When In the Course of Human Events....: Revolution by Deborah Wiles
We tiptoe into the summer night, careful not to let the screen door slam behind us. The heat covers us like a warm velvet blanket. We are swallowed up in the muddy smell of the lazy Yazoo River on the other side of the levee. Our bare feet slap the sidewalk as we race each other the six blocks to the park.
Nary a car, bicycle, or body moves at this hour. A hound bellows from the direction of Mr. Delay Beckwith's house. The sound makes me shudder.
Without a word we sneak through the gate, drop our towels and strip to our suits. Then, smooth as seals, we slip into that cool, colorless water and begin to execute perfect breaststrokes. I'm not wearing a bathing cap. My hair floats all over the place and so does my mind.
I reach behind me and touch something in the water, something soft and warm pressed into the dark corner of the pool. Something alive.
Twelve-year-old Sunny and her step-brother Gillette share a wish for adventure. In 1964, summer in Greenwood, Mississippi, feels like warm sorghum syrup, sweet but slow, and the two crave some excitement before school starts. Sure, Sunny can't wait to see the first Beatles' movie to open at the LeFlore Theatre with her friends, and Gillette has his baseball games, but those are ordinary summer pleasures. Not adventures.
Getting caught in a midnight swim in the Greenwood Pool counts as an adventure, one that gets Sunny grounded from her friends and from movies at the LeFlore for two weeks. But the identity of the black boy in the pool who outran the police is a mystery and finding out who he was is a mystery that Sunny is determined to solve.
But then Sunny reads an article in Meemaw's newspaper that warns vaguely of an invasion. At first Sunny imagines aliens or monsters like those in the Saturday matinees she likes, but the "invasion" is actually the white and black SNCC volunteers who arrive to register black residents of Greenwood to vote. With the signing of the 1964 Voting Rights Law, it's the Summer of Freedom, and soon Greenwood is filled with fear and anger, dozens of "agitators" and even big-city newspaper reporters. Town eccentric "Delay): Beckwith stalks the streets with his shotgun and even shows up in church with a rifle. The White Citizens Council make sure that people who register to vote know the consequences.
TO THOSE OF YOU NIGGERS WHO GAVE OR GIVE AID AND COMFORT TO THIS CIVIL RIGHTS SCUM, WE ADVISE YOU THAT YOUR IDENTITIES ARE IN THE PROPER HANDS AND YOU WILL BE REMEMBERED.
AFTER THE IMPORTED AGITATORS HAVE ALL GONE, ONE THING IS SURE AND CERTAIN--YOU ARE STILL GOING TO BE NIGGERS AND WE ARE GOING TO BE WHITE MEN.
Then their long-time maid and cook Laura Mae registers to vote, and white people are urged to fire all Negroes who participate in the drive. Sunny is drawn to one of the white volunteers who looks so much like her mother, who abandoned her family years ago, and she is drawn to the activities at SNCC's Freedom House down in Baptist Town. There Sunny and Gillette manage to discover the identity of Raymond, the boy in the pool, recognizing his white sneakers, just before Raymond decides to integrate the LeFlore Theatre all by himself.
Businesses close or turn into "private clubs," and storekeepers like Sunny's father who sell to blacks are threatened. The town turns into an armed camp, and Sunny finds herself an eyewitness when Raymond is hit by a drive-by KKK shooting.
Deborah Wiles' second book in her trilogy, Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) (Scholastic Press, 2014), chronicles the events of the Freedom Summer of 1964 through the eyes of her main character, Sunny Fairchild, who witnesses the events of her twelfth summer with a sensibility reminiscent of Harper Lee's Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird,
Wiles' spot-on portrayal of a lazy, sun-baked mid-century Greenwood is filled with the sights, sounds, smells, and even the tastes of Sunday dinners and picnic pimiento cheese sandwiches, as well as the values and customs which the events of that epic summer call into question. "Delay" Beckwith is, of course, Byron de La Beckwith, the assassin of Medgar Evers, who becomes the iconic bete noir of the piece, and well-known figures such as Stokely Carmichael have cameo parts as well in the dramatic conclusion of the summer's confrontations.
As in her award-winning first book in this series, Countdown (Sixties Trilogy) (see review here) which recounts the time of 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Wiles fills her book with full-page reproductions on newspaper clippings, civil rights songs, handbills, posters, and striking black-and-white photos from the period that puts middle readers firmly down in a time not-so-different, yet very different from their own. The author uses the sensibilities of two children, not quite adolescents, not quite still children, just coming aware of the society around them, to heighten the impact of her story of white Southerners and black Southerners, often so close in their personal lives, who come to a new relationship as citizens of a society that must be rebuilt. This book is essential and dramatic reading for young people for whom the civil rights era is mostly a few pages in a history book, setting them down in the world as it was then and showing how the world they now live in was shaped. On a day when we remember the passing of the Declaration of Independence, Wiles' Revolution (The Sixties Trilogy) reminds us, like the words of the civil rights song, that we've got to "Keep on Walkin', Keep on Talkin'."