Red River, by Lalita Tademy & Tim Cain (Narrator) with Gammy Singer
Easter Sunday, 1873, Colfax, Louisiana. Before listening to Red River, this day and place held no significance to me, but they are now seared into my consciousness as an example of a shameful date in U.S. history. For 10 years after the Civil War, black men and women in the South lived with the hope and promise of a bright future for themselves and their children. Reconstruction saw black men owning property and electing candidates to local and county offices in Colfax, Louisiana, but that changed when white supremacists decided to ignore election results and forcefully install their own choices. They called the Easter Sunday carnage of more than 100 black men a "riot by troublemaking coloreds," but Red River gives the more accurate account of a horrific massacre of black citizens defending their freedom.
Leaving her executive position at Sun Microsystems, Lalita Tademy diligently researched her family's history and found that her ancestors were among the casualties and survivors of that terrible event. In an author's note at the end of the book, she tells of her ancient relatives' reluctance to speak of the Colfax courthouse slaughter and the family's loss of 10 years of freedom, although they freely described the other events and characters that people this book. She then wrote what she calls "a blend of fact and fiction, told from the point of view of people whose voices were lost in official records."
Tim Cain delivers a virtuoso performance in his reading of this book. From the very proper diction of the narrative passages to the dialects of the assorted male and female characters of all ages, he maintains distinct and recognizable voices. Listening to Red River is reminiscent of hearing black poetry rhythmically recited by acclaimed actors. Gammy Singer appears as Polly Tedamy at 100 years old, urging her listeners to see the Colfax event for what it was-a massacre, not a riot. She reminds her descendents that there was freedom during Reconstruction and that the men tried to maintain it by their actions. She calls it "ten years of fiery promise that burned down and only leave a small grey pile of ash under the fireplace grate and don't nobody remember the flame."
This is one of the most moving, most powerful
books I have listened to. Although the description of the
mutilation and execution of some of the black victims was
disturbing, it was necessary in order to paint an accurate
picture. The bonus material on the final disk of photographs,
family tree and maps inspired me to start the audio book all
over, attaching faces to characters and events to places.
This is an important work, and as Polly sagely pronounced,
"We need to remember - truth matters, truth matters."