Seriously. Before reading Deborah Wiles’ Revolution, what I knew about the Civil Rights movement in Mississippi basically came from the movie “Ghosts of Mississippi.” I did know a bit more about the Civil Rights movement in general–we studied MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in school, I’ve watched a few documentaries on the topic, and there are some excellent Newberys about it (think Christopher Paul Curtis’ The Watsons Go to Birmingham–1963, and Russell Freedman’s The Voice that Challenged a Nation, among others)–but really, I’m from RI and I live in Utah. I know quite a bit more about the local history of those two states, but we never made it much past WWII in school. (Also, when you’re from the Northeast, you can’t really escape the fact that you were squarely on one side during the Civil War, and the South was squarely on the other. A vestige of “us and them” remains.)
Revolution, then, was a bit of an eye-opener for me. I knew it had been bad in the South, and worse in the Deep South, and that the Mississippi Delta definitely qualified as Deep South, but I didn’t know as many details of how bad it had been, and I didn’t know much about how it went from that bad to whatever it is now. (I’ve never lived in Mississippi, so I can’t offer an informed opinion on what it’s like now; I don’t ever expect to live there, either. My hubby and I hate being hot, and I hate the summer sun, so we’ve pretty much marked off the bottom third of the country as “nowhere we need to live.” Give me Alaska, Montana, Michigan, or Maine any day.)
Revolution takes place during the summer of 1964, called Freedom Summer; four major civil rights organizations joined forces that summer to try to register the black population of Mississippi to vote. (At the time, Mississippi was 41% black, but only 5% of that population was registered.) They worked hard, and people responded, but there was also violence and ugliness (predictably). The story that best described the climate in Mississippi to me was that of the three civil rights workers who disappeared on the first day of that summer (two white, one black). The governor suggested that they were just hiding out to cause trouble. LBJ had to threaten J. Edgar Hoover with indirect political retaliation to get him to investigate; the FBI found the trio’s burned-out station wagon almost immediately. It took them 44 days to find the their bodies, but more than a dozen other bodies–all local black citizens–were found during the course of the search.
Like I said. The more you learn, the more disturbed you get.
At any rate, Wiles takes this incredible backdrop and uses it to help tell the story of a blended family struggling to knit itself together. (Revolution is actually the second book in her “Sixties Trilogy;” the first, Countdown, is about the Cuban Missile Crisis. It’s also excellent. Both books are interspersed with pictures, quotes, and documents from the time period. ) It’s hard to say much more than that–you’ll just have to read it for yourself.