Sunday, April 2, 2017

The March Against Fear: The Last Great Walk of the Civil Rights Movement and the Emergence of Black Power by Ann Bausum

By the time James Meredith planned his one man Walk Against Fear in 1966, he was already an accomplished African American man. yet he had remained on the sidelines during the early days of the civil rights movement. Although he certainly would have been an asset to it, Meredith was a strongly independent man. He was among the first recruits to serve in the newly integrated Air Force in the 1950s, and after returning home in 1960, Meredith decided to realize his lifelong dream of attending the University of Mississippi. Ole Miss was still a segregated school but it was Meredith who integrated, it thanks to a Supreme Court ruling. So why avoid the Civil Rights movement? 

Meredith had a vision of his own for African Americans. It was his dream to conquer fear, “the fear that pushed through so many racial interactions in the south.” (pg14) And so he planned his one man 22o mile Walk Against Fear, starting from Memphis, Tennessee to Jackson, Mississippi. It wasn’t a protest, it was simply to show other blacks something he thought anyone should be able to do. Meredith began his walk on June 5, 1966. On June 6, 1966, not long after crossing the state line into Mississippi, James Meredith was shot in an assassination attempt by Aubrey Norvell, a white man. 

Meredith survived the shooting, but was not be able to resume his walk. Which meant that all the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, including Martin Luther King, Jr., an advocate of non-violence protests, and Stokely Carmichael, leader of SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee), whose use of the words “black power” on this march would usher in a more radical thinking.  These men knew they have to continue Meredith’s walk for him - “To do otherwise would allow violence to have the last word. Not acting would embolden those who opposed change.” (pg 23) What they didn’t know that this lesser known event would splinter the Civil Rights Movement from within and steer it in different  directions. 

The March Against Fear clearly and succinctly follows James Meredith’s one-man Walk Against Fear as it morphed into a march that included 15,000 people from around the country with a focus on voter registration. And although thousands of previously disenfranchised African Americans were registered, the march also showed how divided the leaders were. Added to this disunity, when Carmichael introduced the concept of ‘black power’ a lot of young people quickly embraced the term black are a racial identifier of choice, while many whites were clearly uncomfortable with the term, as were the mainstream media. In a movement with conflicting leaders, goals and ideas, everyone wondered if those who aligned themselves with the “black power” faction bring about a social revolution.

I remember reading about James Meredith and his March Against Fear when I was in school, but I never really knew the details of the march until I read this book. And this is where Ann Bausum really shines when it comes to presenting and explaining the time line, the meaning and the participants of a movement. She did it so well in Stonewall, giving just enough background and history for readers, without overwhelming them and all done in a very accessible style.

Given what is happening on the political front in this country these days, it becomes even more important to look back and know the history of the Civil Rights Movement and the legislation that was passed because of it. These laws were meant to provide some measure of equality, political, and social freedoms for citizens of color, but now they are beginning to be slowly chipped away by those who would like to return to an earlier time.

The March Against Fear includes an abundant of archival photographs, so a bit graphic, as well as an extensive Bibliography. It is, without a doubt, a book I recommend highly for today’s young readers. 

This book is recommended for readers age 12+
This book was sent to me by the publisher, National Geographic

1 comment:

  1. Dear Alex, this is such a brilliant review, thank you. A may not be a young reader, but I’m going to read this anyway. There is so much I don’t know about the history of the Civil Rights Movement, and it’s high time I found out more


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