James Goodman

In 1994, James Goodman’s much acclaimed book, Stories of Scottsboro, was published. Civil war historian James McPherson said about the book that Goodman had invented “a new way of writing history.”  Although a slight exaggeration, Goodman did not use a standard narrative format for the telling of his tale.  Instead, his book tells the stories of  various trial participants, each from his (or her) own perspective. Goodman writes, "I have struggled to be true to my sources." The new approach worked.  The reader is left to sort out contradictions and inconsistencies, but the challenge absorbs and reminds us that  historical truth is often unknowable. Goodman's own views, of course, are not entirely hidden.  His ordering of the accounts, choice of whose accounts to include, and development of central themes leaves unmistakable his belief that the tragedy of Scottsboro grew out of the "poisonous idea" that black men are rapists. Goodman's book has been called  “well written and kaleidoscopic"  and “a superb retelling of this vital episode.”  In addition to earning him praise form the critics, Goodman’s book also earned him a position as a finalist for a Pulitzer Prize in history.

James Goodman is a professor of history at Rutgers University.


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