1986: J. Anthony Lukas & Robert Norrell
Common Ground / Reaping the Whirlwind
1986: J. Anthony Lukas & Robert Norrell

The 1986 Robert F. Kennedy Book Award was presented to Robert Norell for Reaping the Whirlwind: The Civil Rights Movement in Tuskegee and J. Anthony Lukas for Common Ground: A Turbulent Decade in the Lives of Three American Families.

In Reaping the Whirlwind, Robert Norrell traces the course of the civil rights movement in Tuskegee, Alabama. Home to Booker T. Washington's famed Tuskegee Institute, the town boasted an unusually large professional class of African Americans, whose economic security and level of education provided a base for challenging the authority of white conservative officials. Offering sensitive portrayals of both black and white figures, Norrell takes the reader from the founding of the Institute in 1881 and early attempts to create a harmonious society based on the separation of the races to the successes and disappointments delivered by the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

Also a Pulitzer Prize winner, Common Ground recounts Boston’s busing crisis in the tumultuous years following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Lukas tells the story through the lens of three families: one headed by a working-class Irish-American widow, one by a working-class African-American mother, and the other white, liberal, and upper-middle-class.

Robert Norell holds the Bernadotte Schmitt Chair of History at the University of Tennessee. In addition to Reaping the Whirlwind, he is the author of numbers books including Opening Doors: An Appraisal of Contemporary Race Relations.

J. Anthony Lukas was a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author of numerous books. His groundbreaking work documenting race relations and class conflict in 20th-century America was published in numerous publications including the Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The New Republic, and Harper’s Magazine. He also worked as a journalist for The New York Times for nine years. He passed away in 1997.