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The Children by David Halberstam

The Children

by David Halberstam

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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 |
In 1959, James Lawson, a Methodist minister who spent several years in India studying the methods of Gandhi, organized a group of college students to protest segregation in Nashville through lunch counter sit-ins.. The original group of students attended various local schools including American Baptist College, Fisk University and Tennessee A & I—all primarily black colleges. Among them were the later infamous Marion Barry and John Lewis, who became a Congressman from Georgia. Several of the others became prominent in the larger civil rights movement. Many of them were interested in ministry, or came from backgrounds which gave them deep religious convictions. Halberstam tells the story of these individuals and of others who joined them along the way. He reports on and analyzes the development of the non-violent direct action movement during the early 1960s.

The largest focus is on the students' involvement in the lunch-counter sit-ins that began in early 1960 and in the Freedom Rides that began somewhat later. The students’ movement started in Nashville--which was a relatively liberal city with regard to segregation—and expanded to cities and towns of the “Deep South” in Alabama and Mississippi. There were relatively peaceful mass arrests in Nashville and vicious beatings sanctioned by the local governments in Alabama and Mississippi. Until the later 1960s, these protesters reacted non-violently, and many of them suffered serious injury.

Halberstam comments on the almost complete lack of involvement by the Kennedy administration until confronted with the extreme violence perpetrated on the protestors by law enforcement officials. He discusses the connection between some of the local police and the Ku Klux Klan. He also calls attention to the relatively new phenomenon of television broadcasting these scenes to the average American, and the significant impact on the populace and on the federal government of that visual evidence.

Halberstam was a reporter for the Nashville Tennesseean when the sit-ins started and moved to the New York Times in the early 1960s where his emphasis shifted to the Vietnam War. The writing is that of a very good reporter, but it is not a scholarly investigation and analysis. It is based upon anecdote and interviews with participants in the events and can be taken as a well written factual account. My one criticism is that he spends approximately 200 pages at the end of the book briefly recounting what happened afterward to all of the individuals he saw as key players. Since I was reading it for information about the civil rights movement, I was not so interested in the "after" stories.

I do, however, highly recommend this very readable book, particularly as one that covers the contributions of the less well known young participants in the early civil rights movement. ( )
  LisaCurcio | Mar 17, 2009 |
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679415610, Hardcover)

Like the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, the civil rights movement has achieved mythical status in America--an epic tale of heroes and martyrs; of sacrifice, honor, and courage in the face of overwhelming odds; of ideals worth dying for in a time and place where death was an all-too-real possibility. In The Children, prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam goes back in time to the beginnings of the civil rights movement in Nashville, Tennessee, tracing both the lives of the individuals who initiated it and the growth of the movement itself into its present-day status.

Every epic must have its hero, and The Children has James Lawson, a young, African American divinity student whose tactics in civil disobedience were learned at the knees of Mahatma Gandhi's followers during a three-year stint as a missionary to India. When he returned to the States and was accepted into the all-white Vanderbilt Divinity School, Lawson began teaching workshops to Nashville's African American youth designed to equip them for the equal-rights struggle, a battle Lawson believed could be won only with nonviolent tactics. Halberstam chronicles the fight against racism with the insight that comes from witnessing it first-hand. As a young journalist for the Tennessean in Nashville, he covered the rise of the civil rights movement, and in The Children he draws on many of his writings from the era. From accounts of lunch-counter sit-ins to the freedom rides, Halberstam's book covers the map of the crusade for racial equality, serving as a poignant reminder that heroes come in all ages, colors, and characters.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:09:49 -0400)

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The Children is David Halberstam's moving evocation of the early days of the civil rights movement, as seen through the story of the young people - the Children - who met in the 1960s and went on to lead the revolution. The Children is a story one of America's preeminent journalists has waited years to write, a powerful book about one of the most dramatic moments in recent American history.They came together as part of Reverend James Lawson's workshops on nonviolence, eight idealistic black students whose families had sacrificed much so that they could go to college. And they risked it all, and their lives besides, when they joined the growing civil rights movement. David Halberstam shows how Martin Luther King, Jr., recruited Lawson to come to Nashville to train students in Gandhian techniques of nonviolence. We see the strength of the families the Children came from, moving portraits of several generations of the black experience in America. We feel Diane Nash's fear before the first sit-in to protest segregation of Nashville lunch counters, and then see how Diane Nash and others - John Lewis, Gloria Johnson, Bernard Lafayette, Marion Barry, Curtis Murphy, James Bevel, Rodney Powell - persevered until they ultimately accomplished that goal.After the sit-ins, when the Freedom Rides to desegregate interstate buses were in danger of being stopped because of violence, it was these same young people who led the bitter battle into the Deep South. Halberstam takes us into those buses, lets us witness the violence the students encountered in Montgomery, Birmingham, Selma. And he shows what has happened to the Children since the 1960s, as they have gone on with their lives.… (more)

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