FREE AT LAST? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made lt by Fred Powledge

FREE AT LAST? The Civil Rights Movement and the People Who Made lt

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Powledge (Fat of the Land, 1984; Water, 1982, etc.) covered the civil-rights movement as a reporter for both the New York Times and the Atlanta Journal, and he recaps it here from its first tentative beginnings after WW II to the triumphant march in 1965 from Selma to Montgomery, which signalled an end to segregation and the terrorizing of African-Americans in the South. The main virtue of this account stems from its rich oral histories and biographies. Powledge recently interviewed a number of the more prominent participants in the protests, some of whom remain national figures today (Julian Bond, Harvey Gantt, etc.), and he assembles their recollections and reflections into a lively mosaic of personalities. Powledge takes great pains to explain how and why these individuals came into the movement, generally giving each enough space to tell the story in his or her own words. Major events in the struggle from 1955-65 are examined, from the Montgomery bus boycott to the Freedom Riders and onward to the March on Washington and the signing of the Civil Rights Act in 1964. The participation of Martin Luther King, Jr., receives close scrutiny, since one of the author's contentions is that King was far from being the leader of the movement, but was enshrined in that position by whites and the media in the wake of his famous ""I Have a Dream"" speech. Also a central thread in this history is the role the federal government, and especially then-Attorney General Robert Kennedy and the FBI, in their maneuvering to control or undermine the aims of the movement, with national issues such as desegregation and black voter registration being turned into political footballs by liberals and white supremacists alike. Dissension within movement ranks inevitably resulted, and the commitment to nonviolent action is shown as weakening as progress was less than expected. Notable for its personal records of hardship and perseverance, this fine homage offers considerable inspiration for those who would carry on the fight today.

Pub Date: Feb. 26th, 1990
Publisher: Little, Brown