cover image Waging A Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968

Waging A Good War: A Military History of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954–1968

Thomas E. Ricks. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (448p) ISBN 978-0-374-60516-2

War-fighting doctrine is an unfamiliar yet ideal way to frame America’s “civil rights revolution,” according to this penetrating study. Pulitzer winner Ricks (Fiasco) illuminates episodes in the struggle against Southern segregation, including the 1956–1957 Montgomery bus boycott, during which Martin Luther King Jr. crafted his strategy of nonviolent action, and the 1960 Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins, for which activists received careful training, including role-playing sessions in which they were hit, spat on, and doused with coffee. The 1963 Birmingham desegregation campaign—the movement’s “Gettysburg,” in Ricks’s telling—was won by the public-relations masterstroke of a Black children’s march that braved public safety commissioner Bull Connor’s fire hoses and police dogs, while the 1964 Mississippi Freedom Summer voter registration drive saw activists weathering violence—six murders, dozens of beatings and bombings—that scarred them, like shell-shocked soldiers, with “battle fatigue.” Ricks’s military metaphors sometimes feel strained, but they incisively spotlight the nuts and bolts of the movement’s achievements: meticulous planning and organizing, shrewd analysis of goals and the means to accomplish them, maintenance of discipline and morale, and cold-blooded realism. The result is a trenchant and stimulating guide to the strategies and tactics that can achieve sweeping social change. Agent: Andrew Wylie, Wylie Agency. (Oct.)