Karen Grigsby Bates

Anthony Bourdain is being mourned, of course, by fellow chefs and foodies for his sardonic exposés about what really happens in the kitchens of some of America's best restaurants. And for his travels to explore the world's cuisines. But communities of color, women, people who are gender-different from the perceived norm — those people sent heartbroken tributes, too.

Back in May, 1963, then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy invited a select group of black entertainers to meet with him at his father's apartment in New York City.

Singer-actor Harry Belafonte was there. So was Lorraine Hansberry, whose play about black upward mobility, A Raisin in the Sun, had received rapturous reviews when it debuted two years earlier. Writer James Baldwin came, as did singer Lena Horne. Each of the invitees was active in civil rights, and Bobby Kennedy was interested in hearing more about the movement.

A love story between a black Army nurse and a white German POW during World War II? You couldn't make that story up — and Alexis Clark didn't. The former editor at Town & Country is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of Journalism. I spoke with her about her new book, Enemies in Love, and what she learned about hidden Army history and the human heart.

Below is an edited version of our conversation.


What was the inspiration for this book, what got you rolling?

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Next we have a bit of hidden history from 50 years ago today. We recall what happened, of course, on April 4, 1968, when Martin Luther King was killed. Karen Grigsby Bates of our Code Switch team reports on what happened two days later.

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During a fellowship to Harvard, writer Tayari Jones spent months and months studying the intersection of race and criminal justice. She learned a lot about the American criminal justice system. She knew all the grim statistics. But she was still searching for the inspiration for a novel she'd hope to write: one that involved an individual's encounter with the system, and the subsequent ripples that touch that person's community.

Then, while she was in Atlanta visiting her mother, she found what she needed during a routine trip to the shopping mall.

"Same insult, different day."

The world lost a lot of notable people this year, and it feels as if they're departing even more quickly as the year runs out. Activist/humanitarian Dick Gregory, actress/singer Della Reese, musicians Fats Domino, Al Jarreau, Geri Allen and Dave Valentin were all well-known names. So was journalist Roger Wilkins.

And so at year's end we've compiled our own Code Switch list. It's not comprehensive; instead, we wanted to spotlight some of the people we might not have known as well, and share them with you.

"England's First Black Princess!" lots of media blared a variety of that this week, immediately after the official announcement of what several tabloids have been speculating about for months: Prince Harry, brother of Prince William, son of Charles and Diana, grandson of Queen Elizabeth II, is engaged. His intended, Meghan Markle, is American, divorced, three years older than the prince — and biracial. Which has led to a lot of breathless reporting that she is the first black member of the royal family.

The NFL continues to wrangle with its issue of players taking a knee during the national anthem, but this isn't the first time The Star Spangled Banner has collided with politics, race and a major sporting event.

The NFL's players are 70 percent black; its fans are 83 percent white and 64 percent male, according to online sports site The Real GM.

And when it comes to the controversy over the national anthem and players taking a knee, that statistic is playing a huge role.

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Ask Luis Garza how the La Raza exhibition came to be at The Autry Museum of the American West, and he raises his palms, eyes heavenward:

"Karma," he says. "Fate. Serendipity. The gods have chosen to align us at this moment in time."

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