Alexander “Sam” Aldrich was born a blue-blood in New York state, silver spoon and all. He received a good classy upbringing, but pursued more philanthropic goals than just earning money as I believe was expected of him. He worked as a lawyer, then in city and state government. His book begins with an explanation of the title: first, a brief account of having danced with the Queen of England at age 25, and then a several-chapters-long narrative of his experience marching with Martin Luther King, Jr. from Selma to Montgomery, in his thirties. In telling of the march on Montgomery, Aldrich is at his strongest; his passion and indignation at injustice comes through. And although I looked carefully, he never claimed to have fully grasped what it was like to be a poor black man in Alabama in the 1960′s.
Throughout, Aldrich’s writing is very poor. He’s clearly writing as he talks; it’s conversational; but it’s also full of grammar mistakes, run-on sentences and the like. A conversational style can be endearing and casual, but this came across as amateurish; surely the State University of New York Press wants to keep its name clearer than this. Yes this is a galley copy, but I’m not talking about a few typographical errors that will be corrected in copy editing; I’m talking about a writing style that made my skin crawl.
Aldrich’s story fell short for me quickly. I made it about halfway through the 270ish pages and felt bored. I fear that the Selma to Montgomery march may have been his greatest moment, and if so, he may have done better to not let it go in the first few chapters. I think his claim to fame is his refusal to be a standard rich guy, but what he did instead did not strike me as so remarkable as to keep this book afloat.
The final straw was reference to the outing, blacklisting, and harassment of communists in the 1950′s, which I thought we were done being proud of; but this 2011 publication toes the McCarthyist party line perfectly. I had been peering suspiciously sideways at Aldrich’s semi-concealed conservative agenda, and coming across this ugliness was the end for me.
Final verdict? I can’t entirely judge, of course, having been unable to even finish the dern thing; but my impression is: a poorly written memoir of a semi-remarkable life, with a partially-concealed political agenda that I personally find abhorrent. Not for me.