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This Day in Civil Rights History

By: Horace Randall Williams and Ben Beard
Reviewed by: Nancy Wilstach
NewSouth Books, 2009
$19.95, Paperback

This is the kind of book you CAN put down, but you will pick it up again an hour later, a day later or the next time that blowhard at the office holds forth on what “really happened” in 1965 or 1963 or 1950. Originally published in 2005 by Emmis Books, this paperback edition will help you win arguments, impress friends, and find a launch point for further research.

Some may choose to just start at the beginning and read it day by day for capsules of this nation’s very hard-to-swallow track record on civil rights. Others may flip through for items that grab the attention. The writing is vivid and crisp; the condensed presentation suits today’s limited attention spans. A civics teacher interested in jump-starting classroom discussions would do well to add this book to the reading list.

“Orangeburg Massacre in South Carolina” is the entry for February 8, the day in 1968 when three South Carolina State University students, on a campus lawn, were shot dead by National Guardsmen called in by the governor to help local police stifle protests over racial discrimination in local businesses.

Williams and Beard’s recounting of the September 15, 1963, bombing that killed four girls in Birmingham’s Sixteenth Street Baptist Church chillingly evokes the terror that gripped Alabama’s largest city: “Before the dust from the explosion had settled, riots broke out across the city as news of the tragedy spread…. A city-wide catastrophe loomed.” The authors comment that no other violent segregationist act had aroused greater reaction throughout the country. “The pressure it brought helped change the climate that had supported segregation in the South,” the write.

But there is hope in these pages, too, where so many rise above human frailty and look beyond the dismal horizon: January 13, 1913—“Delta Sigma Theta Formed”; or April 11, 1968—“Civil Rights Act of 1968 Becomes Law”; or (a personal favorite) December 13, 2003—“Strom Thurmond’s Family Acknowledges His Black Child.”

Williams and Beard need to consider re-issuing this book as a desk calendar. It sure beats Cute Kitten of the Day. Oct 2009

Nancy Wilstach is a retired journalist, who reported for newspapers in Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, and Indiana.

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