Review: Six Days in Cincinnati
Dan Mendez Moore (writer & illustrator), Matt Gouck (cover artist)
Six Days in Cincinnati was reviewed using an advanced reader copy provided by Microcosm Publishing.
Originally published as Mark Twain Was Right: The 2001 Cincinnati Riots in 2012, Six Days in Cincinnati reprints Dan Moore’s original book about the race riots after the 2001 police shooting of 19-year old black man, Timothy Thomas, in Cincinnati. Six days of protest followed the event and changed the history of the Cincinnati suburb Over-the-Rhine.
In 2001, I was a sophomore in high school in small town Texas. I don’t recall much about the riots, but I feel confident in assuming that sympathies did not lie with the protesters. However, sixteen years later in a world with a Trump presidency, having gone through college, living and teaching in a college town, writing for this site, you can probably confidently assume my sympathies, despite still living in Texas. Because of this lack of recall, I found the tagline off-putting at first: “the riots that shook the nation a decade before Black Lives Matter.” Was this a comparison? Suspicious, I flipped through the book to see if I could gauge the author’s ethnicity based on a picture. Nothing. So, I looked it up. I stumbled across an adorable, round-faced guy who appears very white, who occasionally uses Mendez in his professional name. Thus, I began this book with apprehension—apprehension about a non-black writer telling this story, as well as my own position of privilege as a white person. Would I remember April 2001 differently as a black person living in small-town Texas? Most certainly.
Divided into each of the six days of the riots, Six Days is told from the perspective of the author, a white man who was a middle-class 17 year-old at the time, and includes first-hand interviews from a mix of friends, teachers, riot participants, and activists, including clergy and the Black Panthers. I appreciated that from the get-go, Moore does not shy away from acknowledging his white, middle-class 17 year-old privilege in ways that don’t indulge in white guilt, or even notions of altruism. He admits his 17 year old motivation for visiting one of the historically poorest neighborhoods in Cincinnati: a sense of rebellion. He admits from his position that protesting is exhilarating (as opposed to terrifying, but necessary—which has been my own experience as a white woman). Moore’s depictions of his 17 year-old self move easily among the settings: in and out of urban and suburban backdrops, communing with characters illustrated with braided hair and cross-hatching to indicate their blackness. In this way, this black and white comic echoes the underground comix of the 1960s. Increasingly, his presence recedes into the background to a mostly narrative voice to make room for those he interviews.
In an interview with the Reverend Damon Lynch III, a black clergy activist during the riots, the reader learns that Thomas’ death was the fifteenth in a history of police killing black men across a six year span in Cincinnati. The familiarity of this cuts deep. The privilege of historical forgetting is made visceral. Moore contributes to this viscerality via a compelling stylistic device where each chapter is intercepted with a page that progressively reveals, panel by panel, the arrest and murder of Timothy Thomas. By Saturday, the last day of the riots, the entire page is revealed with Timothy Thomas leaving Chicago for the “safer” Cincinnati and ending with Thomas face down on the ground as blood pools around his lifeless body. This stylistic device mirrors how history can be pieced together, panel by panel, in an alternative medium to the textbooks that frequently erase the stories of black lives. This same attention to historical erasure is explicitly addressed in the book’s epilogue, set ten years later, when Moore’s cartooned self directly addresses the reader and demands that we not forget Timothy Thomas’s death and the following riots from Cincinnati’s history, particularly as Over-the-Rhine gentrifies.
Moore’s other work includes social justice organizing, and his previous comics have been used as education tools for change. Six Days in Cincinnati fits neatly into this line of work—using comics as an alternative way to educate and unite people around social justice issues. While the story of the riots following yet another shooting of an unarmed black men by police is told from the perspective of a white man, the inclusion of first-hand interviews accompanied by physical drawings of the interviewees gives a greater sense of inclusion than one usually finds in a more traditional historical text.
Six Days in Cincinnati will be available in stores June 2017, but you can purchase the book via the publisher’s website.