I'VE GOT THE LIGHT OF FREEDOM by Charles M. Payne

I'VE GOT THE LIGHT OF FREEDOM

The Organizing Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 With this history of the civil rights movement focusing on the Everyman turned hero, the commoner as crusader for justice, Payne challenges the old idea that history is the biography of great men. That definition of history has been nowhere more strongly posited than in the case of the American civil rights movement. According to legend, Martin Luther King and his band of righteous acolytes galvanized the masses of black people and ushered them into the American franchise. But Payne (African-American Studies/Northwestern) attacks the myth on both its linguistic premises--``great'' and ``men''--offering in cogent detail a narrative of civil rights that features the historically unfeatured, adding new heft and weight to an often-told tale. Payne takes as an operating motif a quote from Gandhi, ``There go my people. I must hurry and catch up to them for I am their leader.'' There are familiar faces here, to be sure--Medgar Evers, Ella Baker--but Payne concerns himself with those he believes to have been the real actors in the drama for American freedom, the men and women in the rural communities across the South who left their homes and plowshares to agitate for freedom--people like Amzie Moore, a founder in 1951 of the Regional Council of Negro Leadership, which offered a collective voice to blacks in the Mississippi Delta. People like Septima Clark, who, fired from her teaching job for her NAACP membership, helped create Citizenship Schools to educate blacks. But Payne dares even further to reveal the profundity of mind present in the local leaders, arguing that the beliefs binding the people together was more than a sentimental, communitarian version of mother wit, but a conscientious philosophy of protest and activism, carefully conceived, arduously employed. In this thoughtful social history, Payne gives due regard to those activists great and small. (27 b&w photographs, map, not seen)

Pub Date: April 1st, 1995
ISBN: 0-520-08515-9
Page count: 504pp
Publisher: Univ. of California
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 1995