Walter Mosley is one of my favorite authors. I
already own about a dozen of his books,
including his first Easy Rawlins mystery,
Devil in a Blue Dress, set after World War II,
and Little Scarlet, set after the Watts Riots.
Mosley is a good stylist and writes honestly
and without sugar-coating about race
relations, but he can be a bit raw. I'm not
recommending him for readers looking for
During my recent illness, my son Robert
gave me a copy of a Mosley book I’d never
read. It’s called The Man in My Basement,
and it’s written from the perspective of
Charles Blakey, a black man who owns a
beautiful house that’s been in his family for
He prides himself on the fact that the Blakeys
never were slaves, though recently he’s
fallen into debt.
A white man, Anniston Bennet, offers Blakey
a lot of money to rent space in his
basement. He’s very specific about the
furnishings and books he wants provided.
He locks himself into a cell in the basement
with a large lock that had been used for
holding slaves as a self-imposed
punishment for a mysterious crime.
He asks for Will and Ariel Durant’s 12-
volume Story of Civilization. I had read that
when I was in college, and I wanted to locate
a copy so I could start through it again.
Frank reminded me that we own it. It had just
been in a bookcase in Robert’s room for a
long time. I got it out, blew off the dust and
started reading it again.
In the preface to his first volume, Durant
writes, “Our story begins with the Orient, not
merely because Asia was the scene of the
oldest civilizations known to us, but because
those civilizations formed the background
and basis of that Greek and Roman culture
which Sir Henry Maine mistakenly supposed
to be the whole source of the modern mind.
We shall be surprised to learn how much of
our most indispensable inventions, our
science and our literature, our philosophy
and our religion, goes back to Egypt and the
Orient.” (The white people among us may
need to be reminded that Egypt is in Africa.)
Later, he writes, “In one important sense the
‘savage,’ too, is civilized, for he carefully
transmits to his children the heritage of the
tribe—that complex of economic, political,
mental and moral habits and institutions
which it has developed in its efforts to
maintain and enjoy itself on the earth. It is
impossible to be scientific here, for in calling
other human beings ‘savage’ or ‘barbarous’
we may be expressing no objective fact, but
only our fierce fondness for ourselves, and
our timid shyness in the presence of alien
That "fierce fondness for ourselves"
characterizes us all. It's one of the major
things we must overcome to improve race
Mosley helps us see that people who seem
different from us may not be so different after
all, and Durant shows us the connections
between our culture and those of nations we
may consider less civilized. We're all much
more alike than we are different. We're all
children of God.