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Turn Away Thy Son: Little Rock, the Crisis That Shocked the Nation [Kindle Edition]

Elizabeth Jacoway
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)

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Book Description

In September 1957, the nation was transfixed by nine black students attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in the wake of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Governor Orval Faubus had defied the city's integration plan by calling out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Newspapers across the nation ran front-page photographs of whites, both students and parents, screaming epithets at the quiet, well-dressed black children. President Eisenhower reluctantly deployed troops from the 101st Air-borne, both outside and inside the school.

Integration proceeded, but the turmoil of Little Rock had only just begun. Public schools were soon shut down for a full year. Black students endured outrageous provocation by white classmates. Governor Faubus's popularity skyrocketed, while the landmark case Cooper v. Aaron worked its way to the Supreme Court and eventually paved the way for the integration of the south.

Betsy Jacoway was a Little Rock student just two years younger than the youngest of the Little Rock Nine. Her "Uncle Virgil" was Superintendent of Schools Virgil Blossom. Congressman Brooks Hays was an old family friend, and her "Uncle Dick" was Richard Butler, the lawyer who argued Cooper v. Aaron before the Supreme Court. Yet, at the time, she was cocooned away from the controversy in a protective shell that was typical for white southern "good girls." Only in graduate school did she begin to question the foundations of her native world, and her own distance from the controversy.

Turn Away Thy Son is the product of thirty years of digging behind the conventional account of the crisis, interviewing whites and blacks, officials and students, activists and ordinary citizens. A tour de force of history and memory, it is also a brilliant, multifaceted mirror to hold up to America today. She knows what happened to the brave black students once they got inside the doors of the school. She knows how the whites' fear of "race mixing" drove many locals to extremes of anger, paranoia, and even violence. She knows that Orval Faubus was only a reluctant segregationist, and that her own cousin's timid tokenism precipitated the crisis.

Above all, Turn Away Thy Son shows in vivid detail why school desegregation was the hottest of hot-button issues in the Jim Crow south. In the deepest recesses of the southern psyche, Jacoway encounters the fear of giving black men sexual access to white women. The truth about Little Rock differs in many ways from the caricature that emerged in the press and in many histories -- but those differences pale in comparison to the fundamental driving force behind the story. Turn Away Thy Son is a riveting, heartbreaking, eye-opening book.

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Although the ingredients for a groundbreaking account of the 1957 integration of Little Rock's Central High School are here, this account by the niece of the city's superintendent of schools falls short of its promise. A Little Rock native who went to a different school during the crisis, Jacoway draws on more than 50 interviews of her own, which include all the major players, along with dozens of interviews conducted by others, and private and public manuscripts. But the result is a numbing mass of detail that entombs the drama and its personae. The oral histories add verisimilitude, but the day-by-day, even hour-by-hour, detail is frequently tedious. The total effect is, curiously, a vindication of Gov. Orval Faubus and a reproach of journalist Harry Ashmore and the author's uncle, Superintendent Virgil Blossom. A daring subtext, that the root of the crisis was "a white fear of miscegenation," frames the book in preface and afterword. Jacoway's insight that "female questioning could somehow threaten the established order" also makes her particularly attentive to the roles women played in causing and calming the crisis. The result is an informative but dully written book. (Jan.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

The earliest stirrings of the civil rights movement roughly coincided with the rapid increase in the number of home television sets. As a result, many of the searing images from Montgomery, Alabama; Philadelphia, Mississippi; and, of course, Little Rock, Arkansas, were burned into our national consciousness. In September 1957, nine black students attempted to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, despite the opposition of Governor Orval Faubus. All over our nation, citizens saw the hate-filled mobs spewing racial epithets. Jacoway, who grew up in Little Rock during the crisis and its aftermath, has utilized numerous interviews of witnesses, politicians, students, and observers who played parts in the dramatic events there. The result is an absorbing and surprising account that reveals our nation at its best and worst. It is also a balanced and scrupulously fair story. Faubus, demonized by many, was actually a moderate on racial issues, and he did attempt to find a middle road that would balance moral considerations with political realities. But Jacoway does not shrink from showing the ugly face of racism, motivated, in her view, by a chronic, obsessive fear of miscegenation. Jay Freeman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Product Details

  • File Size: 1685 KB
  • Print Length: 516 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0743297199
  • Publisher: Free Press (January 9, 2007)
  • Sold by: Simon and Schuster Digital Sales Inc
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000NY11V0
  • Text-to-Speech: Not enabled
  • X-Ray:
  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,072,776 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A MISSED OPPORTUNITY March 30, 2007
I am impressed with the depth of research, and I think Ms. Jacoway writes rather well. Given the extensive research, this book COULD HAVE have stood as the definitive study of the Little Rock Central High School episode. (Several other books on the crisis were written by the key figures themselves, and thus are not detached overviews of the episode. Also, Roy Reed's superb book on Faubus, since it is a biography, does not deal with Central High in as much detail as this book does.) I say "could have" because Ms. Jacoway allows her personal feelings about her uncle, Virgil Blossom, and about Governor Faubus to lead her to paint a distorted picture. Superintendent Blossom certainly had his faults, which the book identifies and then greatly overemphasizes. As for Faubus, it is absurd to argue, as the author does, that betrayal by Blossom and others left him with no choice but to defy the federal courts. This is revisionist history and a fatal flaw in the book. There are other omissions and misunderstandings, but those could be forgiven were it not for the fatal flaw. An example: The author misunderstands the role of Maj. Gen. Edwin A. Walker. Since he was the ranking Army officer in Arkansas (he was in charge of Army Reserve units in the state), protocol dictated that he be the nominal commander of the 101st Airborne units sent to Little Rock. But he was purely a front man, not a decision-maker as the book suggests. Although the end of the book follows other key figures through the years after the Central High crisis, it amazingly fails to note the irony that ex-Gen. Walker helped lead the charge against federal marshals during the desegregation of Ole Miss in 1962.
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17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
Those of us who grew up in Central Arkansas during the Central High crisis formed our opinions from what our families believed about what was happening, what they believed about race, what we saw on television, and what we read in either the "liberal" Arkansas Gazette or "conservative" Arkansas Democrat. The received wisdom then and now has been that Orval Faubus exploited the limited integration of Central High for personal political gain.

Jacoway's extensive research into both primary and secondary sources illuminates the truly Byzantine complexity of the situation. Given the racial attitudes of those who accepted integration at the time as an undesirable, but legally necessary, step, it may be true that, as one source quoted in the book states, sending 9 children into Central was doomed from the beginning--sending 300 would have been the only strategy that might have worked.

The virulent racism of the many who opposed any degree of integration, combined with the shrinking reticence of the few who understood it was legally necessary, left no chance of success. Jacoway shows that few, if any, of the adult players were completely blameless. While one could perhaps argue with Jacoway's interpretation of some individuals' motives, the lengthy bibliography and notes prove that she has excelled in the historian's task of considering all sources in an attempt to recreate the reality of this tumultuous time in our history.

Those looking for a novelistic treatment, with heroes and villains and a compressed timeline hitting only the high spots, will find this volume overfilled with detail. Those wishing to understand all the forces which combined to turn Little Rock from a moderate, progressive small Southern city into an international symbol of racism and violence will appreciate the thoroughness and richness of detail in Dr. Jacoway's solid history.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars After nearly five decades, enlightenment at last July 30, 2007
I attended Little Rock Central High School as a sophomore in the 1957-58 school year, and during the intervening five decades I have often attempted to make sense of the bewildering events that occurred at my school then and that gained such massive international attention. After all of these years, a talented and meticulous historian has finally created the definitive history of this crucial episode in recent American life. Drawing upon her exhaustive research of the primary documents and by conducting a huge number of interviews with most of the principal participants in the Central High crisis, Elizabeth Jacoway has written the book that should achieve recognition as the single work requiring citation whenever a future historian undertakes a serious examination of the integration of Central High. In this volume readers will encounter the naivete, bumbling ineptitude, treachery, malevolence, sporadic acts of grace and heroism, or misguided policies and decisions of so many of the major community, state, and national leaders and officials of the 1950's. Congratulations to Professor Jacoway for possessing the dedication, courage, and persistence necessary to produce this seminal work of history.

Charles Chappell
Professor of English
Hendrix College
Conway, Arkansas
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5.0 out of 5 stars Anatomy of a Train Wreck July 19, 2007
This wonderful piece of scholarship is not in keeping with our time. Today, we are asked to look to crack-pot talking heads on television who are experts-on-nothing with opinions on everything, and who think every issue can be reduced to an eight-second sound bite, plus three more seconds for the personal insult. This incredible work is nothing like that. Dr. Jacoway approaches the subject matter like the trained historian that she is: fairly, dispassionately, and factually. Her uncle is a key player, and even he gets no pass. This is the story of a train wreck - the Little Rock desegregation crisis. The characters are huge. There is Harry Ashmore, editor of the editorial page of the Arkansas Gazette, who was always the darling of Little Rock's goat cheese liberals, but who in fact was self-important, self-congratulatory, and self-absorbed. When he wasn't editorializing, he was giving speeches to Democratic Party groups, conduct which would be considered appalling by what little passes as journalistic standards today. There is Virgil Blossom, school superintendent (and the author's uncle) who comes across as a nervous and manic Mr. Whipple of please-don't-squeeze-the-Charmin fame. There is Congressman Brooks Hays, trying very hard to be the peace maker between Faubus and Eisenhower, but who in fact was unsuccessful in doing so, and accordingly, had to resort to making it up as he went along. There is the Establishment, school board members and attorneys, all claiming to be doing the right thing, but some of whom had noses so high in the air they would drown in a drizzle. There is Jim Johnson, a lieutenant of Gerald L.K. Smith, and an unreconstructed racist who, along with his wife, had more in common with Juan and Eva Peron than main-stream white middle class Americana. There is U.S. Read more ›
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars The complete story of a terrible event
I lived in Little Rock during the integration crisis but was young and never really understood completely the details of the events described so interestingly in this book.
Published 8 months ago by Charles F.
5.0 out of 5 stars Very well written ,,,
Excellent....stated the facts! You felt like you were there. Gave as a gift to a graduate that is majoring in history!!!
Published 20 months ago by Camille W. Murray
5.0 out of 5 stars The Definitive Study
Dr. Jacoway's book, Turn Away Thy Son, is the definitive study of the Little Rock desegragation crisis. The quality and sheer volume of research that she did is overwhelming. Read more
Published on March 21, 2013 by Dale Hanks
5.0 out of 5 stars Little Rock School Crisis
I was there. The author was a neighbor. This is a very detailed and true analysis of the events. I knew many of the people, all of the places and experienced being without a... Read more
Published on September 10, 2009 by Marcia L. Taliaferro
5.0 out of 5 stars Best Book on the Subject, Even Better than mine!!
A lifetime's work shows in this excellent history of the Little Rock desegregation crisis. The superb writing and in-depth research make this a great read. Read more
Published on January 20, 2008 by Berlin Plamenatz Hart Knapp
5.0 out of 5 stars The American Dream or the American Nightmare...
Even in politically-charged 2007, what Elizabeth Jacoway has written is an honest, behind-the-scenes look at one of the darkest periods of American history. Read more
Published on March 10, 2007 by Carlton Johnson
3.0 out of 5 stars Information Overload
I was born shortly after the attempt to intergrate Central High School by using the Little Rock nine. The nine black students faced a firestorm that was years in the making. Read more
Published on February 22, 2007 by Mary G. Longorio
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