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How Civil Rights Activists Took On the Ku Klux Klan in Alabama

by Wayne Greenhaw

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-56976-345-2
Publisher: Lawrence Hill Books/Chicago Review

An eyewitness record of the early brave incursions into the entrenched white racism in the Deep South.

A native of Tuscaloosa, Ala., whose cousins could be seen marching in the local Ku Klux Klan parades in the 1950s, former Alabama Journal and Montgomery Adviser journalist Greenhaw (A Generous Life: W. James Samford, Jr., 2009, etc.) made a stand when he was 16 years old against bigotry in his own church and family. From 1965 to 1976, he covered politics and civil rights for the Journal, during the period when the Klan had galvanized violently after the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Gov. George Wallace crusaded across the country with chants of “Segregation Forever!” and Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech in Washington, D.C. The author moves more or less chronologically, beginning with the fallout from Rosa Parks’s refusal to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus and the “Not Guilty” verdict delivered on two Klansmen accused of the bombing of Montgomery’s First Baptist Church in 1957, and concluding with Wallace’s seeking forgiveness from the congregation of King’s former church in 1982. Greenhaw navigates through the explosive events that spurred a sea change in race relations, encompassing both the villains—e.g., Robert “Dynamite Bob” Chambliss, who supplied the explosives responsible for many of the bombings, including the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in 1963—and the numerous heroes, such as the sole early black lawyers in Selma, J.L. Chestnut Jr. and Orzell Billingsley; attorney Charles Morgan in Birmingham; the intrepid Freedom Fighters, demonstrators and student writers for the Southern Courier; and Morris “Bubba” Dees Jr., who moved from representing racists to ardent civil-rights lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center. The author skillfully weaves a rich historical tapestry from his deeply engaged, firsthand observations.

Impressively captures stark, stunning history in the making.