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Fraternity: In 1968, a visionary priest…

Fraternity: In 1968, a visionary priest recruited 20 black men to the…

by Diane Brady

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The Reverend John Brooks was breaking ground in 1968 when he recruited young black men for College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, a most unlikely spot for racial progressiveness. This book tells of his efforts, of the lives of the young men who were recruited, and the effect of the college experience on their lives.

Some of the men I had heard of – who has not heard of Clarence Thomas? Some were unknown to me. All had challenges and inner turmoil to face, and some met those challenges better than others. While Holy Cross may not have had as much overt racism as, say, Selma, Alabama, or Memphis, Tennessee did at that time, it was still very much there and very hateful.

What was especially interesting to me was the fight against general segregation while fighting for the right to have segregation in living quarters, the pros and cons of affirmative action, the peace that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. practiced versus the violence of newer, younger movements, the inherent dichotomies of the time. Seeing how the young men changed in the course of a few years was also quite interesting.

I would have liked to have known more about John Brooks. I am somewhat surprised that the story was told in such a straightforward manner; I expected it to have a little more “heart.” Clarence Thomas was most interesting to me because he is the person I'm most familiar with. (I think I would have liked him more when he was a college student than I do now, but that is beside the point.) I liked knowing about the families of these men, and would have liked to know more. Overall, this is a book well worth reading, not only for learning about the men in the story but also about the mood and trials of the times. ( )
  TooBusyReading | Feb 11, 2012 |
The author highlights the lives of five black students, recruited to go to Holy Cross, after the death of Martin Luther King, when the pressure for racial equality was front and center. It was time to right the wrongs of history. The goal was a noble one, by Father Brooks, to increase the black student body at Holy Cross, but often, the recipients bit the hand that fed them, making unrealistic financial demands and staging protests to accomplish their goals. There was a fear of igniting the black community and of creating a rising population of young people, discontented with the system, only too eager to stage protests and join forces with each others causes, and so, although the stage was set for change, political correctness often created situations in which illegal acts, rather than being punished were rewarded, and though positive change was accomplished, the results were often tarnished by the methods and responses.
I felt that the author glossed over the negative behavior of the activists during this time period, both white and black, and so I found the book to be a bit of a fairy tale, presenting a too positive interpretation of the actual events that took place and painting a somewhat less than honest picture of what actually existed. The events that led to Kent State, Woodstock, the anti war demonstrations and the draft dodgers, the plans to blow-up buildings, the black power movements calling for violence, the rise of Louis Farrakhan, a man who was and still is virulently anti-Semitic but who still achieved an enormous following then and now, are just some of the historic moments that were given too little emphasis by the author in what may have been her effort to paint an overarching, more sympathetic picture of the people involved.
It was because I felt that the author did not adequately present all sides of the issues she covered, with equal emphasis, that I only gave the book three stars. It seemed to represent the mindset of the sixties with its drugs and free love, with its loosening of moral and ethical values, with its encouragement of the feelings of entitlement rather than rewarding genuine effort and accomplishment, in too positive a light. I would have appreciated the author’s efforts more if at least there was a philosophical message at the end which encouraged self reliance and responsibility so that I would not come away from it feeling it was simply a book to promote a particular political agenda in this election year.|
Although, I was not able to fully appreciate the book because of what seemed to be an underlying liberal agenda, rather than an honest presentation of the civil rights struggle, using Father Brooks and the students as examples, I would recommend the book to others, as long as they realized they were getting a somewhat slanted and not quite accurate picture of the mood in the country at that time. It was very easy to read and it held my interest throughout. The book enlightened me most about Clarence Thomas, who had been presented by a largely liberal media and the Democrats, as a sexual deviant, not qualified for the Supreme Court. I found that he was highly qualified, very bright and not exactly a recipient of Affirmative Action, which he does not support. He had already been a Seminary student and completed his freshman year before being recruited to attend Holy Cross. He had the qualifications necessary to succeed and the requirements were not lowered to allow him to attend even though the normal admissions procedure was bypassed. Also, I agreed with some of his philosophy, as well, since he seemed to believe that honest effort and achievement should be rewarded, and he believed that he should be recognized as a successful man among men, not a successful black man among white men. After the hard fought battle for integration, he did not want to see the re-introduction of segregation on the campus, as many of his fellow brothers did. He felt comfortable in both the white and black world and wanted everyone to feel that way.
So, in the end, upon finishing the book, I asked myself, was the author's aim to emphasize the struggle for equal rights and to promote better race relations in America, or was it to promote a liberal agenda? Why tell this story now? Was the purpose merely political in nature, rather than to illuminate the injustices of the past and the efforts of a particular, rather remarkable priest to uplift the condition of blacks in America, while at the same time showing these students were up to the task and that there was an absolute need for equality since some of the brightest minds were being wasted and were left undiscovered and undeveloped?
As I tried to determine the author's purpose in writing it, I realized that the environment today has alarming similarities. There is a tendency to demonstrate, often without clear cut reasons for the action, there is a pervasive sense of entitlement evident in society, an atmosphere of class warfare and racial injustice, and a cloud of discontent and disenchantment surrounding us as we become more and more disillusioned with the powers that be . Our work ethic seems to have declined and our faith in our government’s ability to keep us safe is wavering. If this book can encourage equality without encouraging class warfare, while discouraging prejudice of all kinds, it can promote a strong work ethic and will achieve a great ideal as it supports a strong and diverse America. ( )
  thewanderingjew | Jan 5, 2012 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385524749, Hardcover)

Amazon Best Books of the Month, January 2012: Shortly after MLK Jr.’s assassination Reverend John Brooks, the future president of Holy Cross College, personally recruited and mentored 20 African-American students—five of whom (including Justice Clarence Thomas and author Edward P. Jones among others) are closely followed in Diane Brady’s impressively researched debut. --Jessica Schein

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:14 -0400)

Tells the unforgettable story of how Father Brooks, a Jesuit priest, transformed the lives of a remarkable group of men during one of the most fraught racial periods in the history of our country.

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