From Publishers Weekly
Part of the Voices of Civil Rights project, a collaboration between AARP and the Leadership Conference on Civil Rights to build an oral archive, this book aims (and sometimes strains) to link the African-American struggle for freedom to others in its wake. Among blacks, we hear from Jesse Epps, who helped with the 1968 Memphis sanitation strike; journalist Vernon Jarrett, who covered a 1946 Chicago race riot where a mob tried to kill some black veterans; and Carol Swann, one of two black students to integrate the eighth grade in Richmond, Va. Among whites, we meet Diane McWhorter, who grew up white and upper-class in Birmingham, only to write a searing history of her hometown during the Civil Rights era, and Rachelle Horowitz, who worked closely with Bayard Rustin, organizer of the famed 1963 March on Washington. Less fitting are the stories of Sammy Lee, the first Asian-American to win an Olympic gold medal, who had to endure racism from his own coach, and of Jim Dickinson, a white record producer in Memphis who witnessed the black influence on rock music. While activists for Mexican-American rights and the environment are certainly admirable, here they don't link their work to the Civil Rights movement in the way, for example, a disability rights activist and gay Congressman Barney Frank do. Copious b&w photos evoke the Civil Rights era as well as some interview subjects. While Williams, an author and NPR senior correspondent, gets the authorial credit, he acknowledges that a team of reporters did the interviews. While this is a serviceable introduction, more focused oral histories are more rewarding. (May)
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More than 30 people tell personal stories about the nonviolent struggle for civil rights, then and now, not only the leaders but also ordinary citizens who bear witness to "transforming moments" when they suddenly found the courage to try to change things. David Dinkins, New York City's first black mayor, served with the U.S. Marines in World War II; at home, he had to use the back of the bus. A white woman remembers herself as a child after the Birmingham murders ("My worst fear was that my father might be a member of the Klan"). David Halberstam provides an excellent overview; Williams' brief, clear notes introduce each eyewitness account; and the combination of analysis and intimacy with powerful documentary photos makes for gripping narrative. Best of all are the connections with contemporary struggles for equality, including those of immigrants, the poor, and the disabled. Marion Wright Edelman's final impassioned essay speaks for the millions of all races who continue to be "left behind in our land of plenty." Hazel Rochman
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