Monday, January 21, 2013

"They have carved a tunnel of hope through the deep mountain of disappointment."

I gave up trying to find something deep to say in honor of MLK.  I hope it's enough to say that I never to forget the incredible sacrifices made by people famous and those unknown in the name of the freedom movement.

If you aren't ready to wade through the Taylor Branch books (Parting the Waters: America in the King Years, 1954-1963 (1988), etc.) on MLK, or are anti-hagiography, a good book is Nick Kotz's Judgement Days: Lyndon Baines Johnson, Martin Luther King Jr., and the Laws that Changed America (2005).  The Kotz book comes in at a slim 580 pages, but many of those are notes.  Normally I'm not so into "big man" history, but I think this book does a great job exploring the complexities of the Civil Rights Movement, and of both men.  A briefer, but satisfying, approach might be to read some writing of the man himself.  His "Letter from a Birmingham Jail"is here, and you can watch the "Mountaintop" speech here.  King is such an amazing orator, the "Mountaintop" makes me cry every time I hear it.

Eyes on the Prize is once again available, likely through your public library, and though it may give short shrift to certain Movement themes, it's still a good introduction.  Many of the episodes are available on youtube.  The episode that covers the period leading up to King's death, "The Road to Memphis" is here.

If you're looking for something a little outside classic Movement narratives, an interesting book is Peniel Joseph, Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour, A Narrative History of Black Power in America (2007). In the earliest recounting of the Civil Rights Movement, women tended to get short shrift, but Barbara Ransby's biography of Ella Baker and Chana Kai Lee's biography of Fannie Lou Hamer are both excellent.  I also really enjoyed Annelise Orleck's Storming Caesar's Palace: How Black Mothers Fought Their Own War on Poverty.

For autobiography/manifestos, I like Robert F. Williams, Negroes with Guns (1962, 1998 reprint) and Angela Davis self-titled autobiography (this book completely blew my mind when I was a teenager).

Children's literature about the Civil Rights Movement seems to have become a huge field while I wasn't paying attention, and it is pretty overwhelming.  For older kids, Eyes on the Prize could be a good resource, and there are plenty of interesting clips online.  Interesting books include, Paul Walker's Remember Little Walk: The Time, the People, the Stories, and Phillip Hoose's, Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice.  There are a bunch of MLK picture books, but none really stand out to me.  I may be missing some good options, but the MLK books I have looked at seem stodgy-better to just let a young person watch some of King's speeches.  I do like Fath Ringgold's If a Bus Could Talk: The Story of Rosa Parks, which has vibrant illustrations, and Jacqueline Woodson's The Other Side is a lyrical and attractive picture book about the everyday life of segregation.

I'm planning to put our Roku to good us and finally watch the documentary Brother Outsider, which is about (gay) civil rights activist Bayard Rustin.  Another good option available on streaming Netflix is the documentary The Pruitt-Igoe Myth.  The documentary isn't specifically about civil rights, instead it focuses on the rise and fall of St. Louis's big housing project Pruitt-Igoe.  The film places public housing in a broader historical context, and it is visually interesting and avoids the Ken Burns-isms that have become all too common.

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