Carry Me Home
will likely be one of the most widely read and hotly discussed books of the year. The scholarship is meticulous, the story-telling is fascinating, and the actual events portrayed are so monumental they deserve everyone's careful attention.
Even the most avid civil rights history buff will find revelations in Carry Me Home. Author Diane McWhorter, a journalist who has written for the New York Times and the Washington Post, grew up in Birmingham and was a member of a prominent country club family. The author's hometown became a crucial battleground in the struggle for equality, and McWhorter looks back almost 30 years later to assess the city's role.
She offers strong evidence that Martin Luther King was not the sole or even the most active leader of the civil rights movement. McWhorter acknowledges that he was certainly the most articulate, but she also recounts his repeated reluctance to participate in, and his early departure from, some of the events with which he was later credited. Many forgotten and deserving civil rights figures step forward. Fred Shuttlesworth, a firebrand Birmingham preacher, emerges as the common sense, we-have-to-keep-going leader. Activist Jim Bevel mobilizes the 1963 jail-filling children's march that effectively propels passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Carry Me Home is also the story of the segregationists. We follow the wealthy white DeBardeleben family from their early union-busting days under patriarch Henry, through their support of Hitler's fascism, and down through the generations to Margaret DeBardeleben Tutwiler, who served in both the Reagan and first Bush administrations, eventually becoming spokesperson for the State Department. We venture inside Klan meetings and through the tangled web of police and FBI collusion in Klan activities.
McWhorter's original motivation was to determine whether her complex, difficult father had participated in the bombings that earned Birmingham the nickname "Bombingham." Throughout the narrative, she intersperses snapshots of her personal life. She tells of attending the Birmingham premiere of To Kill a Mockingbird with her classmates, including Mary Badham, who played Scout in the movie. She writes of "the racial guilt we [privileged white girls] shared in rooting for a Negro man."McWhorter draws on almost 20 years of research to make the reader a participant in both segregationist and movement activities, using actual, almost verbatim recounts by the original participants. Extensive notes give the sources of McWhorter's narrative and include hundreds of documented interviews. McWhorter also read many thousand historical public and private documents. In 1982, her early research landed her on Governor George Wallace's "sissybritches" enemies list.
Carry Me Home is filled with small moments of revelation. For example, Alma Powell, the wife of Secretary of State Colin Powell, is the daughter of R. C. Johnson, former principal of Birmingham's Parker High School. Many of his students participated (without permission) in the children's marches, while he sat outside his home at night with a shotgun, determined to protect his daughter and new baby granddaughter while his son-in-law earned military recognition in Vietnam.
In Carry Me Home you will learn of the early communist versus fascist struggle beneath the racial battleground; you will find out which entertainers supported the civil rights movement; you will read about the sexual blackmail triangle involving J. Edgar Hoover, the Kennedys and Martin Luther King. Almost every page brings a new insight or shock about an era, a place and a movement that changed our nation forever.
Mary Carol Moran's Clear Soul: Metaphors and Meditations (Court Street Press).