Our Man in the Dark
by Rashad Harrison
Book review by Dan Tres OMi
It's easy to see the world as black and white. One can draw a chalk line on the earth and place historical figures on either side and claim that one side is lined up with the good guys, and other with the bad guys. While there were some folks who were as evil as can get, there were many figures who fell into the gray areas. There were those who made decisions that changed history for the bad. The Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s is another era that defined people by their decisions.
We all know the villains, Bull Connor, the KKK, and yes J. Edgar Hoover. We also know about the heroes. What we rarely talk about were the agent provocateurs or the informants. To be honest, if it wasn't for CoIntelPro and the people who helped them along, history might have been written differently. Yet we know about the major figures, but know very little about the every day people who made up the movement, for and against it.
Rashad Harrison introduces the reader to John Estem, a lowly book keeper for the SCLC in Atlanta. Estem, a polio survivor who is stuck wearing a brace, dreams of making the big decisions to propel him to the upper echelon of the Civil Rights Movement alongside Dr. Martin Luther King and Rev. Ralph Abernathy. Everyone in his office, except Dr. King, seems to be in his way especially his supervisor Mr. Gant. Estem is also in love with a child hood sweetheart, Candy, who seems to humor him throughout the book. Estem with more delusions of grandeur, dreams of whisking Candy away while standing shoulder to shoulder with Dr. King. Again, a local drug lord called The Count, stands in his way.
Harrison does a great job of introducing the characters. He quickly pulls the curtains on many of the characters revealing their vices. In a sense, Harrison explains how easy is to for people to make some bad decisions and justify them later on. While the FBI men are mere shadows, Harrison points out how similar they are to Estem. I enjoyed the idea that Harrison didn't really place blame and allowed the reader to do that.
I like that the ending was not happy at all. The protagonist loses big time. As a matter of fact, everyone loses in the end; even the FBI agents get it. Again, Harrison leaves it up to the reader to pass judgment. And that is how history works. History is the standard of how we measure people, major and minor. While we don't know the full story, we know there are many more when it comes to CoIntelPro, it's victims, and it's supporters.