During a long hot July in 1863, the worst race riots the United States has ever seen erupt in New York City. Earlier that year, desperate for more Union soldiers, President Abraham Lincoln instituted a draft–a draft that would allow the wealthy to escape serving in the army by paying a $300 waiver, more than a year’s income for the recent immigrant Irish. And on July 11, as the first drawing takes place in Lower Manhattan, the city of New York explodes in rage and fire. Stores are looted; buildings, including the Colored Foundling Home, are burned down; and black Americans are attacked, beaten, and murdered. The police cannot hold out against the rioters, and finally, battle-hardened soldiers are ordered back from the fields of Gettysburg to put down the insurrection, which they do–brutally.
Fifteen-year-old Claire, the beloved daughter of a black father and Irish mother, finds herself torn between the two warring sides. Faced with the breakdown of the city–the home–she has loved, Claire must discover the strength and resilience to address the new world in which she finds herself, and to begin the hard journey of remaking herself and her identity.
Addressing such issues as race, bigotry, and class head-on, Walter Dean Myers has written another stirring and exciting novel that will shake up assumptions, and lift the spirit.
RIOT, by prolific author Walter Dean Myers, breaks away from the typical storybook format and offers a moving story about the New York draft riots in script form.
RIOT tells the story of fifteen-year-old Claire Johnson, her Irish mother Ellen, her African American father John, and the volatile atmosphere of 1863 New York City.
Claire is a biracial teenager living in NYC who, until the New York riots began, never wondered how others saw or thought of her. She enjoyed both dark-skinned and white companions and never gave it another thought. But all that changed for Claire when the draft began.
In the story, President Abraham Lincoln has issued the Emancipation Proclamation, and Congress has just passed the Conscription Act, authorizing President Lincoln to draft citizens between ages 18 to 35 to fight in the Union Army for a term of three years.
The first draft occurs without incident, but the second draft two days later sparks citizen outrage. Suddenly, New York is transformed into a battleground. Poor Irish immigrants--who already loathe African Americans for taking all the available jobs for half of what they usually pay--are spoiling for a fight. And it doesn't help matters that the Federal government is offering citizens only $300 to enlist and fight to help free the slaves, when slaves are being sold for more than 3 times that amount in Georgia!
This book offers a wonderful lesson in history and the human condition. So even though it revives the racism, egotism and human disregard of the Civil War days, it still offers glimpses of budding romance, lifelong friendships and strong family ties.
This is a wonderful title for the middle and high school social studies and history classes.