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The Shadows of Youth
The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

by Andrew B. Lewis


For many of us the Civil Rights movement is epitomized by Martin Luther King, Jr. It is unfortunate that we seldom recall the contributions and sacrifices made by young men and women whose names and accomplishments are overlooked in standard accounts of the 1950s and 1960s. Andrew B Lewis’s book goes a long way toward correcting that oversight.

The Shadows of Youth covers the early years of the movement, before the average American realized there was a movement. College students Diane Nash, Julian Bond, and Marion Barry, among others, were the tip of the iceberg. Around the country, and particularly in the southern states where Jim Crow still ruled, kids—black and white—were breaking out of the traditional mindset. They refused to accept the status quo, and with the courage found only in youth, they took action.

Wiser minds would have predicted that impetuous protests and spontaneous sit-ins were doomed to failure. Had older activists like Martin Luther King, Jr. been in charge, plans for those events might still be in the works today.  As Lewis’s subjects remind us often within the pages of this book, it is only in hindsight that we see the passion-fueled strategies behind the improbable but significant progress made by the Student Nonviolent Coordination Committee and other grass-roots organizations. As an example: Years of negotiation, lobbying, and business-as-usual politics had resulted in negligible improvements in civil rights. One of the biggest steps toward equal rights occurred when Diane Nash, a Fisk student, impulsively pushed Nashville’s mayor, Ben West, to declare publicly that he thought lunch counters should be desegregated.

Lewis lays out the story of these bright and courageous students in The Shadows of Youth. Drawing on an impressive list of publications as well as interviews with five of the key players in the movement, he describes events and personalities that were little known at the time and are almost forgotten now. Beyond Birmingham and Montgomery, thousands of activists led sit-ins, marches, and Freedom Rides that ultimately gained the attention of the world and forced white Americans to take an honest look at ourselves. There isn’t room in a single book to cover the efforts of every individual who contributed, but Lewis’s well-researched work provides insight into the brief and turbulent years that turned America upside down and shook out the truth.

The Book

Hill and Wang / Macmillian
October 27, 2009
0809085984 / 978-0809085989
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The Reviewer

Deborah Adams
Reviewed 2009
NOTE: Reviewer Deborah Adams is the Flair and Macavity Award winning author of the Jesus Creek Mystery Series: All The Great Pretenders, All The Crazy Winters, All The Dark Disguises, All The Hungry Mothers, All The Deadly Beloved, All The Blood Relations, and All The Dirty Cowards. She was also an Agatha Award nominee for Best First Novel.
© 2009