The Black O
Racism and Redemption in an American Corporate Empire

Steve Watkins

The inside story of a landmark battle against discrimination


“A meticulously documented account.”
New York Times Book Review

“Anyone who thinks blacks are too paranoid about racism should read The Black O.”
St. Petersburg Times

“A startling journalistic effort . . . An unsettling, fascinating revelation of a truly wretched corporate environment and a rare triumph for the underdog.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Watkins brings to our attention an important component in the ongoing civic debate concerning the meaning of race in contemporary American life.”
In These Times

“Although it is actually a painstakingly researched account of the largest private civil-rights case in U.S. history, at times it reads like an old-fashioned detective story.”
Washington Monthly

“A fascinating account of discriminatory corporate employment practices.”
Library Journal

“A fast-paced, riveting, and fascinating investigative narrative.”
Black Book Review

“An interesting, at times fascinating, account . . . of one of the largest racial discrimination class-action lawsuits in U.S. history.”
Washington Post

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In 1988 several white managers of the Shoney’s restaurant chain protested against the company’s discriminatory hiring practices, including an order to blacken the “O” in “Shoney’s” on minorities’ job applications so that the marked forms could be discarded. When the managers refused to comply, they lost their jobs but not their resolve—they sued the company. Their case grew into the largest racial job discrimination class action lawsuit of its time. Shoney’s eventually offered to settle out of court, and the nearly 21,000 claimants divided a $132.5 million settlement, bringing to an abrupt end a landmark case that changed corporate attitudes nationwide.

The Black O is a fascinating, behind-the-scenes story populated with many unforgettable characters, including civil rights lawyer Tommy Warren, the former college football star and convicted felon who took the case; Ray Danner, the ironfisted former CEO who developed the Shoney’s concept; and Justice Clarence Thomas, former head of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which sat idly by for years while complaints mounted against Shoney’s. The Black O speaks to an issue that continues to have great urgency, serving as a stark refutation that the civil rights movement eliminated systemic discrimination from the workplace.

Page count: 300 pp.
9 b&w photos
Trim size: 6 x 9


List price: $24.95

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Steve Watkins is a professor of English at the University of Mary Washington. He is the author of a collection of stories, My Chaos Theory, and two young adult novels, Down Sand Mountain and What Comes After. Watkins is also an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in publications including LA Weekly, Poets and Writers, and the Nation.