Don't know much about the Civil Rights Movement? You're not alone. According to a Southern Poverty Law Center, only 2 percent of American high school seniors were able to answer a simple question regarding the existence of school segregation in this country prior to 1954. Sixteen states do not require any instruction at all on the 1950s and 1960s movement that provoked a radical transformation in this nation's laws and treatment of black Americans.
As we commemorate Martin Luther King Jr. Day on Jan. 20, take some time to learn more about the people who risked their lives for change and the events that shook the nation into action. The Beaufort County Library System has books and films to help you brush up on the history you may have missed in school.
For a good introduction to the Civil Rights Movement â€" without the dedication required for Taylor Branch's highly celebrated but massive "America in the King Years" trilogy (which includes the titles "Parting the Waters," "Pillar of Fire" and "At Canaan's Edge") â€" check out Henry Hampton's "Voices of Freedom." Hampton's team conducted some thousand interviews with those directly involved with and affected by the Civil Rights Movement and assembled them into a highly readable and interesting book that spans three decades, with each chapter dedicated to a major event. The accompanying PBS series "Eyes on the Prize" can be checked out on DVD.
Pulitzer Prize-winning "Carry Me Home," by Diane McWhorter, delves deep into the institutionalized and often violent racism prevalent in Birmingham, Ala., where four young black girls were killed in a church bombing in 1963. Lynne Olson's "Freedom's Daughters" focuses attention on little-known women in this country who fought for racial equality from the pre-Civil War period to the mid-1900s.
If you plan on doing any traveling throughout the South, "On the Road to Freedom: A Guided Tour of the Civil Rights Trail," by Charles E. Cobb Jr., will lead you through the sites, including many in the Lowcountry and Savannah area, that helped define the movement.
Perhaps the best way to celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. is to read his own words in his own voice. Check out "Strength to Love" and "Why We Can't Wait" for some of King's most well-known writings and sermons. "The Autobiography of Martin Luther King Jr.," a collection of autobiographical writings compiled and edited after King's assassination in 1968, offers an insightful portrait of King's life and the movement he helped to spur. To hear King's voice and other major speeches and news events, check out "We Shall Overcome," by Herb Boyd, which contains two audio CDs along with an informative illustrated book.
Film buffs (or book haters) may enjoy brushing up on their Civil Rights history with inspirational, gripping and heart-rending movies such as "The Secret Life of Bees," "Malcolm X," "Glory Road," "In the Heat of the Night," "To Kill a Mockingbird," "A Raisin in the Sun," "Ghosts of Mississippi" and "The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman."
Whether for learning or leisure, the library is your place to go for essential civil rights books and films. Please remember, all library branches will be closed on Jan. 20 in honor of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.
Bratton DeLoach is a reference librarian at the Bluffton library.