Reviews

Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid – African American’s 400 Years in North America, 1619-2019

US Book Views -- Five out of Five Stars

A timely reflection on American racial relations where everything isn’t so black-and-white

 

History is written by the winners. Nowhere does this saying apply more accurately than in racial relations. The history taught in school is not just wrong but whitewashed and watered down. Information is regulated to appear as though all conflict has been eradicated, and the role of other races, such as African Americans, in United States history is downplayed or erased entirely. Whether done through malice or in shame, it has occurred since the beginning of the United States and still occurs to this day.

In Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid, Eugene DeFriest Bétit presents a comprehensive study of the treatment of African Americans, from their arrival in Virginia in 1619 to modern-day. He covers the failure of Reconstruction to help African Americans, Jim Crow, African American contributions to World Wars I and II, the civil rights movement, white supremacy, Confederate statuary, and more. Bétit even discusses Hitler’s admiration of Jim Crow and the United States’ lack of reprimanding haters versus other countries. His study culminates in a damning ultimatum for the white people of the United States: reject haters, punish them for their lawlessness, and accept all regardless of their racial background or national origin, or lose our future as a democracy.

Eugene DeFriest Bétit’s Collective Amnesia does not pull any punches in its exposé of the United States’ untoward treatment of blacks since the Colonial Era. With a meticulously researched, unquestionable collection of resources, Bétit discusses the raw truth—the good, the bad, and the ugly—rather than the popular myth often found in the classroom. While an unfortunate amount of this history falls under “bad” and “ugly,” such as how whites in the American South continued to suppress blacks after the Civil War, Bétit also tells the reader about the “good” that blacks have done for this country that has been swept under the rug, such as the blacks’ significant contributions to both World Wars. More importantly, though, Bétit limits this information to strictly the historical facts in a textbook manner. He compares the American past to that of other countries, showing how they have progressed where we have stalled and how we have influenced one of the ideologies we claim to abhor the most: Nazism. He ties our past to our present and makes us remember to think about how it will affect how future, returning to the age-old saying “those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”

While a historical and socio-politically charged work, this book does not drag nor is the language hard to read. Bétit uses simple yet impassioned language so that this work goes by relatively quickly despite being around five hundred pages long (including references, footnotes, and appendices). The use of numerous charts, maps, tables, and photographs also helps to pace the text and make the book not seem as long while also providing the reader with useful information. However, one must keep in mind that, by the very nature of this book, the content, including the visual aids, will be considered a sensitive matter to some and politically charged to many, if not all. Still, that is no reason not to read the book. If anything, it means that readers of all backgrounds and beliefs should read it. Those with similar socio-political views as the author will find helpful information to further themselves, and those with opposing views will find information that can either open their minds or, at the very least, start a conversation with more newly acquired information at hand. For those readers who are more sensitive to these matters, nothing too graphic is explicitly discussed, although the subject is never an easy one to cover, so caution is necessary.

Bétit has undertaken a grand task with writing this book and pulled it off very well. Nevertheless, nothing is perfect. Parts throughout the preface, first chapter, and conclusion are somewhat repetitive. The endnotes after each chapter, while it made sense for organizational purposes, disrupts the overall flow of the work and got annoying after a while, to the point that they might have been better at the very end of the book. The most jolting part, though, is that Bétit seems to downplay the racism experienced by Asians, Middle Easterners, and Latinx individuals, particularly Asians, in the first chapter in an attempt to make a point about the racism experienced by blacks in the United States, saying that the second class citizenship applied to African Americans and Native Americans is “applied to a lesser degree to other ‘people of color’ – Chinese, other Asians. Middle Easterners and Latinos.” The implication seems to be that because the kind of racism experienced by these groups is different from that experienced by African Americans and Native Americans, it must be lesser, and that view would be off-putting for readers of those races/ethnicities.

Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid is a deep, thorough study not only of the United States’ history with the mistreatment and suppression of blacks but also how this history has affected other countries and will continue to affect the United States if we continue to refuse to learn from our mistakes. It is not a one-and-done read nor should you read it all in one sitting. Rather, you should go through it in multiple sittings, digesting it slowly even with the easy-to-read writing. That way, you can absorb the information and analyze it completely, perhaps discuss it with another reader, and spread the awareness. Even if you think that you have learned everything that you need to about racial relationships in the United States, give it a read—you’ll be surprised at all the things you never knew you never knew.

Kirkus Book Review -- An accomplished American historian...

An accomplished American historian explores the roots and effects of the mistreatment of African Americans in the United States.

Much of the history in Bétit’s (War’s Cost, 2016, etc.) carefully researched and thoroughly detailed chronicle makes for painful reading. Nonetheless, the story of the abuse endured by black Americans, from slavery to 21st-century racist political campaigns, should be required reading for anyone who wishes to understand the nature of race in modern American society. Bétit begins his narrative with an analysis of modern concepts of race, which he traces to 17th-century French, white physician François Bernier. He then points out how European colonialists transmuted the idea of racial divisions into a belief in white supremacy, which then became the “heart of the justification for American slavery.” With the precise eye of the historian and the captivating tone of the storyteller, Bétit details the persistent efforts of black Americans to forge their place in American society, often at risk of violence and death and always facing aggressive opposition. For example, the narrative traces how black soldiers resolutely fought discrimination to participate in almost every American war, only to face more bigotry and segregation when hostilities ended. Six chapters are devoted to exploring the complexities of the Civil War, demonstrating how its heartbreaking aftermath led to the injustices of Jim Crow and the powerful civil rights movement. Bétit’s narrative is dense, exhaustive, and well-researched. Pages of references follow each chapter, and lengthy footnotes expand on such issues as the United States’ refusal to support a United Nations resolution condemning “glorification of Nazism.” Perhaps the most forceful chapter is the last one, “Conclusions: Whither America?,” which recaps the chronology of racism against black Americans, points out the dangers of rising white supremacist groups and poses important questions about what actions may be taken to heal the legacy of slavery and segregation. An extensive appendix details the 2016 findings of the U.N. Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent.

A scholarly and grippingly readable historical narrative of race relations in America.

 

Colonel Dennis J. Quinn: US Army (retired), former National War College instructor

Collective Amnesia is a hard read, not from literary style, for the writing is clear, direct, and often powerful. Rather, it is hard to read emotionally, because it will be hard for most readers to understand how we could have treated our fellow black Americans the way we did. Yes, we all know about slavery, know we ended it with our Civil War, and believe that presently we live in an America where racism, although still rearing its ugly head here and there, is mostly a thing of the past. Well, although that may be the generalized, bottom line most of us have chosen to believe and live with today, Dr. Betit asks us to step back and walk a 400-year journey through black life in America from the first slave brought to this country to the day America elected its first black president… Dr. Betit provides names, places, dates, journal entries, log books, newspaper articles, and photographs.

To really understand our present, I believe we all need to understand our past, especially this part of our nation's past. Our national Declaration says that all men are created equal with equal rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Dr. Betit chronicles how that has not been the case for most of our fellow black Americans. Although the words "all men are created equal' may not have always reflected actuality, they always were and still are aspirational. Yes, equality in America is much better today than it has ever been, but we need to ensure that it keeps getting better. Dr. Betit's Collective Amnesia shows our past in detail, often in terrible detail; we must emerge from that amnesia and construct a better future.

Eric Christensen: retired English teacher, Marshall Plan researcher

Arriving during a time of increased bigotry and willful obliviousness, Collective Amnesia American Apartheid, African Americans’ 400 Years in North America, 1619—2019 is a must read for Americans who are ready to understand our racial birth defect and its tragic legacy and ready to help move on to a better future. It’s not a polemic. It’s not a harangue. It’s a factual account of two peoples, whites and blacks, and the flawed civilization we share. It is an unblinkered account of race in America, the details of which tell the story of terrorism supported by church and state. Readers have to be ready to undo myths concerning the happy slave in the Antebellum South, racial superiority, imagined causes of the Civil War, and much more. Readers will read stories of families that were reunited after the War and families that were not. They will read a different account of Reconstruction than the stories they may have heard as children. And they will see that racism continues to cast a dark shadow, and not just in the South. No American can be fully American without completely understanding this history, a history clearly laid out by Dr. Bétit.

Matthew DiBiase: National Archives; Blogger

This is a searing and unsparing history of four centuries racism against African-Americans. The result of pain-staking research, Eugene Betit chronicles with academic skill how certain factions of White America have devoted themselves for 400 years in the transportation, subjugation, marginalization, exploitation, and deliberate disenfranchisement of African-Americans; how American remains in a dark thralldom with racism and how racism still motivates our politics today--a sad reminder that in many ways America still has an enormous amount of growing up to do if we are to fulfill the spirit of the Constitution.

Gail Hermosilla

Some would categorize this book as “Black History”. I believe that is wrongly restrictive. This book is about Blacks who are American, an “American History” book. Acknowledging that this is American history is a critical distinction. It shines a light on the glaring difference between the events documented here and those taught as “American history” at all levels of US education. As evidence, I present the most basic of misleading teachings: the cause of the Civil War. When I studied 4th grade American history, we learned without qualification that “The Civil War was fought over states’ rights”. When I discussed this with my daughter, she remembers being taught the same thing! She recalls that slavery was at least mentioned, so I guess there has been some progress in 30 years. What is being taught in our schools today? I hesitate to ask.

So, if this most basic fact of American history has been distorted by our educational system, is it any wonder that the average American is unfamiliar with the rest of the sordid history, so well documented in this book?

Rueben K. Green: Author of Black Officer, White Navy

This book provides a thorough, four hundred year history of the abuse and disenfranchisement of the black people of America, often while they were simultaneously encouraged to fight for "their" country. The breadth of the work makes it an outstanding choice for both the newly curious and the established scholar. It is designed to force you to look at the big picture, the cause and effect relationships between people of different races. I found it to be particularly relevant as I read the last few chapters, which show that the United Nations Working Group of Experts on People of African Descent (2016) plainly states that racial bias and discrimination are still constant factors in America today. This book would make an excellent textbook for any high school or college classroom as well as a general overview for anyone... The author clearly did extensive research, and unearthed documents, studies and papers of which I was not aware and that I found quite helpful.

Robert Schuweiler: Fingers on the Scale

5 out of 5 stars

Written so clearly and so well documented that it should be required reading for all students. This book gives just cause to reflect and correct past and ongoing social injustice. I found myself constantly shocked, dismayed and disappointed in human behavior during American's short 400 year association with persons of color, in this portrayal, the Black. While it would be easy to become inflammed over many current concerns exacerbated by social media, the difference here is the writer's detailed references at the end of each chapter making rationalization of truth a foolish escape from a terrible story of America's relationship to and treatment of a its Black population.

Rosemary Wright, OnlineBookClub.org: 4 out of 4 Stars

Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid, by Dr. Eugene DeFriest Betit, covers the history of racism in the United States since 1619. It shows the protracted war fought to eliminate the scourge of chattel slavery from America. In addition, it unveils how the racism prevalent in the society prevailed in the U.S. Army, and how, through bravery and discipline, Black Americans made significant contributions to the liberation of their race. It describes the difficulties they have experienced while trying to survive in white society.

In conclusion, I rate Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid highly. It was exceptionally well-edited; I didn't find any grammar or typographical errors.

I recommend it to anyone who is courageous enough to face facts and learn more about the history of racism and slavery in the United States.

Pacific Book Reviews: Anthony Avina

One of the sad realities of our world is that racism in the world at large, but especially in the United States, still exists today. As John Lewis once said, “The scars and stains of racism are still deeply embedded in the American society.” In author Eugene DeFriest Bétit’s book Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid: African Americans ’400 Years in North America, 1619–2019, the true history of African Americans over the course of 400 years on the North American continent are explored.

In this book, the author thoroughly explores the sad and continuing history of discrimination, violence, and persecution of African Americans in North America. From slavery and the Civil War to the huge contributions made by African Americans during both World Wars, and modern-day slayings of innocent, unarmed African American people in our modern age, this book captures the raw emotional toll and tragic history of an entire group of people in our world.

The book captures the sadness and injustice that African American individuals have endured over the last 400 years. While the actions of Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War may have begun the idea of equality, racism and discrimination against African Americans did not end once the Civil War did. Actions and words over the last 400 years are still felt to this day and represent a horrible mentality that has not yet found a way to be erased over the last few centuries, a mentality of pure racism and hatred.

This is a read for anyone interested in history, tales of injustice, and anyone interested in the long history of African Americans as a whole. As a historical buff, it was both fascinating and sad to hear the events that have transpired and the continuation of the discrimination African American people have faced for centuries. With our current society still embroiled in these acts of racial violence and discrimination, this book is much needed to teach the true history of not just our nation but the history of African Americans as a whole.

A thought-provoking, detailed and thorough read, Collective Amnesia: American Apartheid: African Americans ’400 Years in North America, 1619–2019 by Eugene DeFriest Bétit is a brilliant narrative that explores a tragic history that must not be forgotten. This book is incredible, brutally honest, and necessary. Read this book and then change yourself and your world.

War’s Cost: The Hite’s Civil War

Online Book Club -- Rosemary Wright 4 out of 4 stars

"War is hell. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for more blood, more vengeance, more desolation."

This is one quotation that prefaces Dr. Eugene DeFriest Bétit's book, War's Cost: The Hites' Civil War. The narrative describes the Hite family's involvement and its consequences, providing detailed information about its members who fought in Virginia units. Bétit begins the book by describing the development of the Shenandoah Valley. The author presents a brief historic account of Jost Hite, one of the first to settle the valley, granted 100,000 acres on the condition that he settle 100 families to create a buffer against the French and Indians around what is today Pittsburgh. His grandson, Major Isaac Hite Jr., a prosperous Shenandoah Valley plantation owner and businessman, constructed Belle Grove Plantation near Middletown between 1794 and 1797. The manor house would later become the site of a major battle of the Civil War.

The book addresses education in the Shenandoah Valley, the existence of slavery in all thirteen colonies, the near-total devastation of the valley in four year of constant warfare, and post-war lives of the survivors. Black and white graphics add insight to the text. War's Cost is intriguing and engaging and provides a lot of information. Historians or anyone interested in the Civil War will love it. However, it's a serious read requiring concentration; if you don't enjoy books loaded with genealogical details, you may skip this one. Nonetheless, it provides unique information about the war.

Jonathan Alex Noyalas Director, McCormick Civil War Institute, Shenandoah University

5.0 out of 5 stars -- Excellent!

Thomas Carlyle once observed, “history is the essence of innumerable biography.” Eugene Betit’s first book offers a great reminder to all about the value of individual stories. Those stories, as Carlyle believed, help us build a deeper connection to the past. Through the eyes of the Hite Family, Betit’s book offers tremendous insight into how families responded to the American Civil War and why all members of the Hite family who were of military age (40 in total) enlisted to fight for the Confederacy. In addition to gaining a glimpse into the lives of these young men Betit’s finely crafted and cogent volume, tugs at the heart strings as he recounts the stories of some members of the Hite family, such as George Smith Hite who enlisted in the 19th Virginia Infantry at the tender age of fourteen and did not live to see fifteen—having succumbed to wounds received at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill in 1862. Beyond the fascinating glimpses Betit offers, this study provides insight into the broader history of the Civil War era in Virginia, and specifically the Shenandoah Valley. Betit’s fine book is a worthwhile addition to anyone who interested in the lives of Confederate soldiers, the conflict in the Old Dominion, or who desire to gain a deeper understanding of how our American Iliad deeply impacted families, not only during the conflict, but years after the guns fell silent.

 

Dennis J. Quinn, Colonel (Retired, US Army), Former National War College Instructor

5.0 out of 5 stars -- War's Costs at the Family Level

A great read. Follow the story of the Hite family in the foothills of the Shenandoah from colonial Virginia thru the Civil War. While generally chronicling the history of the family through five generations, the author focuses on the impact of the Civil War on that history. Thru its main title, "War's Cost," Dr. Betit leads the reader to think beyond the Hite family to the impact of the Civil War, and all wars, on the families who fight in them and whose trajectory thru the future is affected by them. A good scholarly work that is well worth the read.

 

Robert Schuweiler

5.0 out of 5 stars --  When Knowledge was Power

Like a prism refracts light or how a glass can magnify images, this pithy little book will cast a long shadow across your thoughts. The author has an ability to clarify troubling aspects of both causes and effects of the Civil War with an especial examination of the Hite family and the war's impact on Virginia's Shenandoah Valley. The author's in-depth research of both the social standing and war records of the Hite family measures the cost of a southern agrarian society which utilized the lack of education as a barrier to power and social position. The author sets this up by illumination of context for people were living in this part of Virginia. Slavery was wealth under siege. One can feel the fear and the co-dependency from the very start. Denying education to control blacks, who were the engine of production, and as a social norm of "not being necessary" for whites whose time and attention was better served with managing agrarian matters resulted in unintended consequences. The Hite family seemed destined to die in numbers as consequence of both norms, with most enlistments being no higher than the rank of Corporal. It is profound how a family linked to the "first families of Virginia" could have such a small leadership roles and die in such numbers. The Civil War was truly a war about property, work, freedoms, and control. The resolution to those issues lead to war when no other system of exchange would do.

 

 

Reagan Lyons, graduate student in Civil War history, Texas Christian University

By observing individual historical actors, a historian may reveal additional knowledge about the Civil War era. In his book, War's Cost: The Hites' Civil War, Dr. Eugene DeFriest Bétit utilizes his microhistorical approach by examining the war's effects on the Hites, a prominent slaveholding family from the Shenandoah Valley. This small volume provides a detailed study of their involvement in the war and its many costs.

Bétit begins his study by providing brief background information about the Hites. They developed strong loyalties to the South, and when the Civil War commenced, many joined the Confederate ranks. Bétit notes that prior to the Civil War, many Hite men served in positions such as lieutenants and generals; however, during the Civil War, the Hites served primarily as enlisted men. Bétit concludes that its shift must be due to a change in the family's level of education. In the subsequent chapter, he examines antebellum Virginia -- there was no public education anywhere in the South until 1870, the probable cause.

Later chapters examine the Hites' involvement in the war and their lives as survivors. Bétit notes how many Hites fought , their units, the battle and date each met their death., There is an appendix that lists all Hites for fought on either side, their unit, and which state they fought for. Much of this is reconstructed from data available on Ancestry.com and the Virginia Regimental Historical Series. The penultimate chapter, which follows the Hite men who survived the war, is the most valuable section in the book, and will be useful for anyone studying the postwar years.

The final chapter considers the war's consequences for the Hites. Bétit notes the Hites' high death rate (more than a third) and the economic disruption that followed the war. Clarence and Woodson Hite became outlaws and robbed stagecoaches, banks, and trains with their cousins, the James brothers. Ultimately,  Bétit concludes that the Hites suffered a fate not unknown to other Southern families after the war: the loss of their "genteel" lifestyle.

 

Manhattan’s Walloon Settlers: Jesse DeForest’s Legacy

Canadian Customer 5 out of 5 stars

I am thrilled to have even more information about my ancestors.

Anne F - 5 out of 5 Stars -- Great book!

So interesting to see how many contributions one family can make. Written very well in an interesting way. The author did his homework!

Gwenda D - 4 out of 5 Stars --Historically significant

This book is historically significant, not just to Jesse's family, but to the founding of the USA. It is fascinating to realize how many are descended from this early adventurer. Well researched, well written!

Jennifer -- 5 out of 5 stars Really fascinating!

So much information! I'm really happy I finally ordered and I'm learning more about the different branches than just mine! Robert Weeks deForest was my 2nd great grandfather and it's fascinating to read about the other descendants Jesse had!