What is the summary for All God's Children?
Fox Butterfield's book uses the Bosket family to unearth the roots of African American violence in the South. Over the course of sixteen chapters, he follows five generations of Bosket men—Aaron, Pud, James, Butch, and Willie. After a childhood spent in and out of custody, stabbing social workers, and setting fellow inmates on fire, Willie murdered two men on the New York City subway in 1978 when he was fifteen years old.
All God's Children investigates why Willie did what he did, and as it backtracks through the Bosket family tree, connections become clear. These men came from broken homes, for example, with single mothers struggling to raise their children on their own. The adults in their lives were often abusive, too, perpetuating cyclical violence and neglect.
Butterfield doesn't lay all the blame for Willie Bosket's violence on his family, though. He also finds roots in the honor culture of "bloody" Edgefield County, South Carolina, and the rest of the American South, where a man's reputation is everything and an insult—real or perceived—can lead to incredible violence.
Butterfield traces this proud and pugnacious way of life from the Scotch-Irish of old Europe up through the African slaves of South Carolina. Self-respect was often the only thing an enslaved man had, Butterfield explains, and that deeply-engrained honor culture permeated five generations of Bosket men with shocking results. Willie is serving three twenty-five-years-to-life sentences in solitary confinement, shackled to the floor, surrounded by Plexiglas—a self-described "monster created by the system" with a "license to kill."
All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence by Fox Butterfield, a journalist who writes extensively on crime for the New York Times, was published in 1995. It is a biography of Willie Bosket, a criminal whose acts led to a major change in the criminal justice system.
In 1978, Bosket murdered two men on the subway in New York City. Because he was 15 years old at the time, he was sentenced as a juvenile, meaning a maximum sentence of 5 years. Given the nature of his crimes, there were massive public protests and in response the state legislature passed the Juvenile Offender Act of 1978, allowing children over 13 to be tried as adults if their crimes were severe and seemed to warrant it. In light of Bosket's subsequent criminal career, including multiple cases of assault, the concern about such a short sentence seems to have been warranted.
Butterfield's book, All God's Children: The Bosket Family and the American Tradition of Violence, examines the family roots of Bosket's violent behavior. Butterfield notes that multiple generations of Bosket men have been habitual criminals, and analyzes how an honor culture emphasizing respect and retaliation in the family's home town of Edgefield County, South Carolina, contributed to the family's criminality. It contains meticulously researched details of the life of the family and Willie himself, attempting to understand the root causes of their violent acts rather than to sensationalize them.