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The Children by David Halberstam

The Children (1998)

by David Halberstam

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432737,835 (4.48)69
Tells the story of eight young people who, inspired by workshops on nonviolence, decided to become involved in the fight against segregation during the 1960s, beginning with staged sit-ins at Nashville lunch counters, and progressing to ever more dangerous actions on behalf of the civil rights movements.… (more)



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I got this book from freerreading when looking for books about the Civil Rights Movement. This book tells the story of the sit-in movement in Nashville, Tennessee by the college students at the black colleges in that area in 1960. A well-written and informative book. Really enjoyed hearing about the student's experiences in the sit-ins and the othe Civil Rights campaigns and what happened to them after the 1960's. This is the second book I have read by this author and have really enjoyed both of his books. He is a good writer and I have learned quite a bit by reading his books. ( )
  CrystalToller | May 25, 2019 |
Excellent civil rights history and relationships.. ( )
  Brightman | Feb 21, 2018 |
If lesson number one had been that their numbers were not small because their idea was powerful, then lesson number two was about shedding the most powerful of all feelings — the shame of being black in a white nation which had chosen, as it suppressed its black citizens, to create a philosophy of shame and vulnerability among the very people whom it had suppressed and exploited, saying in effect that it was the victim's fault for turning out to be the victim.

This is a masterful overview of The Movement, as the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s came to be known. Halberstam astutely focuses on a group of college students in Nashville who formed the backbone of what became the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and pushed the older, more conservative Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) into challenging segregation with direct action, beginning with lunch-counter sit-ins and ending with the bloody March to Montgomery and voter registration drives across the Deep South.

Many of The Movement's most well-known names got their start in the Nashville group — John Lewis, Marion Barry and James Bevel among them. But Halberstam also shines a light on activists who were lesser-known or completely unknown to me, showing how essential they were to the ultimate success of the struggle. He interweaves chapters exploring the backgrounds of each of these disparate characters and how they came to be in Nashville with direct reporting on the actions they took and the reactions of the white establishment. His writing brought home the very real physical danger that they all faced, and the constant indignities and humiliations that were visited upon them simply for believing themselves to be equal to whites:

It was a bitter evening for both of them. One of the waitresses had come over and said that they did not serve niggers, and when they still did not leave, she returned and poured milk on both of them, and when they still did not leave, she returned one more time and poured hot tea on them. Then, as if to top it off, one of the other employees went in the kitchen and returned with a container of Ajax and poured it on both of them. Then the police came and arrested them both. It was a moment when Gloria Johnson felt an overpowering sense of sadness, not about herself, or about the others who were protesting with her, but instead about the city and the country. Here were the two of them, she thought, graduates of an uncommonly good college, now on their way to becoming doctors, trying to order simple meals in what was not a very fancy restaurant, and being abused and then arrested for it. She wept that day, for her country, not for herself.

One of the most valuable takeaways for me from this book is the reminder that African-American culture is not and never has been a monolith. The activists in the book come from a variety of backgrounds, from financially secure to desperately poor, from the Deep South of Mississippi and Alabama to northern cities like Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. By continuing the book beyond the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 — really the signature achievement of The Movement — Halberstam shows how black activism experienced a schism of its own, between those whose ultimate goal was full integration into society and those who advocated for black power and separating themselves from whites. As he follows many of the activists from their 20s into their 50s and beyond, he also shows how their time in The Movement affected them all profoundly even as they moved into the next phases of their lives. Many struggled with depression as they tried to find some other cause or pursuit that would mean as much to them as the civil rights struggle had.

Reading this book in 2017, as voting rights are once again under attack across the country (including right here in Iowa), I find myself filled with fresh determination that the gains those activists fought so hard to achieve must not be conceded without a fight. The stories Halberstam tells in The Children filled me with awe at a group of young people who faced incredible danger and violence — not fearlessly like superheroes, but with fearful conviction in the rightness of their cause, like flawed but focused human beings. ( )
3 vote rosalita | Mar 14, 2017 |
Overview of civil rights movement from student perspective (as opposed to adult movements ,ML King, etc). Author was a beginning reporter in Nashville.
  ammurphy | Nov 9, 2010 |
A long book, but a first rate account of an important period of American history by a journalist who was on the scene. ( )
  carterchristian1 | Jul 28, 2010 |
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