Our America: Life and Death on the South Side of Chicago (Jones and Newman with Isay)

This book, the third project (after 2 NPR documentaries), focuses on the Ida B. Wells housing projects in Chicago. David Isay, a white producer (an issue that he, sadly, mentions only parenthetically), hands over recording equipment to two children who live there – LeAlan Jones and Lloyd Newman. Jones quickly becomes the start interviewer and journalist. With Isay’s help, I presume, they get access to a wide array of people, first investigating the housing projects and then the astonishing murder of Eric Morse.

The three creators wisely let their subjects speak for themselves. The comments on the housing projects, the schools, parents and violence, supplemented effectively by stark photographs by John Brooks (born and raised in Cabrini Green), are straightforward, even as all involved struggle for language to describe their experiences. At times, there seems to be no way of describing what goes on there. What happens when language is insufficient and fails us?

I remember the Morse killing. I was student-teaching then when it made the cover of Time magazine because of the ages of those involved. There is a detail here that I don’t remember, and I’m still having trouble getting my mind around it.

This is an example, in my mind, of political reporting at its best. As the always eloquent Dr. Cornel West says in his Preface, this is a chance to listen to children. And we should listen and learn. From Jones –

It’s hard for me to say how I’m American when I live in a second America – an America that doesn’t wave the red, white, and blue flag with fifty stars for fifty states. I live in a community that waves a white flag because we have almost given up. I live in a community where on the walls are the names of fallen comrades of war. I live in a second America.

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