Voices in Our Blood: America's Best on the Civil Rights Movement share button
Jon Meacham
Format Paperback
Dimensions 6.16 (w) x 9.21 (h) x 1.27 (d)
Pages 576
Publisher Random House Publishing Group
Publication Date January 2003
ISBN 9780375758812
Book ISBN 10 037575881X
About Book

Voices in Our Blood is a literary anthology of the most important and artful interpretations of the civil rights movement, past and present. It showcases what forty of the nation's best writers — including Maya Angelou, James Baldwin, Ralph Ellison, William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, Alice Walker, Robert Penn Warren, Eudora Welty, and Richard Wright — had to say about the central domestic drama of the American Century.

Editor Jon Meacham has chosen pieces by journalists, novelists, historians, and artists, bringing together a wide range of black and white perspectives and experiences. The result is an unprecedented and powerful portrait of the movement's spirit and struggle, told through voices that resonate with passion and strength.

Maya Angelou takes us on a poignant journey back to her childhood in the Arkansas of the 1930s. On the front page of The New York Times, James Reston marks the movement's apex as he describes what it was like to watch Martin Luther King, Jr., deliver his heralded "I Have a Dream" speech in real time. Alice Walker takes up the movement's progress a decade later in her article "Choosing to Stay at Home: Ten Years After the March on Washington." And John Lewis chronicles the unimaginable courage of the ordinary African Americans who challenged the prevailing order, paid for it in blood and tears, and justly triumphed.

Voices in Our Blood is a compelling look at the movement as it actually happened, from the days leading up to World War II to the anxieties and ambiguities of this new century. The story of race in America is a never-ending one, and Voices in Our Blood tells us how we got this far—and how far we still have to go to reach the Promised Land.


From Barnes & Noble

The Barnes & Noble Review
Here is the contemporaneous record of the civil rights movement, profound and historic events captured by great writers as they happened. Voices in Our Blood, the first anthology of its kind, collects standout essays and reportage by Ralph Ellison, David Halberstam, Maya Angelou, Robert Penn Warren, Richard Wright, and many others. Several decades later, the movement's success may seem preordained; but these compelling pieces attest to just how volatile the debate was and how precarious the balance -- and how important the issues remain.

In Voices in Our Blood, Newsweek managing editor John Meacham accurately samples the complexity of the civil rights movement's underlying themes, assembling an impressive, eclectic array of commentary, journalism, and interviews. Here is a running narrative of America's deep midcentury moral crisis, as recorded by the era's finest writers. In his stirring introduction, Meacham quotes Richard Wright's prophetic 1945 statement regarding the abolition of legalized segregation: "If this country can't find its way to a human path, if it can't inform conduct with a deep sense of life, then all of us, black as well as white, are going down the same drain."

Jim Crow, while a reality for black Americans, was peripheral to post-WWII white Americans, who were more intent on pursuing prosperity than tackling racial discrimination and answering the "Negro Question." Many black and white contemporary thinkers, though, pushed the nation's social conscience, and their brilliantly written reportage and commentary fills Voices in Our Blood. Meacham's anthology illuminates the human lives at risk, as well as the broader cultural and philosophical aspects of the struggle.

The collection is both a literary delight and a documentation of racism's pervading poisons. Willie Morris's North Toward Home (1967) peers behind a small Mississippi town's façade of normality, exposing the legalized apartheid and soul-warping prejudice that define life and its parameters. For Maya Angelou, in passages excerpted from 1970's I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, poverty and racism become almost living entities in her Arkansas childhood. Meanwhile, James Baldwin eloquently and poetically describes the bitter toll exacted by prejudice and denied opportunity on a black Harlemite in Notes of a Native Son. A stellar (surprise) inclusion is Rebecca West's 1947 article "Opera in Greenville," detailing the racial killing of a black man in South Carolina and its terrifying aftermath.

In these and many other selections, Meacham ably captures the civil rights movement in motion, balanced between hope and despair. And ever for the oppressor, the ultimate price of inequality is high. As novelist William Faulkner poignantly asks (of his fellow white southerners), "Why didn't someone tell us this before? Tell us this in time?" (Robert Fleming)

Robert Fleming is the author of many books, most recently The African-American Writer's Handbook: How to Get in Print and Stay in Print. He is also a contributor to Brown Sugar: A Collection of Erotic Black Fiction. Mr. Fleming lives in New York City

Black Issues Book Review

Without question, the civil rights movement was one of the most significant periods in American history. Meacham’s new book, which pays homage to the period, is a compilation of work spotlighting some of the nation’s most powerful and vociferous writers and journalists.

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly

To "give a flavor of what life was like" as the Civil Rights movement played itself out, Meacham, the managing editor of Newsweek, has assembled "a highly personal anthology" of "the country's best writing on the midcentury crisis." Extending far beyond the decade between Rosa Parks's bold act of resistance to the proprieties of segregation in 1955 and the landmark civil rights bills of 1965, Meacham includes some unexpected works written in the heat of the moment: Tom Wolfe's "wicked portrait of the liberal elite's fascination with the Black Panthers," Alex Haley's Playboy interview with Malcolm X and Howell Raines's memoir of his family's complex relationship with their black housekeeper. The pieces range broadly, from "the fissures between the young and the old within the black community" in the late 1950s (embodied in the relationship between Stokely Carmichael and John Kaspar), to the "cornucopia of discontent" afflicting "blacks in the 1980s and 1990s" as rendered by Ellis Cose. Mixing the work of artists and journalists, including Rebecca West, Taylor Branch, William Styron, Eudora Welty, Stanley Crouch, Elizabeth Hardwick, Alice Walker, Hodding Carter and Richard Wright, this compilation is a useful resource for tracking the daily realities of civil rights struggles. Meacham captures the movement's "complications behind the public spectacle" with immediacy, driving home the point that black and white citizens of the U.S. remain "connected by a common heritage, yet hopelessly divided by skin color." (Jan.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.


It's no exaggeration to say "America's best" in the subtitle: Robert Penn Warren, David Halberstam, Maya Angelou, Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Willie Morris, William Styron, Eudora Welty, William Faulkner, Alice Walker, Walker Percy—and more! My hesitation is for YA readers because this is a large collection (561 pages) and the print is not large by any means. Nevertheless, students could read portions, especially since the book is divided into four chronological blocks. A student could focus on any of the periods: just before the movement, as it starts, as it culminates, and as it ebbs. The editing is momentous. What to choose from so much literature? Some pieces are articles from such icons as The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly. Most are excerpts taken from larger works: for instance, from Parting the Waters, the prize-winning biography of MLK by Taylor Branch, is a description of King speaking about "the bus situation in Montgomery" to people gathered in a church after Rosa Parks has been arrested. An excerpt from Congressman John Louis's autobiography Walking with the Wind is included—"Bloody Sunday" about the march on Selma. Even though some of the writers are best known for their fiction (William Faulkner, Eudora Welty), their work chosen for this collection is nonfiction. Each selection is remarkable in its own way, and the anthology as a whole is a formidable reading project. KLIATT Codes: SA*—Exceptional book, recommended for senior high school students, advanced students, and adults. 2001, Random House, 561p. index.,
— Claire Rosser

Juan Williams

Here are stories and news reports about real people exposing real fear, racial prejudice, as well as real bravery and honesty, as they deal with racial situations...This is the essence of race raltions, and it is also the true heart of this valuable collection of writings.
Washington Monthly