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April 24, 2007


Wow Sara, thanks for the Post.

thanks for this story.

there is so much information now that i "forget to remember" as the media wheel turns round and round, decade after decade.

wow, thanks for the remembrance. Hope he did do enough to get a book out on it -- perhaps with your help?

It looks like his last book, already in Galley form and ready for pub in Steptember, was on the Korean War. No, he wanted to do more than a memoir on the Civil Rights Movement. Remember, he covered things in the late 50's and first few years of the 60's -- after about 1963 he was with the NYTimes as a foreign correspondant, which led him to Nam, but only after the wars of independence in the Congo, South Africa, and several other postings.

Halberstam's period covering the Civil Rights Movement is somewhat different from what ultimately attracted national attention. His work is framed by Brown v. Board which came down in 1954, with the "all deliberate speed" remedy in 1955. Then he covered the sham trial of the murderers of Emmett Till, the Montegomery Bus Boycott in late 55 till late 1956, which was followed by Little Rock in 57. After Little Rock, things were fairly quiet till Spring of 1960 when the Sit-in's exploded. In organizational terms, Brown was the end result of a legal strategy Thurgood Marshall and NAACP had been committed to since the 1930's. Marshall worked on hundreds of cases to find just the right ones that would result in overturning Plessey (seperate but equal??). The Bus Boycott was about whether the Federal courts would extend the theory behind Brown to public services such as a local exclusive Bus Franchise, (yep) and Little Rock was a test of whether Eisenhower would enforce a Supreme Court Order -- didn't like it much, but he sent the 101 Airborne. But between 57 and 60 the quiet was about strategy and planning, and a below the radar competition between Marshall's legal strategy backed by NAACP, and King's new SCLC, made up of Preachers and rooted in Churches. When the sit-in's began they were as much a challenge to the leadership competition and debates about the way forward as they were with dime store operators. SNCC quickly became a mass movement, not centered in any existing institutional structure, and it was highly participatory. Halberstam covered enough meetings, conferences, forums, etc., between 57 and 60 to know and be able to report not only events, but the much more obtuse and buried debates, and he was one of the few Civil Rights reporters with that kind of depth. Many competent reporters could cover the eventual marches and demonstrations -- covering the preliminary planning was quite a different matter. His reportage was syndicated -- meaning that my little college paper carried it. He free-lanced for New Republic and The Nation and other Liberal and Progressive journals, so as white liberals and progressives connected to what would become the movement, Halberstam's reporting was highly significant. The impact he had as a result of his work in Vietnam with a different audience was presaged in many ways through his work on Civil Rights. As we critique the MSM and many contemporary journalists and media corporations, it is important to examine those who "did it well" and made a difference.

Thanks Sara!

I just went and ordered "The Children" and "Best and the Brightest" from Amazon. What a tragic loss.

Let's hope you are right. This is so fascinating.

This piece sounds too much like special pleading. SNCC was important, but not as important at Jim Lawson, the "children", the Nashville sit-in, the Freedom Riders (most of whom were "children" (and one of my professors) and the spiritual leadership of the early civil rights movement. The writer is proud of his sources and is essentially criticizing Halberstam for not telling the whole story. I think that Halberstam teased with the whole story and ended up with a smaller story. Halberstam was not competing with Taylor Branch, the gold standard for most Civil Rights history. The fact that the author uses Taylor Branch as the standard betrays animus. The Children was not Halberstam's best book. It could have been better. It was a way of recycling his early experience as a reporter where history was happening. It was also a vehicle for reminding America of a story that it is eager to forget. The writer would much rather attack the dead than pick up the flag.

Hi. Some of us bloggers are thinking of doing a blog book club for the summertime and using Halberstam's The Children. We'd get together in a chat room (probably Skype since that's free and doesn't require special equipment) and talk about the book somehow, sometime in August. Would you be interested in participating as one of the "sponsors," so to speak? Just to post on your blog so your readers could participate. I and one other blogger are all lined up, but I'd like to have at least four, maybe as many as six. Let me know by email. Thanks.

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