Voices of Freedom

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Billed as a companion to the public television series EYES ON THE PRIZE, VOICES OF FREEDOM can easily stand on its own. The book is a written transcript of all the interviews that make up the television series, as well as those that were left on the cutting room floor as a result of time constraints.

In the preface, Henry Hampton states that the purpose of the book and the series is to “capture the American civil rights movement in the voices of those who were there, and thereby give ... some idea of the raging torrents that had engulfed America in the fifties, sixties, and seventies and that came to be known as the civil rights and black consciousness movements.” VOICES OF FREEDOM is overwhelmingly successful in achieving its purpose.

The book is divided into sections, each centered on a key event in the thirty-year period, such as the Montgomery bus boycott in 1955-1956 or the Detroit riots of 1968. Each section is prefaced by a description of the atmosphere at the time, and a brief biography precedes each interviewee’s statement. Participants recount their experiences with civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, the Black Panthers, and Stokely Carmichael, and their often-violent encounters with opposition.

One of the strongest reactions this book generates is shock, at the level of the brutality and the courage with which people faced that brutality. The hostility generated by the Freedom Rides, for example, seems beyond comprehension; how could the prospect of an African American sitting at the front of the bus induce someone to kill?

VOICES OF FREEDOM also brings to light some interesting historical points, such as the initial role of African American World War II veterans, who, having returned from fighting for their country, were no longer willing to accept their second- class status. The book, however, does not claim to be a comprehensive history of the civil rights movement; rather, it styles itself as a “collection of stories ... which illuminate one or more themes of the continuing struggle for freedom.” Included at the back of the book is an excellent bibliography for those interested in pursuing the subject. This book will certainly inspire many to do so.