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The Integration Fight

June 2024
1min read

A True Story from the Front lines of the Civil Rights Struggle

by Constance Curry , Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill, 290 pages, $21.95 . CODE: ALG-2

A brief introduction, taken from the writings of Alice Walker, sheds light on this book’s slightly mysterious title: Speaking of the civil rights movement, Walker explains, “Older black country people did their best to instill…poetry into this essentially white civil servants’ term…so that what one heard was ‘Silver.’” A bit misleading perhaps. Nothing in this powerful, gripping, and immensely moving account of one family’s attempt to enforce freedom of school choice as guaranteed in the 1964 Civil Rights Act suggests that the stalwart Mae Bertha Carter or her sharecropper husband, Matthew, altered the name of the shield they brandished. As they moved forward to enroll their seven youngest children in the schools of Sunflower County, Mississippi, their epic needed no injection of poetry. It is all there in the details of their own story, told in clean, passionate prose by their long-time friend and ally Constance Curry.

Fighting virtually alone among their neighbors, who feared, justifiably, to take on the Mississippi establishment of 1965, undaunted by the twin threats of bullets and economic disenfranchisement, the Carters saw their children enter the grade and high schools of Drew, Mississippi, and eventually graduate from the state’s once impregnable “Ole Miss.”

Recalling days of misery in her barely integrated grade school, one of Mae Bertha’s daughters says, “Now I know why she told us, ‘You got to stay in school and do your best, because no one is going to give you anything. It’s going to be hard and then it’s going to get harder and you’re going to hang in there.’”

Constance Curry first encountered the Carters in 1966 while working for the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker organization. It is clear that what began as legal and financial support for these beleaguered heroes has developed over the nearly thirty years since into a mutually supportive relationship between Curry and the entire Carter family, from whom she received multifold what she gave. So will the reader.

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