Trillin’s reporting in several of his essays offers insight into the mix of fear, entitlement, anxiety and sense of superiority felt by many white Americans. 'No sophisticated study of public opinion is needed to establish the fact that in the United States, North or South, a white life is considered to be of more value than a Negro life,' he wrote in 1964. This book provides historical context to the issues of race, racism, voter suppression and income inequality underpinning the current presidential election. Trillin’s elegant storytelling and keen observations sometimes churned my wrath about the glacial pace of progress.
The title essay takes what must have been, at the time, the most probing, wide-ranging view yet of the epochal 'Freedom Summer' of 1964 when young activists from all over the country converged upon Mississippi to register black votes. With the diligent clarity, humane wit, polished prose and attention to pertinent detail that exemplify Trillin’s journalism at its best, the piece captures both the potential and the perils of that movement ... Jackson, 1964 drives home a sobering realization: Even with signs of progress, racism in America is news that stays news.
Not everything in it is top shelf. Some of the early articles are tentative and straightforwardly reportorial; Mr. Trillin was still finding his voice. But everything in Jackson, 1964 resonates. The book builds, and the payoffs in some of its later pieces (the most recent is from 2008) are generous. The volume is more than a history lesson. The issues it considers — police shootings, voter suppression tactics, race-based acts of terrorism — seem taken from today’s headlines. We’ve come so far, yet we haven’t come very far at all ... Jackson, 1964 is a memorial of sorts. It contains the names of many forgotten figures in the civil rights struggle. The biggest honor Mr. Trillin paid these men and women was to write about them so honestly and so well. These pieces have literary as well as historical merit, and they will continue to be read for the pleasure they deliver as well as for the pain they describe.