FROM THE HOOD TO THE HOLLER

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Booker was “the youngest Black state legislator in Kentucky in over eighty years,” and he is currently preparing to challenge Sen. Rand Paul. As one of six Black legislators, Booker’s experiences reflected expectations about racial divides yet also transcended them. “I come from the West End of Louisville,” writes the author, “a place so isolated that in many ways it has more in common with the hollers up in coal country than it has with the rest of the ‘big city.’ That often-ignored reality gave me a unique responsibility: to shine a light on our common struggle and bridge the divide between the urban and rural communities, to tell the stories that too often don’t get told inside rooms like the Kentucky State Capitol.” The author begins with a poignant portrait of a hardscrabble childhood, where his mother skipped meals in order to feed her children. Booker benefited from fitful school integration, aware of the limitations most young Blacks faced. While in law school, he forged connections within the small community of Black state politicians, initially as a legislative aide: “Once I understood how the office helped people in the community, I was all about it.” Later, he surprised his political mentors with his own successful statehouse run. “The message I brought with me from the hood was resonating with people all over Kentucky,” he writes, a message that he demonstrates in a moving passage about standing with protesting coal miners. He contrasts his ambitions with the corrosive effects of Mitch McConnell and his shadowy role at the center of Kentucky political power. McConnell, he writes, is “the single greatest obstacle to anything that would help Kentuckians live a better life.” Booker’s prose is detailed and energetic, if occasionally repetitive. He ably captures his rise in politics and sharply assesses the mechanisms of power, particularly regarding segregation and the urban-rural divide.

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