The Children

David Halberstam, Author Random House (NY) $29.95 (783p) ISBN 978-0-679-41561-9
This re-creation of the early days of the civil rights movement by Halberstam (The Fifties) is at once intimate and monumental. By focusing on a small group of young African Americans who attended the Reverend James Lawson's workshop for nonviolent demonstrators in Nashville in 1959, then went on to play active roles in the movement, he hits the high points of the civil rights struggle and makes them immediate: the Nashville sit-ins; the founding of SNCC and CORE; the Freedom Rides; Bull Connor's attacks in Birmingham; the Klan in Memphis; the first singing of ""We Shall Overcome""; the voter registration campaign; Bloody Sunday in Selma; and the march to Montgomery. As the group moves out of Nashville and encounters others in the movement, the book expands with the complexity, but fortunately not the imposed tidiness, of a Victorian novel. While some of the young people's names are familiar (e.g., Marion Barry, John Lewis), most are not, but the portraits of them and the society they lived in and challenged is richly detailed. Halberstam examines the subtle frictions within the movement (middle-class vs. poor, lighter-skinned vs. darker, male vs. female), as well as the often violent struggle against segregationists. A number of brief, informative essays are sandwiched in: on the sociology of all-white Vanderbilt University; the eccentricities of the Nashville newspapers; a history of city politics in Washington, D.C.; the role of the Kennedy Justice Department. Martin Luther King Jr. plays a minor part in this history because the subject is indeed the ""children""--the young adults in their late teens or early 20s in 1960, the early idealists who experienced violence in the streets and saw their movement itself turn segregationist (whites were forced out). The last third of the book follows the professional development of the children into adulthood: there was a congressman, a major, several doctors and college professors, a high school teacher and a political gadfly. This book need not have been as long as it is. But it is a masterful achievement in reporting, research and understanding. In a concluding author's note, Halberstam writes of his own experiences as a young reporter covering the civil rights beat. Photos not seen by PW. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 03/02/1998
Release date: 03/01/1998
Analog Audio Cassette - 4 pages - 978-0-375-40169-5
Paperback - 816 pages - 978-0-449-00439-5
Ebook - 783 pages - 978-1-4532-8613-5
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Audio book sample courtesy of Penguin Random House Audio

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