Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement

Article excerpt

Foot Soldiers for Democracy: The Men, Women, and Children of the Birmingham Civil Rights Movement. Edited by Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley. Birmingham Civil Rights Institute Oral History Project. (Urbana and Chicago: University of Illinois Press, c. 2009. Pp. [xxxviii], 222. Paper, $25.00, ISBN 978-0-252-07668-8; cloth, $75.00, ISBN 978-0-252-03478-7.)

Birmingham's "big events" have long occupied an important place in both scholarly and popular narratives of the civil rights movement. While recent scholarship has made clear the importance of local leaders like Fred Shuttlesworth, homegrown organizations such as the Alabama Christian Movement for Human Rights, and local political developments to Birmingham's civil rights history, we really know very little about the thousands of activists, many of them young people, who built the black freedom struggle in Birmingham and who propelled the city and the racial problems it symbolized into national consciousness in the early 1960s. Horace Huntley and John W. McKerley's collection of oral history interviews is a valuable resource for scholars, students, teachers, and members of the general public who want to better understand black Birmingham communities and community activism across class, gender, and age.

The interviews offer details about the rived experiences of the city's African American population from the early twentieth century to the 1970s. We learn about migration patterns, family life, childhood, work, and school opportunities-and how blacks felt about those opportunities or the lack thereof. We see local blacks' experiences with racism and segregation, how activists came to be involved in the movement, and what they thought about particular events, strategies, and people commonly or not so commonly associated with movement history. The interviews capture how activists compared their own experiences and feelings with those of their parents and peers and with popular memories of the movement. They also identify how black residents saw Birmingham, not just as a site of racial intimidation and violence but also as their city--a place where they built strong if not always unified communities. …