3 out of 4 stars
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Godspeed the Gentle Angels by Richard Morgan Stewart is a historical non-fiction book that explores an important but dark part of the United States' history, based on the experiences of his grandfather, Attorney Morris Reese Stewart. Even in the world today, we can still see traces of the significance of this period.
It was the late 1800s, and the brutal lynching of black people in Louisiana was at an all-time high. Black people were lynched for little to no reason, even for just "being available and black." In this story, we follow Forerunner Freeman, a black man who was falsely accused of rape after offering to cut a white lady's grass for a nickel. He was dragged from bed the next morning for the common ritual of hanging on the church's hanging tree in front of excited spectators. He had said his last prayers; nevertheless, his guardian angel would send Attorney Morris Reese Stewart to his rescue while he demanded that no punishment would befall Forerunner until there was a court trial. Morris was also determined to press charges against the hangman who violated Forerunner's human rights by threatening his life.
The author has done well to present this side of history, despite how horrible the events were, as I think that it is important for the younger generation to know the past since it will inform better choices in the future. In this book, Richard Morgan Stewart's captivating style of writing is what stands out from the beginning, as he paints vivid pictures of what it felt like to be black in that era through Forerunner, the sacrifices of good men like Morris in the fight for racial equality, despite battling their own demons, and even the misguided behavior of the white supremacists, as shown in the paragraph below. Forerunner would get justice in the State Supreme Court years later, and the difficulty on the road to achieving this goal was well documented, from the hangmen continuously trying to force their way into Forerunner's cell to lynch him to the numerous excuses offered by the courts on why they rejected the petitions to prosecute the hangman. I connected to not only Forerunner and his plight but also to Morris and his devotion to achieving justice for his client.
"The bedeviled Ku Klux Klan ran amok facing the approaching storm of racial equality that threatened to engulf their entrenched barbarity. Frightened by their hero hangman’s imprisonment, his henchmen didn’t dare attack their feared archenemy openly, but behind his back, they did cowardly harass him with rabble clownery that he shed like water rolling off a duck’s back." - Page 55.
I also enjoyed watching Forerunner's growth despite being locked up for years. With the people around him and Morris' help, he would gradually learn how to read and surpass my expectations later in the story. At just eighty pages, the book was an easy, concise read, but I did find a lot of distracting errors while reading. Missing commas and hyphens made up most of these errors, and I think that the book will benefit from rounds of editing by a professional.
Overall, I found the book informative and also enjoyed the brief look into Morris' contrasting personal life. The errors I found mean that I will settle for rating this book three out of four stars. Readers who enjoy historical non-fiction will enjoy this book.
Godspeed the Gentle Angels
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