CAREER: Writer and journalist. Editorial writer, Wall Street Journal; columnist, Village Voice.
The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and thePrice of Black Power in America, Addison-Wesley (Reading, MA), 1994.
Under the Knife: How a Wealthy Negro SurgeonWielded Power in the Jim Crow South, Free Press (New York, NY), 2000.
When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Seven Stories Press (New York, NY), 2002.
SIDELIGHTS: Hugh Pearson, a former editorial writer and columnist, is the author of several books on African-American history. Growing up in Fort Wayne, Indiana, he was inspired by high-achieving family members, including his great uncle, Dr. Joseph Griffin, the first black surgeon to practice in southern Georgia. In Under the Knife: How a Wealthy Negro Surgeon Wielded Power in the Jim Crow South, Pearson explores Griffin's life. In 1911, a time when African Americans were legally discriminated against, Griffin quit his low-paying job as a brick mason and enrolled at Meharry Medical College. After serving in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, he established a medical practice in Decatur County, Georgia. Griffin ultimately became a rich man, a pillar of his community, and donated millions of dollars to black-run institutions. He built the largest private hospital for African Americans in Georgia and inspired other African Americans to excel.
While exploring the complexities of Griffin's life, Pearson discovered that Griffin's financial success was built by performing then-illegal abortions for both African-American and white women, and by treating sexually transmitted diseases in white men who were too embarrassed to go to their regular doctors. In addition, when patients could not afford to pay their medical bills, Griffin insisted that they pay him by signing over the deeds to their property and homes. Pearson also discusses his uncle's relationships with southern Jews who became his friends, and tells the stories of other African-American physicians of his uncle's era.
In addition, he describes his own family's journey through the generations, from slaves to owners of large farms in Georgia, and the accomplishments of his own father, who became the first person of any race in his rural Georgia county to earn a medical degree. In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer described the book as "a fascinating character study." Booklist reviewer Mary Carroll called it "a thoughtful, nuanced analysis."
The Shadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America is a look at the Black Panthers, a militant group formed in 1966 that espoused armed resistance to white racism and police brutality against African Americans. Pearson set about interviewing party members and their associates in order to investigate what brought about the party's eventual downfall. He concludes that the party fell apart because of internal corruption, factionalism, and criminal behavior on the part of its members. In particular, Pearson notes that Huey Newton, a co-founder of the party, embezzled much of the party's funds, which were supposed to go toward free breakfast programs, schools, and clinics. In addition, Pearson contends that Newton formed a group of criminals who, in mafia-like fashion, extorted money from other criminals as well as from local businesses, and that he also organized hit squads to murder those who opposed him. In Publishers Weekly, a reviewer wrote that The Shadow of the Panther "strips away nostalgic myths surrounding the Panthers."
In When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pearson recounts an event that occurred a decade before Martin Luther King, Jr., was assassinated in April of 1968. The civil-rights activist was attacked in Harlem by a mentally ill black woman who, wielding a seven-inch knife, plunged the weapon into King's chest. The knife was driven to a point where it was only inches from King's aorta; a mere cough or sneeze might have driven it further in, piercing the aorta and causing King to bleed to death. The Reverend King was taken to Harlem Hospital for treatment, a decision questioned by the governor of New York State, W. Averell Harriman, who reportedly believed that the predominantly African-American staff at the hospital would not be able to treat King adequately. Pearson uses this little-known incident and the social microcosm of Harlem Hospital to explore many of the questions that swirled through American society in the late 1950s, when racial and social tension was high. In the Boston Globe, Renee Graham wrote that When Harlem Nearly Killed King "deftly re-creates the political opportunism, high-maintenance egos, and petulant jealousies that, more than 40 years later, remain prevalent in this nation's sociopolitical psyche."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Booklist, June 1, 1994, Mary Carroll, review of TheShadow of the Panther: Huey Newton and the Price of Black Power in America, p. 1766; February 15, 2000, Mary Carroll, review of Under the Knife: How a Wealthy Negro Surgeon Wielded Power in the Jim Crow South, p. 1065.
Boston Globe, February 4, 2002, Renee Graham, review of When Harlem Nearly Killed King: The 1958 Stabbing of Dr. Martin Luther King. Jr., p. A23.
Commentary, September, 1994, Arch Puddington, review of The Shadow of the Panther, p. 64.
Editor and Publisher, June 28, 1997, Stacy Jones, "Fired Columnist Sues Village Voice," p. 26.
Library Journal, March 1, 2002, Thomas J. Davis, review of When Harlem Nearly Killed King, p. 120.
National Review, December 31, 1994, George F. Will, review of The Shadow of the Panther, p. 55.
New York Times Book Review, July 10, 1994, Bob Blauner, review of The Shadow of the Panther, p. 22; March 26, 2000, Jason Berry, review of Under the Knife, p. 16; February 24, 2002, review of When Harlem Nearly Killed King, p. 17.
Publishers Weekly, May 9, 1994, review of TheShadow of the Panther, p. 56; January 24, 2000, review of Under the Knife, p. 247.
Washington Post, March 2, 2000, Jonathan Yardley, review of Under the Knife, p. C2.*