Review: Invisible by Stephen Carter

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Invisible is a book about an amazing woman in a unique moment in time. Eunice Carter, the paternal grandmother of the author, took down "Lucky" Luciano, the head of the Luciano crime family. She was a black, female prosecutor working under Thomas Dewey in  1930s New York. A life long Republican, she worked tirelessly for her political friends and even ran for office herself. At a time when both women and African Americans were struggling to get their full, fair share of the American Dream, she excelled.

Professor Carter is a first rate historian, and it is extremely interesting to have him write a book about his own grandmother. The flavor of this narrative history is more deeply engaging that most similar books. He weaves his own personal, family tale with the deep background of the country. Inside this book, I got a better narrative of the fluidity of African American life. And my continued amazement how generation after generation the same families tend to produce leaders in many different fields.

The book starts with Mrs. Carter's grandfather who certainly knew Reverend John Brown of Kansas, yes the man who planned and led the attack on Harper's Ferry, a precipitating event to the civil war. Because of what is certainly knowledge of the plan on Grandpa Stanton Hunton's part, Mr. Hunton was obliged to leave the US and lived out the rest of his life in Canada. There Mr. Hunton had a son, William who became Eunice's father. William was the first ever black secretary of the YMCA, which obliged the man to live in the US. They lived in Atlanta, GA where Eunice was born and spent her early childhood, until the race riot of 1906 obliged the successful black family to flee to New York.

The struggles of African Americans is woven expertly into this narrative, so that the larger context of this struggle can be considered alongside Eunice's achievements. And her achievements are substantial for any person. She went to Smith College, became an activist in Republican politics, wrote at the level of a literary genius before turning her formidable brains to going to law school and becoming a lawyer. She was picked by Thomas Dewey to be part of his team when he was appointed special prosecutor of Manhattan. She followed Dewey when he became the DA of New York City, but did not follow him when he went to the governor's office of New York after he lost to FDR in his first run for president.

It is through her activism on the part of Republican Dewey that we see how the Roosevelts, (mainly Eleanor) took hold of a change in the African American consciousness and led to true competition for the black vote during Dewey's runs for the presidency. Extras that might have been omitted by a lesser historian.

Beyond this, we also see Eunice as she rubs elbows with black luminaries in all walks of life. In short, reading this book will give the reader a good primer on what was important in black society at the time, how family drama plays across many generations, how strong the call to duty was a hundred years ago, and a great opportunity to reflect on how our society has changed, and perhaps more importantly, how our society has failed to changed and live up to its promises.

This book is a must read.


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