Thomas M. Grace's Critical Reads

February 24th, 2017

Thomas M. Grace is a professor of history at Erie Community College. A 1972 graduate of Kent State University, he earned a PhD in history from SUNY Buffalo after many years as a social worker and union representative. He is the author of Kent State: Death and Dissent in the Long Sixties, and will discuss his book on Fri. 2/24 6pm at 57th Street Books with Bill Ayers.

All of these books I can recommend without hesitation. Being Black History Month, the first is by Duke University historian, Timothy Tyson, Radio Free Dixie and the Rise of Black Power (1999, 2001). The book tells the riveting story of the militant NAACP leader, Robert F. Williams. Unlike so many books that focus on the story of African American victimhood and oppression, Tyson’s chronicle reveals how one man’s fearless agency gave hope, pride and protection to the black community of Monroe, North Carolina. Professor Tyson’s latest book has been in the news even before its release and concerns the infamous murder of Emmett Till in 1955. 

The second book is by one of Chicago's own, independent historian and writer, Rick Perlstein, Before the Storm: Barry Goldwater and the Unmaking of the American Consensus (2001). Perlstein’s brilliant book, his first, is about the rise of Republican Barry Goldwater. Perlstein’s treatment and reconstruction of Goldwater’s 1964 campaign has been called one of the finest studies ever written about the American right. I concur. What is more, Perlstein is, like Tyson, an exceptionally gifted writer. 

Finally, on the labor movement, Jack Metzgar’s memoir, Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered (2000), tells of growing up in Johnstown, Pennsylvania, as the son of a steelworker. It is a book not to be missed. For years, labor historians influenced by the New Left breezily dismissed unions as being insufficiently militant and seemed to little appreciate the daily challenges faced, and often overcome, by industrial workers such as Johnny Metzgar. His only son, Jack Metzgar, chronicles it all in this indispensable look at an era many now realize was the golden age of labor influence.