Sunday, July 22, 2018

Lighting the Fires of Freedom: African American Women in the Civil Rights Movement


I received a free digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 4 Stars

I loved this book. I could not put it down, for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it is a beautiful living history of so many women who did so much of the hard work to keep the movement going. That does not mean women like Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks are unimportant, it simply means that we are finally learning the names of so many other women who made great contributions to the Civil Rights Movement, who are often overlooked because they did the everyday grunt work, doing what needed to be done.

A second reason why I loved this book so much is that I teach in a school that is predominantly African American. Specifically I teach in a Behavior Skills classroom, which means my class size is smaller and comprised of students who have been diagnosed with an emotional disturbance, sometimes among other disorders as well. These students especially need to see others who look like them, achieving and being successful. I am a firm believer, and research supports this, that children need to see members of both their gender and their race in positions of success as role models, to see just what is possible for someone who looks like them to achieve. HERE is a great article from a couple years ago explaining some of the research. So when I have in my hands a book that showcases some very exceptional women, I know already that it will be useful in my classroom.

To ensure that I am doing what I can to pass on the names of these brave and inspirational woman, I want to list them before delving into the text a little further. Commit them to memory, and learn all you can. Their unique stories are endlessly fascinating not only as African Americans fighting for equal rights regardless of race, but as powerful women making their mark on the movement to show that gender would also not be a factor in holding anyone back. Female leadership was key and it is about time that these women, and I'm sure countless others, were given their due recognition (links go to various articles/websites about each woman):

The author chose these nine women whose experiences in that turbulent time are remarkable for both how similar and different they were. Most of the women are in their 80s now, and to read their stories felt like I was there, part of the conversation. The events they described were so vivid, the fear and the exhilaration all at once, I felt it as I read every single word. Each voice was clear and authentic, it did not feel like the same person speaking, over and over.

I have read my fair share of history told in this format and compiling an oral history seems easy enough on the surface: interview some people and record exactly what they say. Easy, no? Well, not really. The Civil Rights Movement was so huge, with so many working parts, sometimes trying to get everyone to work together so that the movement would 'keep moving' so to speak, could be difficult. The same goes for attempts at oral histories. The parts of the whole have to flow to keep the narrative moving. I think the author has done a fantastic job in piecing together this important history. For me personally there were no lulls, or places where I wished the stories were longer or shorter. It flows well, even as we are given such widely varying perspectives of the time. Though their accomplishments were not the same, the impact of their hard work and dedication will still be felt for many years to come.


  1. Wow! Quite a book, and quite a review!

    1. Thank you for your kindness! I really enjoyed this book and I hope others do as well.


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