Jaspin, Elliot. Buried in the Bitter Waters: The Hidden History of Racial Cleansing in America. New York: Basic Books, 2007.
Human rights advocates use the term “racial cleansing” to describe what happens when one group forces another out of a community, usually by force or even genocide. Buried in the Bitter Waters examines twelve incidents of racial cleansing in America between the years of Reconstruction and the 1920s. Jaspin recreates the horror of each incident as people are swept up in the violence. There were hundreds of such incidents across the country, but Jaspin’s selections seem to only focus on the incidents that occurred in small, rural, Southern towns which, in every case, affected African Americans. This focus overlooks the numerous incidents that occurred in the West targeting Chinese immigrants. Jaspin noticed that generations after these events occurred, the towns remain virtually all white.
Jaspin is a journalist, not a historian, so the book did not offer an overarching thesis, but the stories are well-written and engaging. He shows how, even today, newspapers and townspeople cover up the incidents or avoid discussing them. These stories show how thousands of individuals and families were violently run out of town. Communities were disbanded and livelihoods destroyed. Their property was stolen as well. Not only did these people lose their homes, but their descendants lost their legacies. Incidents that occurred a hundred or more years ago still economically affect those families today.