cover image Free All Along: The Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Interviews

Free All Along: The Robert Penn Warren Civil Rights Interviews

Edited by Stephen Drury Smith and Catherine Ellis. New Press, $26.99 (352p) ISBN 978-1-59558-818-0

Radio producers Smith and Ellis (Say It Plain) compile 20 edited and condensed transcripts from Robert Penn Warren’s 1964 series of interviews with civil rights leaders, which he drew upon in writing Who Speaks for the Negro? but which have never before been made public. The title is taken from Warren’s interview with novelist and essayist Ralph Ellison, who described the civil rights movement as one manifestation of African-American life “that... has developed beyond any restrictions imposed on it.” The collection displays the multiplicity of approaches African-Americans took to battling white supremacy, from the Gandhian nonviolent tactics advocated by Martin Luther King Jr., Kenneth Clark, and Bayard Rustin to the more militant positions of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael. Other interviewees include novelist James Baldwin, educator Septima P. Clark, and U.N. ambassador Andrew Young. Warren is a skilled interviewer, the responses are beautifully complex (at one point, Whitney M. Young Jr. opines, “If we can’t change status-seeking and we can’t change conformity, at least we can... get people to see that only the hopelessly insecure and inadequate person needs to surround himself with sameness”), and Smith and Ellis provide useful biographical context for each person. This is a fascinating and valuable document of the 1960s. [em](Jan.) [/em]