John (Marsden) Ehle (Jr.) Paul M. Gaston - Essay

Paul M. Gaston

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

What may lie ahead for Mississippi—and the civil rights movement as a whole—cannot easily be predicted, but John Ehle's superb book, "The Free Men," should be read thoughtfully for clues. Mr. Ehle tells the story of the virtually unreported civil rights turmoil that gripped Chapel Hill, North Carolina, in 1963 and 1964. Home of the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill is famed for its liberalism Southern style, and was an unlikely place for the events described by Mr. Ehle…. [When] a small group of young people, dissatisfied with the "tokenism" which they felt characterized Chapel Hill, launched a movement for total desegregation of all public facilities, the community was unable to cope. There were extraordinary displays of civil disobedience, mass arrests, grossly unfair trials, and imprisonment and exile for the leaders. Intrinsically interesting, the Chapel Hill story is relevant to the rest of the South today for several reasons. One is that a split developed between radicals and liberals, shattering the liberal alliance that had accounted for previous progress in race relations. One wonders if this is a forecast of things to come elsewhere. There are signs that it may be. If so, we need to understand thoroughly the young militants in the forefront today. One of the major virtues of Mr. Ehle's book is the insight it gives into the young radicals who led the Chapel Hill movement. His portrait is certainly one of the most penetrating yet to appear. (pp. 617-18)

Paul M. Gaston, "Speaking for the Negro," in The Virginia Quarterly Review (copyright, 1965, by The Virginia Quarterly Review, The University of Virginia), Vol. 41, No. 4 (Autumn, 1965), pp. 612-18.∗