I read somewhere recently, if you want to really re-experience a past event in your life, listen to some music from that era. I know whenever I hear Happy Birthday Sweet 16 *, I’m immediately transported back in time to my sixteen-year-old self.
Recently I read a book that did the same thing. It took me back to the 1960s with all the dreams and hopes that I, and many others, had for the future. Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson tells the stories of “the unsung heroines of the Civil Rights Movement from 1830 to 1970”.**
She talks about the fact that most people, when they think about slavery, the Civil War, Negro, Black or African-American people standing up for their rights, think of men. There’s Nat Turner, Frederick Douglas, Booker T. Washington, Martin Luther King, Julian Bond and Maynard Jackson to name just a few.
Very few books have been written about what women did, the risks they took, the boycotts they organized, the sit-ins they participated in and the many, many times they were beaten, arrested and sent to jail.
Freedom’s Daughters tells the stories of more than 60 of these women. There are the ones we all know about like Eleanor Roosevelt, Marian Anderson, Mary McLeod Bethune, Rosa Parks, Fannie Lou Hammer and Eleanor Holmes Norton. But how about Pauli Murray, who on April 22, 1944, organized and led a group of 50 Howard University students to sit in at Thompson’s Cafeteria in downtown Washington, D.C.?
Have you heard about Diane Nash, who as a student at Fisk University, in 1960, led a successful sit-in of the lunch counters in Nashville, Tennessee? She went on to become a leader of the Freedom Riders, co-founded SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) and helped organize the Selma Voting Rights Movement.
Does the name Penny Patch ring a bell? As a white Swarthmore student, she sat in at a segregated Pennsylvania roller skating rink and at whites’ only restaurants on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. She was arrested, spent the weekends in jail and then returned to class on Monday mornings.
Freedom’s Daughters tells their stories as well as many others. The book jerks you back to the past and puts you in the moment so powerfully that it’s almost impossible to put it down before you’ve read the last sentence.
* Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen, music by Neil Sedaka, lyrics by Howard Greenfield, 1961
** Freedom’s Daughters by Lynne Olson, Copyright 2001, A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon & Shuster