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Review of To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement

To the Mountaintop: My Journey Through the Civil Rights Movement [New York Times Books]
by Charlayne Hunter-Gault
Middle School, High School  Flash Point/Roaring Brook  195 pp.
1/12    978-1-59643-605-3    $22.99

One of the first two students to successfully desegregate an all-white college in the South looks back at six pivotal years of the U.S. civil rights movement. Charlayne Hunter-Gault weaves her own experience integrating the University of Georgia and the first few years of her writing career into a larger history of the movement, from lunch counter sit-ins in 1960 to the Selma-to-Montgomery march and Voting Rights Act of 1965. The veteran journalist opens with a moving account of her feelings at the inauguration of Barack Obama. Then, year by year, she chronicles events of the early 1960s to tell the story of some of the thousands whose actions paved a way for his election. She goes beyond well-known events to discuss some precursors — a 1946 ruling against segregation on interstate buses, and a 1950s South Carolina voting rights program, for example. Beginning each chapter, and occasionally throughout, are reproductions of partial pages from the New York Times; the book is also illustrated with photographs from the period. The back matter includes the complete texts of the relevant Times stories as well as a timeline. This gracefully written history affirms the importance of the struggle, the difficulties, and the efforts of so many, echoing an Obama campaign statement, “I stand on the shoulders of giants.”

From the January/February 2012 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

About Kathleen T. Isaacs

Kathleen Isaacs is a former middle school teacher.

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