A journalistic foray into the work of unsung heroes in the civil rights struggle, then and now.
In this slender disquisition, journalist, teacher, editor, and documentary film producer Hedin (Studio A: A Bob Dylan Reader, 2004) ponders why the civil rights movement has petered out when so much still needs to be done. The answer, of course, is that it has not ceased—though the changes are often wrought subtly and behind the scenes, as the author ably uncovers through his research. Traditionally, the perimeters of the movement range from Brown v. Board of Education in 1954 and Rosa Parks’ arrest in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1955, and end with Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination in Memphis in 1968. While Hedin acknowledges the enormous changes that took place within that frame—nonviolent boycotts, sit-ins, marches, and demonstrations ultimately forced the government to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and begin the process of desegregation in schools and other institutions—so much still begs to be done. The evidence is abundant: intractable inequality in education, the killing of unarmed young black men by police forces, and the strictures on voter registration in conservative states such as North Carolina. Hedin pursues the sadly dwindling members of the so-called Moses Generation—e.g., Robert Moses and David Dennis, former leaders of the Mississippi Summer Project of 1964, and Congressman John Lewis, who helped lead the marchers across Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965; and others now deceased and unheralded, such as Charleston native Septima Clark, who pioneered “citizenship schools” on Johns Island and elsewhere. Hedin champions the work of dogged current organizers like Jessie Tyler of Ruleville, Mississippi, who scours the direly impoverished Delta counties to help people sign up for health care, which the author firmly believes is a civil right.
Thoughtful essays on this significant struggle, ongoing and continuous.