by John Hope Franklin, Ph.D.; New York, Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2005, 401 pages, $25
Dr. Bell is director of behavioral health at Milwaukee Health Services, Inc., and assistant clinical professor of psychiatry and behavioral science at the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee.
A 12-year-old Boy Scout helps a blind woman cross the road. A beautiful gesture indeed, until the ugly head of racism appears when the blind woman inquires about the race of her helper halfway across the busy intersection. Upon discovering he is black, she panics in repugnance. Now this same gesture becomes a lifelong mental scar for the Boy Scout who would write about it 78 years later.
Dr. John Franklin, who became the first African-American recipient of a doctorate degree from Harvard University, was that Boy Scout. His long and prestigious career includes numerous scholarly works that would prove to redefine early American history, race relations, and how African descendants view themselves. He holds several honorary degrees from leading academic centers, became the first black historian to assume a full professorship at a white institution, was instrumental in fighting for the historic Brown v. Board of Education decision during the civil rights movement, and received the nation's highest civilian honor in 1995, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His 3.5-million-copy bestseller, From Slavery to Freedom, remains one of the best accounts of the last four centuries of American history.
Mirror to America is a story of a life that spans almost a century. It is a story of a human being who isn't fully accepted by the larger society because of the color of his skin. Unfortunately, it is a common story. It is a story psychiatrists, especially clinical psychiatrists, would benefit from understanding if we are to truly appreciate the world of people whose skin is darker than most. Dr. Franklin's life takes us through rural and small U.S. communities and through academic centers in the South, Midwest, East Coast, and even in Hawaii. His story takes us to the Oval Office, to India, behind the Iron Curtain during the Cold War, and to Australia. He writes about the major events of the past century and what these events meant to his life, to his family, and to the majority of African Americans. He faces the harsh reality of racism at every stage of his life. It never ceases. We readers, however, are lucky to read his account, for it allows us to glimpse the injustice, the pain, the burden, and the will to overcome a life in which one is often hated, ignored, suppressed, criminalized, or humiliated for having more melanin in his or her skin.
This book is thoughtful, uplifting, and necessary. It is painful to read at times. The author writes about events that took place more than seven decades ago, and yet your patient may talk about similar events that took place last week. Dr. Franklin's book is thoughtful in that it considers almost every aspect of human experience, including world events, mental processes, individual personal traits, chance, and destiny. It is uplifting because Dr. Franklin enjoyed his life despite the hardships. He often comments on the joys of a good meal, fishing, his orchids, and of course "my old gold," his wife of more than 50 years. It is a necessary read for our field of treating human suffering. Reading this story is essential even in 2006, because racism continues to thrive all over the world. Unfortunately, racism is a common story that many would rather ignore. However, ignoring the problem rarely brings about healing.