Voices in Our Blood is a literary anthology of the most important and artful interpretations of the civil rights movement, past and present. It showcases what forty of the nation's best writers - including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright - had to say about the central domestic drama of the American Century. Editor Jon Meacham has chosen pieces by journalists, novelists, historians, and artists, bringing together a wide range of black and white perspectives and experiences. The result is an unprecedented and powerful portrait of the movement's spirit and struggle, told through voices that resonate with passion and strength. Maya Angelou takes us on a poignant journey back to her childhood in the Arkansas of the 1930s. On the front page of The New York Times, James Reston marks the movement's apex as he describes what it was like to watch Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver his heralded "I Have a Dream" speech in real time.
To "give a flavor of what life was like" as the Civil Rights movement played itself out, Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, has assembled "a highly personal anthology" of "the country's best writing on the midcentury crisis." Extending far beyond the decade between Rosa Parks's bold act of resistance to the proprieties of segregation in 1955 and the landmark civil rights bills of 1965, Meacham includes some unexpected works written in the heat of the moment: Tom Wolfe's "wicked portrait of the liberal elite's fascination with the Black Panthers," Alex Haley's Playboy interview with Malcolm X and Howell Raines's memoir of his family's complex relationship with their black housekeeper. The pieces range broadly, from "the fissures between the young and the old within the black community" in the late 1950s (embodied in the relationship between Stokely Carmichael and John Kaspar), to the "cornucopia of discontent" afflicting "blacks in the 1980s and 1990s" as rendered by Ellis Cose. Mixing the work of artists and journalists, including Rebecca West, Taylor Branch, William Styron, Eudora Welty, Stanley Crouch, Elizabeth Hardwick, Alice Walker, Hodding Carter and Richard Wright, this compilation is a useful resource for tracking the daily realities of civil rights struggles. Meacham captures the movement's "complications behind the public spectacle" with immediacy, driving home the point that black and white citizens of the U.S. remain "connected by a common heritage, yet hopelessly divided by skin color." (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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January 06, 2003
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Excerpt from Voices in Our Blood by Jon Meacham
One day in 1957, in Paris, Willie Morris, then a 22-year-old Rhodes scholar, got hold of Richard Wright's Left Bank telephone number. They had both grown up in Mississippi; on the phone, Morris, a descendant of the first territorial governor of the state, told Wright, the son of an illiterate sharecropper, that he was a white Yazoo City boy. "You're from Yazoo?" said Wright, who had expatriated himself to Europe ten years before. "Well, come on over." They went out to an Arab bar and, in Morris's recollection, "got a little drunk together, and talked about the place we had both known. I asked him, 'Will you ever come back to America?' " "No," the novelist said. "I want my children to grow up as human beings." After a time, Morris remembered, "a silence fell between us, like an immense pain -- or maybe it was my imagining."
And so there they sat on that awkward, liquid evening, two gifted writers, connected by a common heritage yet hopelessly divided by skin color. Fortunately for the rest of us, what could not be said could be written. "What had I got out of living in America?" Wright mused in his 1945 memoir Black Boy, recalling the beginning of his instinct to write his life. "Yes, the whites were as miserable as their black victims. If this country can't find its way to a human path, if it can't inform conduct with a deep sense of life, then all of us, black as well as white, are going down the same drain.... I picked up a pencil and held it over a sheet of white paper.... I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all, to keep alive in our hearts a sense of the inexpressibly human."