“Free at last! Thank God almighty, we’re free at last!” So ends one of the most famous speeches in American history, for which this excellent enhanced e-book provides background and context.
The struggle for civil rights for African-Americans began the moment the first slave ship entered Chesapeake Bay. Historian Golway (Machine Made: Tammany Hall and the Creation of Modern American Politics, 2014, etc.) and the NBC editors here begin with events that are more recent but still half a century old and more—namely, the tyranny of Alabama lawman Bull Connor and the suppression of voting and other rights for minorities throughout the nation. Younger readers may not be able to conjure the image of water cannons and police dogs from memory, but nearly everyone has at least some familiarity with the event that is at the heart of the e-book: the March on Washington of Aug. 28, 1963. “Officially, it was known as the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom,” notes Golway, “a title that reflected the event’s emphasis on economic justice as well as civil rights.” That economic aspect has been largely forgotten in the shadow of Martin Luther King’s famed “I Have a Dream” speech, but then, so, too, have many of those antecedent moments. The editors have assembled an impressive gallery of eyewitnesses, participants and observers, with videos of interviews with, for instance, former UN Ambassador Andrew Young, who speaks of “the worst of segregated life,” and Mamie Chalmers, a Birmingham resident arrested in 1963 for trying to buy a sandwich in a bakery that refused to serve blacks, who recalls that simple injustice and the struggle to undo it. The work preserves numerous artifacts, such as tickets to the reserved seating section before the Lincoln Memorial in Washington and the 37-cent commemorative stamp issued in 2005, as well as dozens of photographs. The e-book invites interaction in a couple of ways: by allowing the reader to highlight and annotate and by providing a portal to upload personal memories of the March on Washington to an external website.
An outstanding supplement to Dr. King’s speech.