That’s how Library Journal‘s book reviewer Anthony O. Edmonds, George and Frances Ball Distinquished Professor of History at Ball State University, describes reading Eric Etheridge’s Breach of the Peace: Portraits of the 1961 Mississippi Freedom Riders, due out next month from Atlas (dist. by Norton).
Prof. Edmonds sent in his review yesterday, which will be available in next Tuesday’s LJXpress. (In the meantime, check out LJ’s review of Freedom Riders: 1961 and the Struggle for Racial Justice, by Raymond Arsenault.)
Because Martin Luther King was an inspiration for many of the Freedom Riders during that spring and summer 47 years ago, and because Etheridge has produced such a poweful and inspiring book, I wanted to mention it on this sad anniversary day.
The book is powerful not simply in its reminder to us of what the Freedom Riders did, but in its simple approach. Etheridge, a Mississippi native who has worked as an editor at such magazines as Rolling Stone and Harper’s, collected the mug shots of over 300 of those arrested by the Jackson, Mississippi Police Department in 1961, charged with breach of the peace for their breach of persistent segregation in and around interstate transportation facilities in the South.
Etheridge sought to track down all of the Freedom Riders, men and women, black and white who are still alive. About 80 of them are now dead; there are about 140 that he has not yet been able to find. He shows us 84 of those whom he has now found, interviewed and photographed, offering moving counter-images to the mug shots displayed. Under the headings, "Born," "Then," and "Since Then," he offers basic facts. Next to the photographs are words of reminiscence from the rider. For example, Eugene Levine (b. 1926) recalls, "The police saw I was…older than the usual Freedom Rider. I told them I was a veteran–in the 11th Airborne in postwar Japan–and they said, ’We’re going to take you back to your car, and you can go home.’ I told them they were wasting their time…and if they let me go, I would go back to the train station and sit with the blacks." And Wyatt Tee Walker says, "When I first came to Petersburg [VA] as a pastor, I used to carry a gun. I was waiting for some racist to have a confrontation with me so I’d have an excuse to shoot him. And then of course, I met Martin Luther King. I came under his influence and he made me put up my gun."
Etheridge offers extended interviews with some of the riders and simply the mug shots and basic arrest information for those he has not yet found (e.g. "Greyhound May 28 Nashville to Jackson Catherine Burks-Brooks 20909 Nashville, TN — Age 21").
It’s a book we all should read.
And if it inspires you to follow any of the Civil Rights Trail, take On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail, by Charles E. Cobb, Jr. with you.