When the Stars Begin to Fallby Theodore Roosevelt Johnson III
A bold, thought-provoking pathway to the national solidarity that could, finally, address the ills of racism in America
“Racism is an existential threat to America,” Theodore R. Johnson declares at the start of his profound and exhilarating book. It is a refutation of the American Promise enshrined in our Constitution that all men and women are inherently equal. And yet racism continues to corrode our society. If we cannot overcome it, Johnson argues, while the United States will remain as a geopolitical entity, the promise that made America unique on Earth will have died.
When the Stars Begin to Fall makes a compelling, ambitious case for a pathway to the national solidarity necessary to mitigate racism. Weaving memories of his own and his family’s multi-generational experiences with racism, alongside strands of history, into his elegant narrative, Johnson posits that a blueprint for national solidarity can be found in the exceptional citizenship long practiced in Black America. Understanding that racism is a structural crime of the state, he argues that overcoming it requires us to recognize that a color-conscious society—not a color-blind one—is the true fulfillment of the American Promise.
Fueled by Johnson’s ultimate faith in the American project, grounded in his family’s longstanding optimism and his own military service, When the Stars Begin to Fall is an urgent call to undertake the process of overcoming what has long seemed intractable.
“When the Stars Begin to Fall offers an impassioned account of what we need to do to save this country. Drawing on political philosophy and history, Theodore R. Johnson tells the truth about how racism remains an existential threat to American democracy. He writes beautifully about the resources found in the Black tradition that may help save us all. And he offers concrete suggestions about what we can do right now. In the end, the book is motivated by an unshakable love of country rooted in a renewed sense of civil religion that is not beholden to the idols of race. Johnson calls us to live together differently—to imagine a kind of solidarity with each other that finally leaves behind the very thing that threatens to destroy this fragile experiment in democracy. This is the kind of the book to read and reread and to argue over. When the Stars Begin to Fall is exactly what we need in this time of storm and stress.”—Eddie S. Glaude, Jr., author of the national bestseller Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and Its Urgent Lessons for Our Own, and professor of African American Studies at Princeton
“Ted Johnson summons the courage and clarity to call forth the better angels in us to face the existential threat that structural racism poses for our beloved country. He traces his roots to the deep and wide foundations of our republic and calls on us to work through its maddening contradictions to seek and find that ever elusive ‘more perfect union.’ In this work, he challenges America to find her better self, precisely because he loves her so much.”—Mitch Landrieu, former mayor of New Orleans and author of In the Shadow of Statues: A White Southerner Confronts History
“With an inspiring mix of passion and patriotism, Ted Johnson offers us a way forward. He blends stories of an all-American family with wide reading in philosophy, religion, history, politics, and sociology to develop a vitally important concept of what true national solidarity could look like. When the Stars Begin to Fall is scripture for a second great awakening, one that we need to create a foundation for the nation’s next 250 years.”—Anne-Marie Slaughter, CEO, New America
“Ted Johnson melds his family history with political analysis in order to offer thought-provoking responses to the questions posed by Black American for centuries, from Frederick Douglass’s ‘What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July’ to Fannie Lou Hamer’s ‘Is This America.’ Johnson’s answers comes out of his experiences of racism and patriotism, and he invites readers of all backgrounds to imagine that, despite all of the separation and hate in the United States, our fates are indeed intertwined.”—Marcia Chatelain, Ph.D, author of Franchise: The Golden Arches in Black America