Pamela Newkirk is an award-winning journalist and a professor of journalism at New York University. She is the author of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga and Within the Veil: Black Journalists, White Media, which won the National Press Club Award for media criticism, and the editor of Letters from Black America.
Spectacle (Amistad) explores the circumstances of Ota Benga’s captivity, the international controversy it inspired, and his efforts to adjust to American life. It also reveals why, decades later, the man most responsible for his exploitation would be hailed as his friend and savior, while those who truly fought for Ota have been banished to the shadows of history. Using primary historical documents, Newkirk traces Ota’s tragic life, from Africa to St. Louis to New York, and finally to Lynchburg, Virginia, where he lived out the remainder of his short life. Spectacle charts the evolution of science and race relations in New York City during the early years of the twentieth century, exploring this racially fraught era for Africa-Americans and the rising tide of political disenfranchisement and social scorn they endured, forty years after the end of the Civil War. Shocking and compelling Spectacle is a masterful work of social history that raises difficult questions about racial prejudice and discrimination that continue to haunt us today.
Newkirk’s work has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Times, The Guardian, The Washington Post, ARTnews, The Nation, CNN Digital and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has lectured widely and engaged audiences of all sizes and venues for universities, corporations, libraries, and African American and global organizations.
Currently Newkirk resides in New York.
Praise for Spectacle:
“A shocking tale of a young African taken from his home for the purposes of Western science throws into relief the turn-of-the-century’s ill-conceived intentions and prejudice. . . . An inspired and moving work of intrepid scholarship.”
“Meticulously detailed. . . . Readers will be moved, especially when reading about the tragic turns Benga’s life took in the years after he was released.”
“Here is a gripping and painstaking narrative that breaks new ground. Now, after a century, Benga has finally be heard.”
–- New York Times Book Review
“[Ota Benga’s] story has been told before, but the journalist Pamela Newkirk fleshes it out with chilling human dimension and rich anthropological perspective in her engrossing new book, Spectacle.
--New York Times, Metro Section "Bookshelf" Review
“A riveting account of one of the most startling episodes in the sorry history of race in America. Ms. Newkirk is a crisp storyteller as well as an experienced journalist whose investigative skills bring alive both her cast of characters and the age in which they lived.”
--Wall Street Journal
“Compelling. . . . Spectacle is an exhaustively researched work of social history that links Benga’s story with examinations of turn-of-the-century racial discrimination and discord, scientific polygenism, middle-class African American life in New York, and yellow journalism.”
“Deeply researched and thoughtful. . . . Writing with precision and moral clarity, Newkirk indicts a civilization whose ‘cruelty was cloaked in civility,’ leaving us to examine its remnants.”
-- Boston Globe
“In this enthralling social history, Newkirk reveals the truth about Ota Benga, the people who exploited him and the heroes who fought vainly to save him.”
“Painstakingly researched and heartbreaking. . . . Newkirk does an exemplary job of respecting the damaged dignity of her subject.”
--In These Times
“Newkirk gives us more than the tragic story of one Congolese man. She offers a look into the history of American eugenics and the concepts of racial anthropology that have served as the foundation for racial intolerance for generations. Benga’s story is one part of a bigger problem-a problem that continues to exist-and Newkirk doesn’t allow us to forget him. Nor should she.”