The Children

The Children

Book - 1998
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Baker & Taylor
Chronicles the America's civil rights movement through the lives of some young people--known as the "Children"--whose courage changed the course of history

Blackwell North Amer
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.

& Taylor

The Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Best and the Brightest chronicles the history of America's civil rights movement through the lives of some of the young people--known as the "Children"--who became early revolutionaries and whose courage changed the course of history. 125,000 first printing. Tour.

Publisher: New York : Random House, c1998
Edition: 1st ed
ISBN: 9780679415619
Branch Call Number: 323.1196 HAL
Characteristics: 783 p. ; illus. (photos) ; 24 cm


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Sep 19, 2011

This hefty work (719 pages, 88 chapters) is intimidating and it took me awhile to decide to commit to reading it. However, once I began reading, I found the book to be gripping, intense, and well-written. This is important American history and I encourage you to read it.

The author follows some of the college-age students who were involved in the sit-ins in the early 60s that were efforts to integrate various establishments in the South. Halberstam was a reporter then and was involved in covering the story but he does more than reiterate old news reports. He picks out a handful of activists and talks about them in depth throughout the book including their families and background, their educations, their decisions to become activists, their personal experiences during the sit-ins & marches, their reactio to being jailed, some aspects of their personal lives and lastly, he brings us up to date on what happened to those individuals after their involvement in the Movement ended. Some of the individuals he follows closely in the book are John Lewis, Marion Berry, Jim Lawson, Diane Nash, James Bevel, and Rodney Powell. These activists interacted with some of the older civil rights leaders – Martin Luther King Jr, Medgar Evers, Andrew Young, Jesse Jackson, Roy Wilkins, Julian Bond, and A. Phillip Randolph and others. The book is excellent at making you feel connected to the activists and leads the reader to an understanding of their political philosophy, strategy, and activism.

In addition, Halberstam writes at length about the role of the church in the early civil rights movement – why that involvement was so strong initially and why it was later diluted. He talks about the development of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the tensions between that organization and the older pastor-run organization of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC). An exploration of the history of dissension within the ranks of SNCC is discussed; many passionately disagreed with the organization’s eventual decision to exclude white activists from their organization. He explains why Nashville was so instrumental in the history of sit-ins and includes discussion of the lengthy training the Nashville activists underwent on non-violence. Non-violence was a strategy for the sit-ins but also a way of life for many of the activists who were deeply inspired by Mohandas Gandhi. The author also discusses the power of the media, especially television, to bring the message of protesting racism to Congress, the president & his administration, and the rest of America.

My one criticism is the title. The activists that Halberstam describes so comprehensively were college-aged, not children. Although high school and middle school students and even younger children later became involved in marches & school desegreation, the leaders he writes about in this book were generally in their 20s. So calling them “The Children” seemed patronizing and demeaning (especially given the history in the South of calling adult African Americans by their first name only or even “uncle” or “auntie”). Perhaps the author was copying Kelly Miller Smith, one of the pastors who repeatedly referred to the activists as children to his older, more conservative congregation. The pastor was reminding the assemblage that the activists were very young to be taking the risks they were taking, and that they were children not unlike the children of the congregation members so they should support them and honor them. We should all honor these brave activists who risked their lives for equal rights. They were incredibly brave, determined, and powerful.


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