Tag Archives: Beacon Press

Book Review: Infinite Hope, by Anthony Graves

I won a copy of Infinite Hope, by Anthony Graves through Goodreads. I read it during my time out solo protesting, which is something I’ve been doing for a month or so now.


In the summer of 1992, a grandmother, a teenage girl, and four children under the age of ten were beaten and stabbed to death in Somerville, Texas. The perpetrator set the house on fire to cover his tracks, deepening the heinousness of the crime and rocking the tiny community to its core. Authorities were eager to make an arrest. Five days later, Anthony Graves was in custody.

Graves, then twenty-six years old and without an attorney, was certain that his innocence was obvious. He did not know the victims, he had no knowledge about the crime, and he had an airtight alibi with witnesses. There was also no physical evidence linking him to the scene. Yet Graves was indicted, convicted of capital murder, sentenced to death, and, over the course of twelve years on death row, given two execution dates. He was not freed for eighteen years, two months, four days.

Through years of suffering the whims of rogue prosecutors, vote-hungry district attorneys, and Texas State Rangers who played by their own rules, Graves was frequently exposed to the dire realities of being poor and black in the criminal justice system. He witnessed fellow inmates who became his friends and confidants be taken away, one by one, to their deaths. And he missed out on seeing his three young sons mature into men. Graves’s only solace was his infinite hope that the state would not execute him for a crime he did not commit.

To maintain his dignity and sanity, Graves made sure as many people as possible knew about his case. He wrote letters to whomever he thought would listen. Pen pals in countries all over the world became allies, and he attracted the attention of a savvy legal team that overcame setback after setback, chiseling away at the state’s faulty case against him. Everyone’s efforts eventually worked. After Graves’s exoneration, the original prosecutor on his case was disbarred.


This was a hard book to read because the events in it are so unrelentingly wrong. I found myself wanting to avoid it. Of course, we can’t can we? If we refuse to look at injustices, how can we seek to understand and correct them? And there appear to have been incalculable injustices in Graves’ case. It would seem the prosecutors knowingly tried and convicted an innocent man. One has to ask why. Graves doesn’t even try to answer this question, maybe he can’t. Was it pure racism? He doesn’t suggest so, though it certainly played a role.

I found Graves a competent but unemotional narrator of his own tale. And while I can understand how reporting the events in a detached manner might make it easier to face in the retelling, it makes it dry to read. Plus, the book centers on the miscarried justice of Graves’ various trials and says comparatively little on the almost 20 years he spent in prison. Those are the years that would have fleshed him out as a character and made him more approachable to the reader. (I don’t mean as a fictional character but as the central component of his own story.)

All in all, I think this was worth the read and I’m glad to see Graves seems to have found a way to form good from the experience.

jim crow schools

Book Review of Twenty-First-Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charters on Public Education, by Raynard Sanders, David Stovall, Terrenda White

I won a copy of Twenty-First-Century Jim Crow Schools: The Impact of Charters on Public Education, by Raynard Sanders, David Stovall, and Terrenda White.

Description of book:

Charter schools once promised a path towards educational equity, but as the authors of this powerful volume show, market-driven education reforms have instead boldly reestablished a tiered public school system that segregates students by race and class. Examining the rise of charters in New Orleans, Chicago, and New York, authors Raynard Sanders, David Stovall, and Terrenda White show how charters–private institutions, usually set in poor or working-class African American and Latinx communities–promote competition instead of collaboration and are driven chiefly by financial interests. Sanders, Stovall, and White also reveal how corporate charters position themselves as “public” to secure tax money but exploit their private status to hide data about enrollment and salaries, using misleading information to promote false narratives of student success.

In addition to showing how charter school expansion can deprive students of a quality education, the authors document several other lasting consequences of charter school expansion:

– the displacement of experienced African American teachers
– the rise of a rigid, militarized pedagogy such as SLANT
– the purposeful starvation of district schools
– and the loss of community control and oversight

A revealing and illuminating look at one of the greatest threats to public education, Twenty-First-Century Jim Crow Schools explores how charter schools have shaped the educational landscape and why parents, teachers, and community members are fighting back.


The title of this book lets you know this is an anti-charter school text. Do not go in looking for a balanced, both sides of the issue discussion. Of the three essays, the last (by White) is the most nuanced, while the first represents what appears to be the charter school system in the worse shape. Unfortunately, even agreeing with a lot of the endpoints of Sander’s arguments in that first essay, I didn’t feel he successfully supported them. Similarly, I felt Stovall’s direct correlation between charter school systems and post-reconstruction jim crow was a bit of a stretch. Similarities exist for sure, but I think he stretched his analogy too far.

I did appreciate that each author acknowledged that charter school originated innocuously, as small, community-led schools before they were later essentially franchised. Lastly, taking all three essays as a whole, I was really surprised how many men are interviewed or references, considering how heavily skewed toward women the teaching field is.

Reviews of We Wear the Mask: 15 Stories of Passing in America, AND You Can’t Kill the Dream

You get two for one today. You Can’t Kill the Dream (by Ande Yakstis & Daniel Brannan) is only 56 pages and I wouldn’t normally even include a review on the blog. But since I read it while out on my solo demonstration directly after finishing We Wear the Mask (edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page), I figured I’d review them together too. Besides, both have pretty brief reviews from me. I’ll start with We Wear the Mask though.

Description from Goodreads:

Why do people pass? Fifteen writers reveal their experiences with passing.

For some, “passing” means opportunity, access, or safety. Others don’t willingly pass but are “passed” in specific situations by someone else. We Wear the Mask, edited by Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page, is an illuminating and timely anthology that examines the complex reality of passing in America.

Skyhorse, a Mexican American, writes about how his mother passed him as an American Indian before he learned who he really is. Page shares how her white mother didn’t tell friends about her black ex-husband or that her children were, in fact, biracial.

The anthology includes writing from Gabrielle Bellot, who shares the disquieting truths of passing as a woman after coming out as trans, and MG Lord, who, after the murder of her female lover, embraced heterosexuality. Patrick Rosal writes of how he “accidentally” passes as a waiter at the National Book Awards ceremony, and Rafia Zakaria agonizes over her Muslim American identity while traveling through domestic and international airports. Other writers include Trey Ellis, Marc Fitten, Susan Golomb, Margo Jefferson, Achy Obejas, Clarence Page, Sergio Troncoso, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, and Teresa Wiltz.


If you had asked me if I understood what passing is before I read this book, I’d have said yes. But now, having read these 15 essays, I realize what I had was a very shallow understanding of the concept of passing. The essays skew toward older, well-educated, well-traveled authors, but they still cover a pretty broad array of people and types of passing. It certainly broadened my understanding of the phenomenon.

Description of You Can’t Kill the Dream:

“You Can’t Kill The Dream: People Living The Dream” is a book by Ande Yakstis and Daniel Brannan. Award-winning journalist Ande Yakstis walked with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the historic voters rights march from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965. Yakstis, who had a memorable personal experience with Rev. King, is co-author with acclaimed newspaper editor Daniel Brannan in a remarkable new book titled: “You Can’t Kill the Dream-people living the ‘dream.'” The two prize-winning writers tell the amazing stories of people who are living King’s dream today, in 2013, 45 years after the civil rights leader’s death on April 4, 1968.


I actually thought the writing here was pretty amateurish and repetitive. But I also thought the snippets of normal people meeting and remembering King and his death were endearing.