The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Men We Reaped:
Book Review

Mar 3, 2014

Men We Reaped, a new memoir by Jesmyn Ward, shares with readers a glimpse of working class black life in her home town of DeLisle, Mississippi – an hour away from New Orleans, Louisiana.

From the year 2000 through 2004, the author lost to violent death five young men she had grown up with. She tells the story of her own life as inseparable from the lives of her family members and friends who died so young.

The author grew up happily but poor, within the protection of a tight-knit family network, with deep roots in the area, stretching back generations.

The author was born in 1977. The older adults in her family shared stories with her of how fear of the Ku Klux Klan in an earlier era and in a later era – the Black Movement of the 1960s – influenced their lives.

The author and her generation grew up and lived during the rise of drugs and imprisonment that came as the Black Movement receded. The author describes the slow creep over time, as “Death spreads, eating away at the root of our community like a fungus.”

She “escaped” educationally because her mother worked as a maid for wealthy white families. A means was arranged for the author – but not her three siblings – to get a better education. She attended a private school on a “scholarship,” funded by families her mother worked for. She was the only black girl at her all-white private school for most of her education.

But she could not “escape” the pain inflicted on her family and friends.

The author’s writing is so gripping that the book is difficult to put down. She carefully builds toward the book’s powerful conclusions on the role played by racism – and in reality, class oppression – in the deaths of her young friends and family members.

This is a book that gives voice to those who are often voiceless in this society. Men We Reaped is available in libraries, in e-book and as an audio book.