My nonfiction reading for the Cybils Award is progressing nicely. So far I have read 35 of the 64 books nominated. There are so many good books on a variety of topics. I am just blown away by the quality of writing and the topics which are covered. Today I want to talk about one of those books which has percolated toward the top of the list for me due to strong writing and the coverage of the topic.
The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum.
The year was 1966. The setting was Mississippi. In the beginning the march started out as a walk. James Meredith, the black student who integrated Ole' Miss University a few years earlier, decided he wanted to walk from the Tennessee border to Jackson, Mississippi in support of voter registration and to prove that he was not afraid. But by the end of the second day things turned around after Meredith was shot at point-blank range by a man with a shot gun. He survived but had to spend a long time in the hospital and recuperating afterwards. When members of the Big 5 of the Civil Rights Movement found out about Meredith's situation, they picked up the goal and turned it into a march.
Often called the March Against Fear, King, Carmichael, and many others started toward Jackson, stopping off to register black folks to vote in the towns along the way. The march took over 20 days and the marchers met lots of opposition along the way. In Greenwood, Carmichael was arrested for attempting to set up the tent where the marchers slept. When he was released, he spoke to the assembled crowd about the need for black power. His words became a chant. With these words the Civil Rights Movement seemed to turn, from nonviolence to something else. Suddenly supportive whites from the North turned their backs on the movement.
Thus this march was historic on many sides: it was the longest and most expensive march of the movement; it was the first time that revolutionary words of Black Power were spoken; and the movement never again held a march of any magnitude. In a lot of ways people want to forget it. There was no happy ending to it, like Selma or the March on Washington.
A year after the march Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, "It is necessary to understand that Black Power is a cry of disappointment. For 12 years I, and others like me, had held out radiant promises of progress. I had preached to them about my dream...I had urged them to have faith in America and white society. Their hopes had soared...They were now hostile because they were watching the dream that they had so readily accepted turn into a frustrating nightmare" (Bausum).
I read this book with my mouth agape. I had never heard of this event from the Civil Rights Movement and how things dissolved from here out. I know from my history lessons how things continued to degrade to the point of the race riots of 1968 and beyond. In fact, today we are still seeing the ugliness of racism in our country with the resurgence of the white supremacists movement and the negative reaction to the slogan "Black Lives Matter." It makes me feel sick.
I am so grateful for authors like Ann Bausum who continue to write about events from our past so that we can hold them up to examine and, hopefully, make some needed changes. After the election of 2016 when Trump was elected and the events that have followed it is very obvious that we cannot ever take out eyes off the prize. We must all hold voting as dear and not abdicate our responsibility to vote and allow others to do so, too.
I don't think this will be everyone's favorite book, but it is good to read books to educate ourselves and to make us squirm. Maybe that will cause us to get up out of our chairs and do something to better mankind! Read it! And, I want to point out if you are a teacher, Ann Bausum has a whole lot of resources on her webpage that you can use with your classes on this topic. Check it out.