America’s Best on the Civil Rights Movement
edited by
Email this review


Essays and newspaper articles on the civil-rights movement, written mostly in the 1950s and ’60s.

Newsweek managing editor Meacham writes in his introduction that he hopes this anthology will convey the battles that occurred in the hearts and minds of white and black Americans during the civil-rights movement. To a large extent, it does. Reading a 1958 Murray Kempton column on a trial involving a black man’s testimony against a white man, one despairs of what has happened to court reporting in the post–O.J. era. In “Wallace,” Marshall Frady portrays the vilified Alabama governor as a provincial who simply uses the race card to gain the attention he craves. Occasionally the authors give voice to the misconceptions of their time (as when William Faulkner predicts that the Soviet Union’s economy will eventually out-produce that of the US), but mostly these articles move one to see how print can often convey more of a moment than photographs and film. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech has, unfortunately, been rendered trite by familiarity, but Ralph Ellison’s “Harlem is Nowhere” succeeds in echoing King’s concerns from the perspective of a writer who is less optimistic but who hungers for the vision King sought to provide. The collection would have benefited if some of the same authors had contributed pieces looking back to the circumstances surrounding their writing. What might a writer like Frady say about Wallace’s turnabout on the race issue years later? The real misfortune is not simply that many of these writers are no longer on the scene, but that their successors have not been able to bring the same level of gravitas and moral urgency to a situation that, in many regards, has hardly improved at all in the intervening years.

A highly satisfying compendium that shines a welcome light onto the troubles of the present day.

Pub Date: Jan. 12th, 2000
ISBN: 0-679-46296-1
Page count: 640pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 2000


NonfictionIMPEACHMENT by Jon Meacham
by Jeffrey A. Engel
NonfictionTHE SOUL OF AMERICA by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham
NonfictionDESTINY AND POWER by Jon Meacham
by Jon Meacham