By Rachel Walman
How did the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s affect Americans in different parts of the country? That’s the question we’ll tackle this Sunday, March 8 from 2–4pm during our Reading into History family book club meeting.
Join us here at the New-York Historical Society with author Rita Williams-Garcia to discuss her book, One Crazy Summer, the Reading into History family book club pick of the month. This decorated children’s book follows three sisters on a funny, poignant, and historical journey to visit their estranged mother in Oakland, California, in 1968. After discussion, we’ll all visit the exhibition Freedom Journey 1965: Photographs of the Selma to Montgomery March by Stephen Somerstein. Through the book and the exhibition, we’ll compare and contrast Selma and Oakland, Dr. Martin Luther King and the Black Panthers, civil disobedience and armed action.
We’re exploring different aspects of the struggle for African Americans’ civil rights at a crucial moment. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Selma to Montgomery marches— historic, non-violent protests against policies and practices that kept African Americans from voting. The first day of the march, March 7, 1965, was later dubbed “Bloody Sunday” for the tragic turn it took. As 600 marchers approached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, just six blocks from their starting point, all-white local and state police forces brutally attacked them with nightsticks and tear gas. After another symbolic march to the bridge two days later, President Lyndon B. Johnson sent in federal troops for protection, allowing the now 3,200 marchers to recommence their five-day, 54-mile journey on March 21, 1965. We’ll get to see images from the final day of the historic march currently on view.
Before heading to the gallery, we’ll discuss the approach the Black Panther Party took to fighting for racial equality. The Black Panther Party’s principles conflicted with the non-violent, civil disobedience-focused activism of Martin Luther King, Jr., who was a leader of Selma protest. They were a major force in California and across the U.S., were influenced by Socialism, and believed in armed self-defense. They garnered support by establishing community programs in cities across the country, including free breakfasts for youths in need, and also garnered a lot of criticism and sometimes violent resistance. If you know more, or want to, come share your thoughts at Sunday’s meeting!
We asked Rita Williams-Garcia to share her thoughts on her life and her book before we all get together. Read her wonderful words and join us for Sunday’s event.
What made you want to write One Crazy Summer?
I wrote One Crazy Summer because I wanted to share the times I lived through with my readers. I didn’t attend a Black Panther summer program, but I did get a sickle cell anemia testing, courtesy of the Black Panthers and had a free breakfast or two as well. The Black Panthers were militant, but who would have thought they also served children in their communities? I found that interesting and wanted to share that through three characters I hoped would be memorable to readers.
What were you like between the ages of 9 and 12?
I was part nerd, tomboy, and daydreamer. I was that kid who couldn’t keep her hand down when the teacher asked a question. I grew up on army bases and their surrounding towns where the great outdoors was a big part of an army brat’s life. There was always dodge ball, baseball, kickball, tetherball, relay races, and so many other physical activities. I played my heart out, and when I got tired I went off to daydream. I kept a diary and still have my very first lock and key diary. I was always reading and writing.
What is your favorite time period in American history? Why?
There was nothing like the 1960s! I knew I’d write about that period because I grew up during that time and remember so many historical events. It was a time of constant change. I was in the first grade when President John F. Kennedy was assassinated. I remember the Gemini space missions. Shortly after he returned from Vietnam, my father took us to Monterey Airport to hear Senator Robert F. Kennedy when he was campaigning for the Democratic presidential nomination. I remember seeing the Black Panthers take center stage with their strong, militant talk. My mother even claimed to have been a Black Panther, although that wasn’t true! She was a Joan Baez loving hippie! The music of the 1960s is still good today.
What 3 words best describe One Crazy Summer?
Sisters, Mother, Power!
The Reading into History family book club is supported by a grant from the New York Council for the Humanities. Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this blog post and/or in Reading into History programs do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.