Beacon Press: One Righteous Man
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One Righteous Man

Samuel Battle and the Shattering of the Color Line in New York

Author: Arthur Browne

Winner of the Christopher Award and the New York City Book Award

Winner of the 2016 Wheatley Book Award in Nonfiction

A history of African Americans in New York City from the 1910s to 1960, told through the life of Samuel Battle, the New York Police Department’s first black officer.
When Samuel Battle broke the color line as New York City’s first African American cop in the second decade of the twentieth century, he had to fear his racist colleagues as much as criminals. He had to be three times better than his white peers, and many times more resilient. His life was threatened. He was displayed like a circus animal. Yet, fearlessly claiming his rights, he prevailed in a four-decade odyssey that is both the story of one man’s courageous dedication to racial progress and a harbinger of the divisions between police and the people they serve that plague twenty-first-century America.

By dint of brains, brawn, and an outsized personality, Battle rode the forward wave of African American history in New York. He circulated among renowned turn-of-the-century entertainers and writers. He weathered threatening hostility as a founding citizen of black Harlem. He served as “godfather” to the regiment of black soldiers that won glory in World War I as the “Hellfighters of Harlem.” He befriended sports stars like Joe Louis, Jesse Owens, and Sugar Ray Robinson, and he bonded with legendary tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Along the way, he mentored an equally smart, equally tough young man in a still more brutal fight to integrate the New York Fire Department.

At the close of his career, Battle looked back proudly on the against-all-odd journey taken by a man who came of age as the son of former slaves in the South. He had navigated the corruption of Tammany Hall, the treachery of gangsters like Lucky Luciano and Dutch Schultz, the anything-goes era of Prohibition, the devastation of the Depression, and the race riots that erupted in Harlem in the 1930s and 1940s. By then he was a trusted aide to Mayor Fiorello La Guardia and a friend to First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt.

Realizing that his story was the story of race in New York across the first half of the century, Battle commissioned a biography to be written by none other than Langston Hughes, the preeminent voice of the Harlem Renaissance. But their eighty-thousand-word collaboration failed to find a publisher, and has remained unpublished since. Using Hughes’s manuscript, which is quoted liberally throughout this book, as well as his own archival research and interviews with survivors, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Arthur Browne has created an important and compelling social history of New York, revealed a fascinating episode in the life of Langston Hughes, and delivered the riveting life and times of a remarkable and unjustly forgotten man, setting Samuel Battle where he belongs in the pantheon of American civil rights pioneers. 

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“An especially timely book”
Kirkus Reviews

“The author provides a rich overview of the civil rights struggle in Gotham, and its place in the city's cultural and political history....Of interest, and recommended for, readers of civil rights histories.” 
Library Journal

“Arthur Browne, a New York-based journalist, writes movingly of Battle’s fight not only to enter the NYPD but to succeed within it. . . . Although Battle died in 1966 without having seen his story published, it’s impossible not to feel how much he would have appreciated Brown’s work, which wraps the man’s own words in a reporter’s thorough, lively accounting of a life well lived.”
The Boston Globe

“The magnificent—and moving—story of the first black New York City cop…struggling valiantly for dignity in a world more often interested in his marginalization (or worse)…forming a tragic but ultimately heroic understanding of the inner workings of the greatest city on earth.”
—Ken Burns

“You’d expect a newspaper editor with a Pulitzer to be up to speed on the news, and nobody knows New York better. What’s impressive about Arthur Browne’s book is how scrupulous he is in drawing on an unpublished biography by Langston Hughes, while contributing his own vivid portrait of a hero up against mobsters, corrupt pols, and imminent violence.”
—Harold Evans, author of The American Century

One Righteous Man is one righteous biography—at times chilling in its account of Samuel Battle’s ordeal as a key black pioneer in Manhattan but ultimately inspiring as a record of his indomitable spirit. Browne’s book is also timely today as a commentary on the tangled webs of ethnicity and racism in the evolution of ‘New York’s Finest.’”
—Arnold Rampersad, author of The Life of Langston Hughes

“The relationship between the police and the community is one of the most important issues of our time—and so is the idea that ‘the police are the public and the public are the police,’ as Sir Robert Peel wrote in 1829. Sam Battle's towering example helped the NYPD get closer to that ideal. Today we look more like the city we serve than ever before, but Arthur Browne's terrific book reminds us that the journey to get here wasn't easy, and would have been impossible without a pioneer and hero like Sam Battle.” 
—William J. Bratton, Police Commissioner, NYPD

“This is a riveting and important read. Samuel Battle’s story reminds us that when it comes to fighting crime, empathy and respect are equally as powerful as batons and guns. One Righteous Man is an especially relevant contribution to our national conversation about how to best ensure every officer upholds the oath to protect and serve every American.” 
—Ben Jealous, former president and CEO of the NAACP

“Now, thanks to Mr. Browne’s fine work, Battle can take his place alongside Jackie Robinson and many others in the ranks of African-Americans who rammed open the doors that thousands more have since walked through, seldom knowing who made it possible.”
—Bryan Burrough, The Wall Street Journal

“What is seemingly about a pioneering trailblazer is really Arthur Browne’s sweeping treatise on the experiences of African-Americans from slavery to freedom, and it is very impressive in the rich detail and context in which he situates not only Samuel Battle but also Samuel Battle’s parents and grandparents going back to the Revolutionary period.”
—Khalil Gibran Muhammad, Director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture

The Heart of One Righteous Man










One Righteous Man

ISBN: 978-080701260-4
Publication Date: 6/30/2015
Size:6 x 9 Inches (US)
Price:  $27.95
Format: Cloth
Availability: In stock.