Review of My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement

My Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights MovementMy Selma: True Stories of a Southern Childhood at the Height of the Civil Rights Movement
by Willie Mae Brown
Middle School    Farrar    240 pp.
1/23    9780374390235    $16.99
e-book ed.  9780374390242    $9.99

Brown, an artist and storyteller, grew up in Selma, Alabama, in the 1950s and 1960s. In her memoir in stories, she focuses on remembrances of 1965 when she was twelve and living through pivotal events of the civil rights movement. Vivid sensory language is the book’s great strength. The titular story is a beautiful evocation of time and place: “My Selma was a place that emitted the rich, clean odor of black dirt and sour clay, that smelled of sage and pork sausages, ham, and biscuits…blowing through dew-covered Johnson grass and across foggy highways at five a.m. on any morning.” Other stories read more like family tales told around a supper table, contributing to an overall warm narrative about the great beauty and joy that coexisted with the ugliness and pain of racism. Brown’s twelve stories confront the prejudice her family faced when moving into a mostly white neighborhood, being called the n-word (spelled out in the book) for the first time, and the terror when white men tried to break into her house. Through it all came a rising protest, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and hundreds of frustrated and angry residents converged at the Brown Chapel Church and the iconic march from Selma to Montgomery began. In her afterword, Brown says that “hope is in the telling,” and her stories offer a strong voice still needed in the ongoing struggle for justice. An excellent match with Elizabeth Partridge’s Marching for Freedom (rev. 11/09).

From the January/February 2023 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

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