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Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution Paperback – January 15, 2013
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The Emancipation Proclamation was issued in 1863, but a contemporary African American saying predicted that freedom would come only after another hundred years of struggle. That prediction was about right: the civil rights struggle erupted in the middle of the 20th century, with its violent epicenter in the industrial city of Birmingham, Alabama. There freedom riders and voter-rights activists faced down Klansmen and Nazis, who had put aside their own differences to cast a pall of terror--and the smoke of a well-orchestrated campaign of church bombings--over the South.
Diane McWhorter, a journalist and native Alabamian, offers a comprehensive, literate record of the struggle that covers more than half a century and that involves hundreds of major actors. Her work is solidly researched and highly readable, and it offers much new information. Among the many newsworthy aspects of the book are McWhorter's discussions of internal power struggles within the civil rights movement, the uneasy role of Birmingham's small Jewish population, and the collusion of local government--especially swaggering Police Commissioner Bull Connor. The author also addresses the segregationist and white-supremacist movements and recounts the tortuous quest to bring the church bombers to justice, which was finally accomplished in 2000. Carry Me Home is a worthy and highly recommended companion to Taylor Branch's Parting the Waters and Andrew Young's An Easy Burden. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
From Publishers Weekly
The story of civil rights in Birmingham, Ala., has been told before from the unspeakable violence to the simple, courageous decencies but fresh, sometimes startling details distinguish this doorstop page-turner told by a daughter of the city's white elite. McWhorter, a regular New York Times contributor, focuses on two shattering moments in Birmingham in 1963 that led to "the end of apartheid in America": when "Bull Connor's police dogs and fire hoses" attacked "school age witnesses for justice," and when the Ku Klux Klan bombed the 16th Street Church, killing four black girls. Yet she brings a gripping pace and an unusual, two-fold perspective to her account, incorporating her viewpoint as a child (she was largely ignorant of what was going on "downtown," even as her father took an increasingly active role in opposing the civil rights movement), as well as her adult viewpoint as an avid scholar and journalist. Surveying figures both major and minor civil rights leaders, politicians, clergy, political organizers of all stripes her panoramic study unmasks prominent members of Birmingham in collusion with the Klan, revealing behind-the-scenes machinations of "terrorists on the payroll at U.S. Steel" and men like Sid Smyer, McWhorter's distant cousin, who "bankrolled... one of the city's most rabid klansmen." McWhorter binds it all together with the strong thread of a family saga, fueled by a passion to understand the father about whom she had long harbored "vague but sinister visions" and other men of his class and clan. (Mar. 15)Forecast: McWhorter's prominence and her willingness to name names as well as her exhaustive research and skillful narrative virtually guarantee major review attention. Bolstered by an eight-city tour and a pre-pub excerpt in Talk in February, the 50,000-copy first printing should move fast.
Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information, Inc.--This text refers to the Library Binding edition.
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Top customer reviews
Until I saw that she has spend 19 years on intense research it was impossible to imagine she might have acquired the detail interactions of the participants in that drama. The out standing actor is Fred Shuttlesworth and on my reading that at the entrance to his final resting place, “at the wooded entrance to the historic downtown graveyard, a giant American flag swelled from the extended ladder of a Birmingham fire truck,” I could not suppress a thunderous sob.
Who might look forward to reading Carry Me Home, very few I suspect. It lays open a grotesque sore of American History and the author’s technique of laying down detain, hour by hour day by day, is trying to any reader; take it in small doses but persist for there is pleasure in knowing that for almost all Americans today North and South that sore was well lanced by Shuttlesworth and his better known assistances’; we are healthier people for it. But healthier is not synonymous with well as McWhorter goes on to show discussing more current Birmingham Alabama and American events.
The author’s sections entitled ‘McWhorter’ goes a long way towards explaining motivation for the book, as father and family holds a role as racist, if not bomber.
I read in numerous books how Birmingham was the city of hate. And how the children marching was key to the shift in people's views that led to civil rights. But this explained why.
With the focus on Birmingham you see the South in detail and how the culture, the local politics, and the specific people impacted and eventually shifted the world. It also paints a complete picture of the key people involved which adds so much.
I was reading until I couldn't keep my eyes open any longer at night. And then back to reading the first thing the next morning. Incredibly well written.
This book is by no means a quick, fast-paced narrative; nevertheless, it is an indispensable document for anyone that wants to understand the epicenter of the 1960's civil rights movement. McWhorter tells everything you'd ever care to know about the history of Birmingham and plenty more. The cast of characters makes 'War and Peace' seem like a sparsely populated historical tale. Much as Tolstoy's original intent to explore the Decembrist revolt led him back to the seminal circumstances and the larger historical canvas, McWhorter uses the pivotal dramatic moment in the city's history, the church bombing that killed the four girls, as the impetus for an epic investigation into the culture of the city that made such an event not only possible but inevitable.
Birmingham, the 'Pittsburgh of the South', seemed predisposed for social and political unrest almost from the beginning. Earlier in the century, labor disputes and the ensuing suppression of labor unions and the outside Communist agitators were the predominant struggles, with the rigid Jim Crow social structure keeping the Negro population subservient by denying opportunities for employment or education, thus ensuring that that racial demographic remained powerless through poverty as well as ignorance. As glimmerings of resistance from the black population began to be noticed, the Communist threat began to be merged with the Negro threat to the extent that the white power structure fused the two into one neatly packaged enemy.
McWhorter devotes equal time and space to all the sides in the ensuing struggles. She explains how the power structure was a carefully woven tapestry binding the political leaders with the business leaders with the news media with the KKK with the states' rights proponents. The public safety commissioner/boss Bull Connor was a stereotypical racist redneck tyrant who would have been hilariously buffoonish (“Negroes and whites will not segregate together”) if he wasn't so frighteningly powerful. Mayor Tom Hanes may have been the ostensible leader of the city but Bull was the real power behind the scenes. He ruled the police force and made the Klan's terrorist activity easier to implement with impunity.
On the other side of the color barrier, the local leader of the civil rights movement was Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth. Shuttlesworth was also a very colorful character, as flamboyant as he was fearless. He had been physically beaten in front of Phillips High School and miraculously survived the explosion of a bomb planted literally under his bedroom. He had gotten back up and brushed himself off so many times he was said to have nine lives. Never one to mince words, he was never thought of as a diplomat and had to cede the floor of the public platform to the eloquent orator and universally acknowledged leader Martin Luther King who, in McWhorter's account, had a habit of arriving on a scene after an tremendously violent episode to calm fears and give voice to the vision of the movement. Shuttlesworth was the primary force goading King into a more activist role, which King did, not without reluctance, in visiting Birmingham and being arrested and incarcerated, leading him to write the manifesto of the movement, the 'Letter from the Birmingham Jail'.
On the Washington front, President John Kennedy was preoccupied with attempting to thaw out the cold war relations with Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, which also necessitated repairing the conflicting message the U.S. was sending to the Soviets as well as the rest of the world that promoted the U.S. as a bastion of freedom while treating a large segment of its population as third class citizens. When photos of police dogs nipping at protesters (many of them children) and fire hoses blowing them across a street along with the clothes off their backs hit the national and international media, the Kennedys knew they had to do something to put out the conflagration.
At the same time that the President and his brother Attorney General Robert Kennedy were trying to simultaneously placate and discourage Martin Luther King, the Attorney General was giving consent to J. Edgar Hoover's campaign to wiretap King's calls and monitor his comings and goings to uncover the Communist connection that Hoover was certain was there somewhere.
Change was seen as inevitable even among white leaders who saw Bull Connor as doing more harm than good, not only through the fire hoses and dogs but by putting thousands of demonstrating school children in jail. The only way they could oust him was by eliminating his office. Even then, he was going to make the most of his remaining tenure.
The Klan grew marginalized and no longer receiving unofficial consent from the city leaders and police force, which did not mean that their terrorist activities would abate. The most extreme of the fanatics were as meticulous in their bomb making as chemists. Bombings had occurred for a number of years, even church bombings although, to date, no one had been killed in any of them. That is, until the morning of September 15 when a group of girls were in the basement putting on their robes for a choral performance in the upcoming morning church service. Just after 10 that morning, at least ten sticks of dynamite placed against the foundation next to the wall exploded, blowing a massive hole in the side of the building and burying the girls in a mountain of wreckage.
McWhorter describes the long and protracted aftermath, including a comedy of errors investigation conducted by city and state and FBI officials, each trying to out-scoop the other. Utimately, in 1977, one of the bombers, Robert Chambliss, was sentenced and convicted on one count of murder. It wasn't until 2001 that an incriminating tape of a conversation Thomas Blanton had with his wife in which he admitted to being involved in the bombing was admitted as evidence, convicting him on four counts of murder and a life sentence. One year later, Bobby Cherry was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment.
Concurrent with her account of the civil rights conflict of Birmingham, McWhorter recounts where she was in her life at the time. In her ten year old conscience, in spite of her upbringing and her father's Saturday night 'civil rights' meetings about which the rest of the family knew nothing, she knew something was wrong with this picture. The murder of girls close to her age brought the tragedy closer to her realm of experience. In writing this exhaustive account, she also attempts to uncover the extent to which her father may have been involved in Klan activities. The most she gets out of him in later years when researching her book is that he knew many of these people and knew of many of their activities. To her relief, he drew the line at killing anyone, especially innocent victims.
Continuing the Tolstoy analogy, she includes more epilogues than Tolstoy's opus, including afterwords, postscripts and a 2012 update including the contemporary effort in Alabama to marginalize the current minority, illegal immigrants, along with those who attempt to follow the avenues of legal immigration status. Jim Crow has now become Juan Crow and the ethnic threat has largely supplanted the traditional racial threat. She assesses the mindset of the native citizen of Birmingham who must reconcile him or herself to this violent past either by safely consigning it to the pages of history or a more sobering alternative, the long painful process of personal and regional introspection. This massive account serves as a vital historical document as well as a therapeutic personal history for one of those natives.
There is plenty of violence and FBI involvement so surprises are frequent as the story develops. I read this book before Thomas BORSTELMANN's and Mary L. Dudziak's. Having done so gave me a much better understanding of how integration/segregation crises in the south had so much influence on how the Cold War (and Viet Nam) had to be managed to have democracy prevail in the competition with socialism in the world.