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Expert's Picks: Civil Rights

LOST PROPHET: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin, by John D'Emilio (Free Press)

A FIRE YOU CAN'T PUT OUT: The Civil Rights Life of Birmingham's Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, by Andrew M. Manis (Univ. of Alabama)

March to Washington, Lincoln Memorial (1963) (James K,w. Atherton)

A common criticism of social histories is that they obscure the role of exceptional individuals, but the best of such projects highlight the roles of those activists without conventional credentials or resources who made extraordinary contributions to the modern African American freedom struggle. These titles are among the most vivid movement biographies of recent years. Baker and SCLC's Rustin were experienced organizers -- an assertive proto-feminist and an unremorseful homosexual working within organizations that did not welcome either type. They conveyed to often skeptical younger activists the lessons they had learned during the 1930s and 1940s. Manis's biography is an engaging portrait of Birmingham's most significant protest leader.

THE MAKING OF BLACK REVOLUTIONARIES, by James Forman (Univ. of Washington)

RIVER OF NO RETURN: The Autobiography of a Black Militant and the Life and Death of SNCC, by Cleveland Sellers with Robert Terrell (Univ. Press of Mississippi)

WALKING WITH THE WIND: A Memoir of the Movement, by John Lewis with Michael D'Orso (Harvest)

READY FOR REVOLUTION: The Life and Struggle of Stokely Carmichael (Kwame Ture), by Stokely Carmichael with Michael Thelwell (Scribner)

SNCC's internal debates presaged conflicts that divided African Americans as well as Americans of all races. Two books that originally appeared in the early 1970s -- soon after those heated disputes -- are still available. Forman, a former executive secretary of SNCC who died in January, offered a yeasty blend of social history and ideological combat in his book. Sellers, a former student activist and now a professor at the University of South Carolina, presents a similarly representative take on the group's tumultuous history. More recent accounts by SNCC leaders Lewis and Carmichael also replay the internal arguments over the meaning and direction of black power.

SISTERS IN THE STRUGGLE: African-American Women in the Civil Rights and Black Power Movements, edited by Bettye Collier-Thomas and V.P. Franklin (New York Univ.)

DEEP IN OUR HEARTS: Nine White Women in the Freedom Movement, by Constance Curry et al.

(Univ. of Georgia)

SOON WE WILL NOT CRY: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Robinson, by Cynthia Griggs Fleming

(Rowman and Littlefield)

FOR FREEDOM'S SAKE: The Life of Fannie Lou Hamer, by Chana Kai Lee (Univ. of Illinois)

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