From Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. In this mesmerizing history, Watson (Sacco and Vanzetti
) revisits the blistering summer of 1964 when about 700 volunteers arrived in Mississippi to agitate for civil rights and endured horrific harassment, intimidation, and persecution from racist state and private forces. The largely white, college student volunteers and the largely black trainers and organizers, SNCC veterans of previous campaigns, were fed and sheltered by the impoverished black community members they had come to serve and secure suffrage for. Their path was two-pronged: the Freedom School's challenge to a power structure... that confined Negro education to 'learning to stay in your place' and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's challenge to Mississippi's all-white delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Familiar figures (e.g., Lyndon B. Johnson, Stokely Carmichael, Fannie Lou Hamer) take the stage, but Watson's dramatic center belongs to four ordinary volunteers, whose experiences he portrays with resonant detail. The murdered Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner cast shadows over all, haunting Watson's account of how the volunteers, organizers, and the black Mississippians who dared seek political expression lifted and revived the trampled dream of democracy. (June)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Even those familiar with the history will want to read this gripping narrative, which combines a political overview of the Mississippi civil rights struggle in the summer of 1964 with more than 50 personal accounts from those who were there, both the famous (including Sidney Poitier, Pete Seeger, John Lewis, Stokely Carmichael) and the lesser known, including the more than 200 volunteer students from the North who lived and worked with local residents and taught in the Freedom Schools in converted shacks and church basements. The lengthy bibliography testifies as to how much has been written on the topic, but the personal interviews, some from people telling their stories for the first time, make gripping drama, as they recount the standoffs, the struggle for voter registration, the reign of terror that encompassed church burnings and murders. Ordinary people are the focus here, and the close-up details about the shocking violence and economic oppression show that even at the time of the famous “I Have a Dream” speech, sharecroppers earning $500 a year could not afford to eat at lunch counters. --Hazel Rochman