New Book is an Unflinching True Story about the Evils of Racism in 20th-Century America, as Seen through One Man's Triumphant Journey

Big Man
NEW HAVEN, Conn. - Hartok -- Big Man: An Incredible Journey from Mississippi to Hollywood, by Tim Shea and Willie Harris, published February 29, 2024.

Willie Harris (1941-2021) is an American icon, but most people don't know it—not yet.

Raised picking cotton on a plantation in Mississippi in the 1950s, his childhood sounds more like a tale from the 1850s. He played Division I college basketball, served in the U.S. Air Force, and as one of the leaders of the Black Stuntmen's Association (BSA) in the 1970s, he waged a battle against racism in Hollywood that changed the film industry. That's a very inspiring life for someone whose greatest prospect as a young boy was to drive a tractor. He was battered, beaten, and broken, but never defeated, and he did it all with an infectious smile and generous humanity that makes you very thankful you got to know him.

"Big Man is a captivating biography of a Black Mississippi share-cropper who rises from the life of a sharecropper in the Jim Crow South to a career as a Hollywood stuntman, brilliantly documenting this man's peculiar racial challenges all along the way. His story is both compelling and provocative; representing truth-telling at its very best."

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—Elijah Anderson, Sterling Professor, Yale University

Watch the powerful 5-minute book trailer featuring Willie Harris talking about growing up under the boot of Jim Crow.

In addition to exploring the many ways systemic racism has afflicted, and continues to afflict, American society, Willie's odyssey touches upon many other important issues that the book addresses through the arc of his entertaining story.  These include:
  • The long-term toxic effects of school segregation.
  • The tragedy of broken families and complicated family dynamics.
  • The abuse of American bodies by the U.S. military.
  • Discrimination faced by women in the motion picture business and elsewhere.
  • The illusion of a better life away from the South for Blacks during The Great Migration.
  • The persistent and pernicious dichotomy faced by Black parents who want to raise strong, confident young Black men, but are compelled to teach them to often act in a submissive way that seeks to protect them from police and others.

This a story about the American Dream and how forces in American society have conspired to crush that dream for many of its citizens. It is also a story about a man who fought with determination and purpose, refusing to be denied a taste of the sweet nectar of true freedom. Painfully relevant,  it is an instructive tale that deeply informs the present moment.

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Tim Shea

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