The Forgotten Life Behind an American Myth
by Josh Levin
Pub Date 21 May 2019
On the South Side of Chicago in 1974, Linda Taylor reported a phony burglary, concocting a lie about stolen furs and jewelry. The detective who checked it out soon discovered she was a welfare cheat who drove a Cadillac to collect ill-gotten government checks. And that was just the beginning: Taylor, it turned out, was also a kidnapper, and possibly a murderer. A desperately ill teacher, a combat-traumatized Marine, an elderly woman hungry for companionship-after Taylor came into their lives, all three ended up dead under suspicious circumstances. But nobody-not the journalists who touted her story, not the police, and not presidential candidate Ronald Reagan-seemed to care about anything but her welfare thievery.
Growing up in the Jim Crow South, Taylor was made an outcast because of the color of her skin. As she rose to infamy, the press and politicians manipulated her image to demonize poor black women. Part social history, part true-crime investigation, Josh Levin's mesmerizing book, the product of six years of reporting and research, is a fascinating account of American racism, and an expose of the "welfare queen" myth, one that fueled political debates that reverberate to this day. THE QUEEN tells, for the first time, the fascinating story of what was done to Linda Taylor, what she did to others, and what was done in her name.
"THE QUEEN is a wild, only-in-America story that helped me understand my country better. It's a fascinating portrait of a con artist and a nation... and the ways the United States continually relies on oversimplified narratives about race and class to shape public policy, almost always at the expense of brown people and poor people." (Attica Locke, author of the Edgar Award winning Bluebird, Bluebird)
"It's about Linda Taylor, the 'Cadillac-driving welfare queen in Chicago'' that Pres. Reagan referenced in a 1983 speech about rampant defrauding of government anti-poverty programs...Her story helped popularize stereotype about lazy Black people on the dole...But the focus on her welfare grifting meant people mostly ignored the more sinister crimes she was implicated in - like kidnappings and murders! Anyway, it's a wild book." —Gene Demby, NPR Books
"An upcoming biography by journalist Josh Levin about Linda Taylor, the Chicago woman whose complicated story was demonized and manipulated by politicians and press (namely, the Chicago Tribune, according to Levin's account) until she was Ronald Reagan's infamous 'welfare queen'...It's tempting to describe Levin's masterful book as alternate history of 1980s Chicago. But no - again, it's this Chicago, on this planet, not twisted on its head, only righted." —Christopher Borrelli, The Chicago Tribune
"In the finest tradition of investigative reporting, Josh Levin exposes how a story that once shaped the nation's conscience was clouded by racism and lies. As he stunningly reveals, the deeper truth, the messy truth, tells us something much larger about who we are. The Queen is an invaluable work of nonfiction." —David Grann, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Killers of the Flower Moon
"The Queen is a wild, only-in-America story that helped me understand my country better. It's a fascinating portrait of a con artist and a nation... and the ways the United States continually relies on oversimplified narratives about race and class to shape public policy, almost always at the expense of brown people and poor people." —Attica Locke, author of the Edgar Award winning Bluebird, Bluebird
"For decades, Linda Taylor has been demagogued by politicians and the press, reduced to a cruel stereotype: the welfare queen shamelessly leeching from government coffers. Through meticulous reporting, Josh Levin's The Queen illuminates in full the story of a life far more complicated, cunning, criminal, tragic and fascinating than the historical stereotype would have ever allowed us to see." —Wesley Lowery, author of They Can't Kill Us All