Reviews for Waging a good war : A military history of the Civil Rights Movement, 1954-1968 (Book)

Kirkus
Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

A novel interpretation that conceives of the civil rights movement in terms of a sequence of military campaigns “on carefully chosen ground that eventually led to victory.” As Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Ricks notes, the campaign for civil rights was fought by “a disciplined mass of people [who] waged a concerted, organized struggle in dedication to a cause.” While that campaign was nonviolent, those involved understood that, as Gandhi said, “there is no civil disobedience possible, until the crowds behave like disciplined soldiers.” As with any military operation, this disciplined behavior hinged on extensive training and precise communication. In this regard, it’s no surprise that many early civil rights activists were Black veterans of World War II, returning soldiers who found that they were denied the democratic rights for which they had fought. The Fort Sumter moment of the struggle came during what was conceived as a siege on the Alabama city of Montgomery, with its iconic symbol, Rosa Parks, trained in nonviolent resistance at the Highlander Folk School, “a leftist, pro-labor, racially integrated outpost in the hills of eastern Tennessee.” The most challenging part of that resistance was “declining to counterattack the hoodlums sometimes set upon them,” a refusal to fight back physically that led to revulsion on the part of an electorate watching Bull Connor’s water cannons and police dogs and George Wallace’s defiant White supremacy. Quite simply, Ricks ventures, the Southern police were disarmed by nonviolence, which they had no idea how to counter. An encounter between the sheriff of Selma and defiant future politician John Lewis is emblematic, proving that nonviolent resistance is anything but passive—a matter that, Ricks suggests, modern activists should study as one of the “clear and concrete lessons we can take from [the civil rights movement], especially from its focus on discipline and organization.” A thoughtful contribution to the history of the struggle for civil rights in America. Copyright © Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

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