This novel portrays the outer and inner worlds of two young women growing up in Birmingham, Alabama when it became the flashpoint of the Civil Rights Movement. The chapters contain subsections that alternate the consciousnesses of Letitia and Martha Ann, one black, one white, as they process the momentous changes that are going on in their city. Of course, Birmingham is two cities: one black, one white, with minimal interaction until the spring of 1963.
Part One, titled “The Civil Rights Years,” is by far the longest section, spanning the period of the girls’ high school years and their first two years of college. The first couple of years are the most action-packed, as they follow the major historical events. Ms. Turner artfully combines the growing up of her fictional characters with the Birmingham-centered actions of the important movement leaders: Dr. Martin Luther King, Rev. Abernathy, Rev. Shuttlesworth, and the firebrand Rev. Bevel.
Letitia, who participates in the Children’s March, at first only learns how to be angry. Her experience of being assaulted by the harsh streams from fire hoses used for crowd control leads her to back off from active participation while struggling with her growing anger. Typically, she had been protected from the realities of racial injustice by her parents and grandmother. Embraced inside of her black community, until the movement shook up Birmingham she had little awareness about how bad things were.
While her friend Mae is committed to attending the superficially integrated University of Alabama, Letitia sees herself as helping the black community by attending Miles, the local black college and then teaching in the black schools. Her counterpart, Martha Ann, also becomes a teacher.
Ironically, a year after college graduation this child of a racist father is assigned to a black school. She is the only white teacher there, and she quickly learns what it’s like to be a minority non-person. The black woman who does housekeeping chores for Martha Ann’s mother is Letitia’s mother, but the families have had no meaningful connection – or even recognition.
The author does a fine job of setting Letitia and Martha Ann into richly described families and exploring the dynamics within each family. Letitia’s father is a fine man, but he doesn’t want to make waves. He knows his paycheck depends on keeping a low profile and excepting the status quo. Through his outlook, and in many other ways, Ms. Turner examines the enormous power of sheer inertia. How can small numbers of people counteract that inertia?
To read the entire review, click here: April Read of the Month: “March with Me,” by Rosalie T. Turner