Sunday, January 19, 2014

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 210: Alice Lake, Last Summer in Mississippi (#210)

Alice Lake, "Last Summer in Mississippi" (1964) from Reporting Civil Rights: American Journalism 1941–1973:

Alice Lake's "Last Summer in Mississippi" should be read as "1964 Summer" rather than "you'll never experience summer again because you're going to die." Although, now that I put it that way, this reporting about the Mississippi Freedom Project sure seems to carry that threat--both for the white volunteers and for the blacks who took part. Lake smartly looks at the whole project by examining the experience of three volunteers, using their entry into this situation as a way for all of us to get into it.

In many ways, the article moves traditionally, with some of the methods of traditional fiction. So we start in the middle of the action--with a sheriff confronting one of the volunteers--and then we rewind, hearing something about the upbringing of the volunteers.

(So, one volunteer's mother struggled with her Southern upbringing and the racism she got from her parents.)

Then we move on to their training and their actual experience helping to found a school for blacks and to register many to vote for the first time. To condense a whole summer into a 20-page article, Lake changes the level of her focus. So we might hear about one event in detail; and then zoom out sometimes to get an overview. We also get access to the participants' thoughts and feelings--though long after the fact.
Had she been scared? She shook her head. “No, I’d never known violence. No one ever threatened to do anything to me. I had no concept of things like that.”
It's an interesting demonstration of using the control and methods of fiction for non-fictional reportage.

And, overall, it leaves me with a feeling that I should be doing something more like this--volunteering to make the world better. It's a curious feeling since the story makes no bones about the troubles about this program. Not just the obvious dangers--I mean, opposition can be very motivating. But the boredom and the change of circumstances. (These white girls are not used to life in the less wealthy, more rural black families that they are stationed with.)

No comments:

Post a Comment