Judy Wright's book does a number of things: it reflects on life decisions, their motivations and impacts, in and beyond the decision-making moment; it continues a personal tradition of political activism that aims tirelessly at justice for all; it chronicles a deepening understanding of white privilege and its consequences; and it makes concrete the day-to-day realities of chipping away at the unjust status quo. Twice during the 1960s, a desire to do something personally meaningful and "right" for others led Judy to Mississippi, where she bravely, quietly, and consistently collaborated with others to eradicate racial inequality and injustice. It mattered then, it mattered to Judy personally and to the country going forward from then, and it still matters--which is why it's so important that Judy wrote this book.
I've known Judy and her husband Sib for a long time, have heard parts of her story from her and others over the years, have even come to a deeper understanding and appreciation of some parts of her story in the past few years. But I hadn't known the whole story--all of its chapters, its chronology, and its intertwined underpinnings and crucial motivations.
In many instances, Judy quotes others at length, providing us with the opportunity to be as moved, inspired, and/or deflated by their words as she was. As long as I've known Judy, she's always made space for other people to be and speak their truest selves.** In quoting extensively--for example, from mothers grieving for lost sons and individuals thwarted in their attempts to register to vote--Judy signals that words and the powerful messages they yield truly belong to those who speak them. Such messages need only to be shared, not embellished or explained.
|Judith Frieze Wright as seen on amazon.com|
But the truth is that the big stories of the Civil Rights era couldn't have been written without the many smaller stories such as Judy's. The writers of those smaller stories reinforced one another's courage and commitment; trained together to persevere through fear and violent confrontation; and then acted, knowing always that they were putting their bodies, and thus their lives, on the line. In an era in which celebrity and greatness are often equated, in which people regularly strive to stand out from the pack, and in which people regularly abandon principle for the sake of "safety" and "success," Judy's and others' small stories and "little books" are much needed.
For that reason, I'm especially excited that Acts of Resistance is such an accessible book, emotionally and intellectually. Judy's writing is both clear and heartfelt. We understand exactly what Judy is feeling at critical junctures, be it fear, grief, frustration, confusion, and/or hope; we marvel at how she manages to persist even in highly discouraging and sometimes dangerous situations.
It takes a lot of important, courageous little stories to create a heroic big story. In light of this, Judith Frieze Wright's Acts of Resistance: A Freedom Rider Looks Back on the Civil Rights Movement isn't really such a little book at all. I strongly recommend it.
* Photograph accompanying this blog post: Malvaney E. (2015, May 15). Mississippi Streets: 1960s Meridian [Web log post]. Retrieved June 17, 2019, from https://misspreservation.com/2015/05/15/mississippi-streets-1960s-meridian/
** Just because Judy listens generously does not mean she doesn't listen astutely: she can differ very lovingly with people. I always admire this in her.