Keeping the Dream Alive: The Cases and Causes of the Southern Poverty Law Center by Booth Gunter.
Southern Poverty Law Center, Montgomery, Alabama, 2014.
Non-fiction, 248 pages.
This is a book with photographs and text from the history of the Southern Poverty Law Center, from its founding and earliest cases, to their current educational efforts.
I love shopping at library sales and used bookstores. This book was incredibly cheap and didn’t appear to even have been opened. It’s not something I would have sought out, just a great random find.
There are two main methods of reading this book. A lot could be learned by looking at the pictures and reading the captions. Even more of the story can be had from also reading the text in each section. There’s never more than one page of just text, and there are often several pages of captioned photographs only.
The photos aren’t traditionally captioned; a paragraph of text provides the information for all the photographs in a section. This does require closer reading and attention to get information about a photograph. Also, if you read both the text and the captions, some information repeats and might feel redundant.
I was pleased with both the photograph selection and the layout. A lot of care was taken in ensuring that all the pictures and text balanced. Nothing was pixelated, and while earlier photos were black and white, the book was still engaging. The photos made it possible to bring in events that weren’t covered in the main text as well, such as the Sikh temple shooting in Wisconsin.
This book is divided up into four main chapters. First is a forward and an overview of how the SPLC came to be through the efforts of Morris Dees and Joe Levin. Chapter one deals with SPLC’s work during the Civil Rights Movement and shortly thereafter.
Chapter two is about their work fighting hate groups and white supremecists, particularly the Klu Klux Klan, in both civil and criminal courts. It also covers the foundation of a watchdog group that tracks the movements of these groups and their leaders, and informs government entities and the public. The most interesting part of this chapter was the map at the end showing where hate groups were located in the USA at the time of publication.
Chapter three generally covers other work they do, including the fight for gender equality, work with immigrants and guest workers, disability rights, LGBT rights, fighting discrimination against Latin@ peoples, and so on.
Chapter four was a surprise. This part is all about the Civil Rights Memorial that SPLC has outside of their headquarters. It was the second memorial designed by Maya Lin, best known for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. The chapter starts out by giving a lot of information about the memorial, how it was conceived, Lin’s design process, the dedication ceremony, and the eventual education center that goes with it. The memorial also inspired justice for the killers of 13 of the martyrs listed.
This chapter goes on to talk about Teaching Tolerance and their films, free online resources, magazine, and more. Of course I’m already aware of Teaching Tolerance but it was interesting to see it within the context of the larger organization. The part that surprised me about all this is that this memorial has existed since 1989! Not all murders are described in the book (it seems most were shot), but I would guess that at least one martyr was lynched, so I’m surprised that this didn’t come up in EJI’s Lynching in America.
Finally the book wraps up with coverage of the martyrs listed on the monument, a chronology of SPLC, the Morris Dees Legacy Fund, and the index and photo credits.
I expected this to take longer to read. Although it was a sizable book, I finished it with one day of dedicated reading. I felt like this was a coffee-table book or maybe a gift to donors. The cover flaps were very practical but the paper used wasn’t durable enough to hold up well under much reading (mine was showing the use after only one, careful reading).
The photographs are graphic at points, including one photo of a lynching, and there are mentions of bombings and other intense violence, sexual abuse, death threats, and criminal activities. This book was clearly intended for adults, but I think it would be fine for teens. For middle school students I would exercise caution and pre-read, but it might be appropriate in some situations or for individual students or certain libraries. For younger children some sections could still be useful, but I would only use it in a controlled way (such as putting a photo on the overhead) rather than allowing them to browse through unattended.
Although many of these were events I had known about before, this book did a nice job of synthesizing them and presenting the SPLC’s unique viewpoint. Recommended.