Through the lives of Diane Nash, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, Bob Zellner, Julian Bond, Marion Barry, John Lewis, and their contemporaries, The Shadows of Youth provides a carefully woven group biography of the activists who—under the banner of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee—challenged the way Americans think about civil rights, politics, and moral obligation in an unjust democracy. A wealth of original sources and oral interviews allows the historian Andrew B. Lewis to recover the sweeping narrative of the civil rights movement, from its origins in the youth culture of the 1950s to the near present.
The teenagers who spontaneously launched sit-ins across the South in the summer of 1960 became the SNCC activists and veterans without whom the civil rights movement could not have succeeded. The Shadows of Youth replaces a story centered on the achievements of Martin Luther King Jr. with one that unearths the cultural currents that turned a disparate group of young adults into, in Nash’s term, skilled freedom fighters. Their dedication to radical democratic possibility was transformative. In the trajectory of their lives, from teenager to adult, is visible the entire arc of the most decisive era of the American civil rights movement, and The Shadows of Youth for the first time establishes the centrality of their achievement in the movement’s accomplishments.
With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis (Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table) revisits the “ragtag band” of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi's principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant “Black Power” movement. The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. “Rap” Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, “No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC,” and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute. (Nov.)