LIGHTING THE FIRES OF FREEDOM by Janet Dewart Bell

LIGHTING THE FIRES OF FREEDOM

African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement
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KIRKUS REVIEW

African-American women contributed significantly to the campaign for racial justice.

An Emmy-winning TV and radio producer, social justice activist Bell makes her literary debut with a revealing collection of oral histories by nine African-American women prominent in the civil rights movement. Published to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1968, the book follows the careers of New Orleans chef and restaurant owner Leah Chase; psychiatrist June Jackson Christmas; Aileen Hernandez, the first African-American president of the National Organization of Women; Diane Nash, who helped found the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee; Judy Richardson, co-founder of Drum and Spear bookstore and Drum and Spear Press, devoted to publishing and promoting African-American literature; Kathleen Cleaver, the first woman to serve on the Central Committee of the Black Panther Party; Gay McDougall, an international human rights activist who focused on ending apartheid in South Africa; Gloria Richardson, whom Ebony magazine called “the Lady General of Civil Rights”; and Myrlie Evers, widow of slain activist Medgar Evers, who later served as chair of the NAACP. Common to all were a spirit of determination and unflagging resilience as they struggled against racism and sexism. Christmas, for example, faced prejudice growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, when she discovered that a Girl Scout camp and the YWCA both had racial prohibitions. At Vassar, as one of two African-American girls, she was advised that it would “be best for you if you don’t have a roommate.” Later, she was one of seven women in her medical school class and, again, one of two African-Americans. She was denied a residency at New York Hospital, told that “men would be very disturbed by you and stimulated by you.” Most, like McDougall, were raised in a family “where caring and addressing a situation was important.” They were expected to pursue an education, and many ended up at prestigious schools—Swarthmore, Barnard, Yale, Bennington, Howard—where classes and extracurricular activities fueled their motivation.

Candid testimony from impressive and influential women.

Pub Date: May 8th, 2018
ISBN: 978-1-62097-335-6
Page count: 240pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15th, 2018




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