Herb Boyd, an American Book Award-winning writer and veteran anthologist, takes on the monumental task of journeying through the Civil Rights Movement in his new book, We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement as It Happened. Organized like a textbook but much more interesting to read, Boyd’s portrayal of one of the most wrenching periods in American history takes readers from the movement’s earliest roots in the days of Jim Crow to the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. We Shall Overcome addresses the history making and often tragic events of the time.
The book discusses nearly every Civil Rights icon, including Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers and the first Black Supreme Court justice, Thurgood Marshall. And Boyd, author of Race and Resistance and The Harlem Reader, pulls no punches. He tells the Civil Rights story from its most horrific to its most hopeful aspects. His unflinching approach lets readers know exactly how it was. Boyd includes not only inspirational speeches, but also the voices of hate, which help put into perspective the beliefs and fears of people during this time. This captivating collection brings to life the battle for equality that forced America to face up to the sorry state of race relations within its borders. We Shall Overcome tells the story in such a way you feel you’re there—at the 1955 Mississippi lynching of Emmett Till, at the school sits-in, at the pulpit hearing speeches that have since become famous, and at the marches. You experience the emotions and passions of the movement.
Helping to tell the story is 150 dramatic black-and-white photos that capture the intensity of the times. Among the photographs are many that are recognizable, such as one of Black opera star Marian Anderson singing at the Lincoln Memorial after she was snubbed by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the fire hosing of demonstrators in Birmingham, Rosa Parks looking out a bus window. There are also many that are unfamiliar and more shocking, including one of American Nazi leader George Lincoln Rockwell; the empty car of Viola Liuzzo, the white Detroit housewife who was murdered by the KKK for helping transport people during the Selma marches; Medgar Evers’s blood staining the cement after he was shot; and Black Panther leader Huey Newton, handcuffed to a bed, receiving treatment for a gunshot wound.
Adding yet another lively touch to the book are the sidebars. One of these features Gwendolyn Brooks’s rousing poem “The Chicago Defender Sends a Man to Little Rock.” Another reprints the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee’s statement of purpose.
The book comes with two audio CDs on which participants in the movement tell their own stories. Narrated by actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, they offer protest songs, such as folk singer Bob Dylan’s song about the death of Evers, speeches by Evers himself, as well as those of Ralph Abernathy and Malcolm X, among others; Robert Kennedy announcing King’s assassination to a campaign crowd during his bid for the presidency; the voices of former slaves; news broadcasts from the period; an earlier version of “I Have a Dream” that King delivered in Detroit; recollections of sit-in participants; recollections of demonstrations by Fannie Lou Hamer and the Little Rock Nine, where Hamer talks about her experiences with literacy tests and poll taxes; as well as the voices of segregationist leaders.
With the book and CDs, Boyd has created a multimedia “living history” of the Civil Rights Movement. The result is an easy-to-read, gripping and inspirational account of this important chapter in a history that not only belongs to African-Americans but to the nation as a whole. It will appeal to students, amateur historians and general readers alike.
In coming face to face with history in this manner, readers will be reminded of how much was accomplished in that relatively short period of time, and at what cost, in the struggle for racial equality. No doubt it will put to shame the meager actions and lack of progress of subsequent generations. It may only be hoped that by learning the story of the past as recounted in We Shall Overcome, readers will be prepared to take on the future. The book is definitely a must-add to your home library.
We Shall Overcome: The History of the Civil Rights Movement as It Happened
Author: Herb Boyd
Publisher: Sourcebooks Mediafusion, October 2004
Pages: 320 pages, hardcover
Reviewed by Ann Brown