Monday, August 19, 2019

the last book I ever read (Colson Whitehead's The Nickel Boys, excerpt five)

from The Nickel Boys: A Novel by Colson Whitehead:

The combat served as a kind of mollifying spell, to tide them through the daily humiliations. Trevor Nickel instituted the championship matches in 1946, soon after he came on as the director of the Florida Industrial School for Boys with a mandate for reform. Nickel had never run a school before; his background was in agriculture. He made an impression at Klan meetings, however, with his impromptu speeches on moral improvement and the value of work, the disposition of young souls in need of care. The right people remembered his passion when an opening came up. His first Christmas at the school gave the county the chance to witness his improvements. Everything that needed a new coat of paint got a new coat of paint, the dark cells were briefly converted to more innocent use, and the beatings relocated to the small white utility building. Had the good people of Eleanor seen the industrial fan, they might have had a question or two, but the shed was not part of the tour.

Nickel was a longtime boxing evangelist, had steered a lobbying group for its expansion in the Olympics. Boxing had always been popular at the school, as most of the boys had seen their share of scrapes, but the new director took the sport’s elevation as his remit. The athletics budget, long an easy target for directors on the skim, was rejiggered to pay for regulation equipment and to bolster the coaching staff. Nickel maintained a general interest in fitness overall. He possessed a fervent belief in the miracle of a human specimen in top shape and often watched the boys shower to monitor the progress of their physical education.

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