Join Us at The Black Bookshelf Book Club!History Search
History Search
Black books on-line.
Home || Search || Community || Free Magazines || Links || Contact Us

cover Civil Rights Childhood

By Jordana Y. Shakoor 

Jackson: University of Mississippi Press, 1999.
216 pp. $20.00.

Reviewed by: Stephanie Y. Evans

Jordana Shakoor’s Civil Rights Childhood, presents an intimate portrait

of growing up in love and struggle in Greenwood Mississippi by shadowing

the author's recollections of life with selected journal passages written by

her father, Andrew Jordan, a Civil Rights organizer.

The story begins with Shakoor’s Grandparents and, through her

father’s detailed reflection, weaves the various cords of the family into a

fascinating and poignant tapestry of southern life.  This two-tiered story is

biography, autobiography, and memoir: it tells the story of a family history

and yet it addresses specific issues in the era of Jim Crow Mississippi.

        Shakoor’s story enhances historical texts by giving a personal

voice to her family’s place in their community’s everyday, and

monumental, acts of resistance to the murderously racist South.

Shakoor’s and Jackson’s writing breathe life into familiar concepts of

survival.  For example, the phrase “dirt poor” has been so overused that

we are often desensitized to it; Andrew Jordan’s journal brings such

trite catch phrases to life.  He writes:

  Papa had plowed almost five rows of cotton in the ninety-nine degree weather.  You could see the heat waves dancing in space, and occasionally a wisp of wind would twist itself from the heated dust, blowing the sweaty mule smell right into my nose.

       Such vivid imagery brings the stories close to the reader’s senses and

as Shakoor relates the life of her father, mother, and her four sisters,

the reader is brought in close to the family’s dramas and traumas.

        Jordan writes as a man who is intent on becoming a schoolteacher

– a profession that the 1950s social climate deems out of reach for the

Black son of a cotton-farming sharecropper.  But he came from the Jordan

family who had a history of pride and triumph.  Shakoor points out the

difference between her father’s and mother’s class background and how

issues of race were intertwined with gender differences as well as

specifics of economic, educational, and occupational social class.

Although her mother came from a relatively middle-class background (by

African American economic and educational standards of the time), her

father had to overcome poverty as well as educational, racial and gender

barriers. Being a Black male who demanded equal access to education was

a dangerous proposition in the area at the time; being a Black male at

the time was dangerous enough.

        The Jordan family's stories are told in the context of the

developments in Greenwood Mississippi.  The pivotal stories of the

murders of Medgar Evers and Emmett Till–-both of which took place in

Mississippi--are told from local perspectives in a detail and depth

that are not possible in books whose scope is national or even

regional.  This particular focus on one family line in Mississippi provides a

sharp single-mindedness that enhances the reader’s understanding of the

trials of the times.

        If there is one drawback to the style of the intertwined

narrative, it is Shakoor’s portrayal of herself as an overblown

stereotype: “daddy’s little girl.”  Shakoor’s voice in no way

overshadows that of her father, yet her contribution borders on

hero-worship and leaves the reader wondering how the story would have

been enhanced if she had been able to escape the overwhelming desire to

get carried away by her pride for her father.  Her telling also excludes

the importance of sacrifice and struggle on the mother’s part.

Shakoor’s narrative brings to light her mother’s story as well, although

the perspective of Arella Jordan is not brought out as much as it could

have been.  Perhaps more focused attention to Mrs. Jordan’s

experiences would have added more texture to the two main voices.

        However, it was the father who wrote, and in doing so, he

provided a sturdy basis for this story.  In essence he is a hero: not

only did he put his life on the line to improve social conditions for

his family and for Black people in general, he left a detailed chronicle

of the people, places, and events which changed this country.  This type

of writing can be used to broaden our collective memory and

understanding.  One or the other, activism or writing, if done well, is

enough to qualify for a hero status in my book, and Jordan did both

extremely well.  This book is important because it provides personal

context through which to understand the events of one of the most

tumultuous eras in American history.

        This work functions as history as well as literature: the

personal narrative is informative about pivotal historic events and the

text is readable and displays the wit, craft, humor, dedication, and

conviction of two generations of Jordan authors. Shakoor rescues an

important part
of family history and in doing so, provides a personal look at

American history that is invaluable for interpreting the past.  There

are many times when the daughter’s historical hindsight illuminates the

father’s personal tragedies and frustrations – giving his story meaning

beyond Andrew Jordan’s own far reaching quest and vision.  This book is

a valued legacy that nurtures minds and hearts far beyond the Jordan

family lines.

Stephanie Y. Evans is a second-year Doctoral student in African-American Studies at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. She earned her BA in Interdisciplinary Studies focusing in gender and cross-cultural studies and graduated with honors (Phi Beta Kappa, Cum Laude, and Outstanding Department Graduate), from California State University, Long Beach.


Links: Sisters in Academia Spotlight: Stephanie Y. Evans 

For Further Reading:

Crawford, Vicki L., Jacqueline Anne Rouse, and Barbara Woods.  Women in

the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941 –1965.

Bloomington: Indiana UP, 1990.


Jones, Jacqueline. (1985). Labor of Love, Labor of Sorrow: Black Women,

Work, and the Family from Slavery to the Present.  New York: Vintage,



Kluger, Richard. Simple Justice: The history of Brown v. Board of

Education, the epochal Supreme Court decision that outlawed segregation,

and of black America’s century-long struggle for equality under law.

New York: Vintage, 1975.


Litwack, Leon.  Trouble in Mind: Black Southerners in the age of Jim

Crow. New York: Knopf, 1998.


Moody, Ann. Coming of Age in Mississippi. New York: Laurel.  1968.


Murray, Pauli. (1956). Proud Shoes: The Story of an American Family.

Boston: Beacon, 1999.


Payne, Charles M. I’ve Got the Light of Freedom: The Organizing

Tradition and the Mississippi Freedom Struggle.  Berkeley: U of

California, 1995.

Purchase Civil Rights Childhood

Comparison Prices for Civil Rights Childhood

Search for any book, CD, or video:
Compare Prices:

Looking for Black History Information? Use the search engine below to search Encarta Encyclopedia! Or Visit Black Facts On-line!

      in Encarta Concise Encyclopedia

Try AOL FREE!  250 Hours

AfroAmerican Web Ring
This site is owned by
| Skip Next | Skip Previous | Previous |
| Next Site | Next 5 Sites | Random Site |
Want to join the AAWR? Then click here for info.

Your link or banner ad on The Black Bookshelf? Click here for info.

Send mail to with questions or comments.

1998-2002 © The Black Bookshelf