The custom of the country: Alistair Cooke and race in America: a selected edition of Letter from America, 1946-2003
Mehegan, David J.
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The Custom of the Country: Alistair Cooke and Race in America is a selected, annotated edition of 142 installments of Alistair Cooke's BBC broadcast, Letter from America, on race and the struggle for civil rights in the United States. Alistair Cooke (1908-2004), English-born American journalist, produced a variety of works over a seventy-year career, almost all about American politics, society, and culture. Besides writing numerous books, he was for 25 years American correspondent for the Manchester Guardian newspaper (later The Guardian). From 1946 to 2004 he wrote and recorded a weekly 2,100-word commentary, Letter from America, broadcast to the United Kingdom and British Commonwealth - a total of 2,869 broadcasts. Over the decades, the relation of white and black was a frequent concern of Letter from America. The Custom of the Country records events from Harry Truman's efforts to advance civil rights, through the Brown v. Board of Education decision, battles over segregation and passage of civil rights laws, the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr., the riots of the 1960s, school busing and Affirmative Action, up to and beyond the O.J. Simpson case. The letters include profiles of such figures as Joe Louis, George Wallace, Lyndon Johnson, Duke Ellington, Marian Anderson, J. William Fulbright, and Jesse Jackson. They explore changes in the language of race and in black and white society. The texts also reveal the process of change (and lack of change) in the views of one immigrant over more than half a century. The Custom of the Country is an accurate edition of scripts as near as possible to the words as Cooke wrote and spoke them. The edition, spanning the years 1946-2003, was compiled from manuscripts and transcripts in the Alistair Cooke collection at the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, and at the BBC Written Archives Centre in Reading, England. Available versions were consulted and compared in the preparation of the text. In addition to the introduction, which contains specific references to the texts, footnotes report key variant readings, along with historical and biographical background, as well as extensive cross-referencing of topics and events.
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