frederick Douglass Award, and received an Honorable Mention for the Lincoln Prize; another, The Dispossessed, was a finalist for the Lillian Smith Award from the Southern Regional Council. Jones is the Vice-President of the Professional Division of the American Historical Association and an elected member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Society of American Historians, the Massachusetts Historical Society, the Authorsand#8217; Guild, the PEN American Center, and the American Antiquarian Society. She lives in Austin, Texas.
Table of Contents
One. Antonio: A Killing in Early Colonial Maryland
Two. Boston King: Self-Interested Patriotism in Revolutionary-Era South Carolina
Three. Elleanor Eldridge: and#147;Complexional Hindranceand#8221; in Antebellum Rhode Island
Four. Richard W. White: and#147;Racialand#8221; Politics in Post-Civil-War Savannah
Five. William H. Holtzclaw: The and#147;Black Manand#8217;s Burdenand#8221; in the Heart of Mississippi
Six. Simon P. Owens: A Detroit Wildcatter at the Point of Production