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Mullen, a resident of Decatur, Georgia for nearly a decade, came upon this episode in Atlanta's history while researching a magazine article. In this exclusive Southern Spaces interview, he speaks with Joseph Crespino about the sources that informed his fiction, the history that underlies Darktown , and the uses of history and fiction in understanding place and time. Skip to main content. Southern Spaces.
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There's a great subject in this book, not just the history of the first black men hired as cops in Atlanta, but the larger story of postwar America in which some veterans came back victorious only to find they were fighting another kind of fascism on the homefront. The trouble is that the characters exist as signifiers of ideas rather than people.
It's a given that the racist cop will have a drooping belly, and so on. And because the characters lack the specificity that would give the reader a stake in them, the various indignities and atrocities read as both unpleasant and familiar things to endure on the way to a foregone conclusion.
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The police force has, however, just hired its first black officers. Issued with guns and badges, they have no squad car and are forbidden to arrest white suspects. They face constant taunts and racial abuse as well as suspicion from their own community and, denied access to the police stations, the men are forced to operate out of a dingy basement.
When a black woman, last seen in a car with a drunken white man, is murdered, the powers that be are indifferent, and it is left to officers Boggs and Smith, with help from sympathetic white cop Rakestraw, to try and find the culprit. Fascinating, grim and unsettling, this is a story of violent and ingrained racism, political corruption, conspiracy and almost unbearable psychological pressure.