WITNESS TO CHANGE by Sybil Haydel Morial


From Jim Crow to Political Empowerment
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A moving memoir recounts decades of profound change.

In her debut, Morial shares the trajectory of her life, from her childhood in 1950s New Orleans to her career as an educator, activist, and wife of that city’s first black mayor. She grew up in a verdant, mixed-race neighborhood, with parents—her father was a surgeon—who wanted the best for their children. What they wanted, though, was compromised by prejudice. The author and her siblings were barred from public playgrounds; they bought movie tickets at the colored entrance and climbed to seats high in the balcony. When traveling, the family brought enough food for the day because they could not eat in most restaurants. On buses to school, Morial sat in the back, behind a movable screen. “If our white neighborhood friends were on the same bus going to a white school,” she recalls, “we didn’t speak or even acknowledge each other.” In Detroit, her father was humiliated when he was turned away from the hotel where he had made a reservation for the family. “It was a complex task to maintain our dignity within the invisible bars of Jim Crow,” the author writes, or to believe her parents’ assurance “that things would get better.” Change was slow and violent. The Freedom Riders were “bloodied, dirty, and exhausted” after encounters with “club-wielding local police.” In 1960, when New Orleans public schools were ordered to desegregate, a 6-year-old girl, escorted by federal marshals, faced screaming, spitting protestors. But Morial never lost courage or determination: barred from joining the League of Women Voters, for example, she and some friends founded an organization to expedite voter registration. Morial’s determination for change was matched by her husband’s; his election victory in 1967 incited court challenges, and his work for the NAACP brought death threats.

In calm, measured prose, Morial offers a singular perspective on the frustrating road to social justice.

Pub Date: Oct. 6th, 2015
ISBN: 978-0-89587-655-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: John F. Blair
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2015


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