The Strivers’ Row Spy

Written by Jason Overstreet
Review by Viviane Crystal

The Roaring Twenties in New York City is a heady, exciting time for people of color, who are transforming art, music, poetry, theater, and more – a time otherwise known as the Harlem Renaissance. Sidney Temple, a bright young African-American, is approached by the FBI, via J. Edgar Hoover, to work as a spy. He’s happily married to a young, rather sheltered artist, Loretta, but knows he cannot tell her anything about his training or his job. While all these wonderful days are passing, a movement is growing, one fed by Hoover’s anti-Communist hunt. He sees any black leader or supporter as a Communist who needs to be taken down.

The bigotry is obvious, but Overstreet accurately depicts the activities of certain individuals that raise readers’ suspicions as well. Marcus Garvey, W. E. B. Du Bois, Max Eastman, James Weldon Johnson, and Claude McKay are being watched. Garvey and Du Bois are clearly enemies, one attempting to move all African-Americans to Africa and the other believing that education and leadership in America are the ways that bigotry grows into acceptance. Sidney is assigned to get close to Garvey, but he clearly and strongly believes in Du Bois’ principled, ambitious ideas.

The plot carries some academic discussion but also depicts the violence and verbal battles that escalate to an intense pitch in between scenes at Harlem’s jazz concerts, artistic shows, literary discussions and parades of support. Sidney’s personal life will come to a climactic challenge, one that literally and figuratively parallels the challenge facing those moving into another cycle of the battle for civil rights. Superb historical fiction and a great read!