Monday, September 22, 2014

Review: Black and White: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene "Bull" Conner

Larry Dane Brimner. Honesdale: Calkins Creek, 2011. 114 pp.
Rating: Striking + 5 Scoops

The March on Birmingham evokes images of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. leading thousands of people through the streets of a 1960's Birmingham, Alabama. Huge dogs barely contained by the law enforcement officials to whom they are entrusted. Fire hoses drawn, aimed, and shotfiring torrents of throbbing, rushing water into the crowd hurtling protesters several feet through the air, and chaos run amuck. Seldom, if ever, does Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth spring to mind. Though I grew up in the birthplace of the Civil Rights Movement, Montgomery, Alabama, before reading Black & White, I had never heard of Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth. Like many of you, I depended on the public school system to teach me all I needed to know of the the Civil Rights Movement and its leaders. However, had it not been for Fred Shuttlesworth, desegregation in Birmingham may have been months or even years away.

Raised in a home without running water or electricity, the notion of becoming a preacher struck Fred, the oldest of nine children, at an early age. After graduating near the top of his class, Fred began working with a group of doctors sterilizing needles. There he would meet his wife, Ruby. After moving his family to Mobile, Alabama, for better job opportunities, Fred joined Corinthian Baptist Church and soon began subbing for the pastor during his absence. Believing that he would impact multiple lives, Fred sought formal biblical training, earned a teaching degree, as well as, obtained a pastorate. Never one to be tolerant of inaction, Fred espoused a holistic philosophy blending an individual's spiritual needs with responsible citizenship, forming an inseparable mixture permanently severing all ties of either entity operating independent of the other.

Unlike Fred, Eugene "Bull" Connor, devoted himself to maintaining the prevailing social norms that had been dictating southern culture for generations. He possessed no qualms in resorting to volatile actions to put an end to the political agitation for racial equality. Frustrated by Fred's mission to upend Birmingham's social order, Bull vowed to stop Fred at all cost. Refusing to yield or even acknowledge the city's growing civil unrest led to his undoing.

Black & White offers short biographies of both Fred Shuttlesworth and Bull Connor, then details the events leading to the culmination of the March on Birmingham; and ultimately, city-wide desegregation. Black & White is a must-have for home, classroom, school, and public libraries.

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