Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High, by Melba Patillo Beals. (Pocket Books, $22.) The word "discrimination,'' ingrained into our everyday vocabulary, has little power to disturb, calling to mind equal opportunity notices and protracted desegregation lawsuits. Beals' memoir, then, does us profound service in reminding us that discrimination against African Americans was (and sometimes still is) a life and death matter--nothing less than the brutal subjugation of an entire people. This Beals discovered for herself when, as an innocent 15-year-old, she applied to become one of nine black students to integrate Little Rock's Central High School under the landmark Brown vs. Board of Education decision. In 1957, on the opening day of school (Beals' junior year), Orvall Faubus, Arkansas' segregationist governor, defied the law by calling out the state's National Guard to prevent ingress; turned away, the students barely escaped a frenzied mob with their lives. Later, they returned under the protection of the 101st Airborne Division--sent by Eisenhower--but the indignities they endured were horrific nevertheless. White students routinely spat upon them, hung them in effigy, and reviled them. Beals was stabbed with pins, bombarded by rolls of flaming toilet paper, and burned with acid. The purely psychological warfare was almost worse; on occasional "black days,'' students were merely stared at, objects of pure contempt. But as the indignities multiplied so did the dignity of the black students, and Warriors Don't Cry becomes a story of improbable determination. In Beals' case, much of the courageousness came from religious conviction, transmitted by her grandmother, who told her one day during a weeping spell: "You'll make this your last cry. You're a warrior on the battlefield for the Lord.... The women of this family don't break down in the face of trouble.'' Heroic as such stoicism was, it is of course unfair to expect it of any single person. This memoir helps us understand how courage was, toward the end of the civil rights movement, almost fated to collapse into rage.
The Uptown Kids: Struggle and Hope in the Projects, by Terry Williams and William Kornblum. (Grosset-Putnam, $24.95.) So inextricable is the association of housing projects with violence that they are, in the American mind, almost emblematic of the failure of governmental policy. But in The Uptown Kids, the authors argue that this perception largely stems from highly publicized disasters such as CabriniGreen in Chicago, and that others, such as four Harlem projects portrayed in this book, can in fact be oases of hope. Here, thanks to vigilant teams of resident elders, a kind of moral order is sustained, albeit precariously. Of particular interest to educators are the ways in which a group of streetwise teenage residents flourish under the tutelage of author Williams, whose "Writers Crew'' meets weekly in his Harlem apartment. The kids share their poetry, their art, and their observations of the surrounding street culture and talk through the night of "life and death, sneakers and jewelry.'' And their observations are far from superficial. Tina, noting the dangerous allure of the streets, writes: "Maleness, macho-ness, and violence that's equated with love is totally unhealthy yet I enjoy it.'' Budd, talking about the way young black kids from Brooklyn are excluded from Manhattan nightclubs, says: "The real fucked-up part is that these are the brothers and sisters who make the K-U-L-C-H-U-R, and they can't even get into the clubs to enjoy the sounds they created.'' Why, one might ask, can't kids have these kinds of conversations in school? Of course, teachers are unlikely to have the kind of close relationships with their students that Williams has. But beyond this, Williams speculates that these kids' intellectual lives are denied in schools, as the "cultural passions that excite the passions of the young are taboo.'' The implication is that if we are to reach these kids from the projects--or any kids, for that matter--the schools must begin where the students are, encouraging their interest in both understanding and criticizing the society that surrounds them.
Train Go Sorry: Inside a Deaf World, by Leah Hager Cohen. (Houghton Mifflin, $22.95.) For decades, "oralism'' was the predominant approach taken to educate deaf people. The deaf, it was believed, should learn how to speak and read lips, becoming as much like hearing people as possible. But as Cohen demonstrates in this vivid portrayal of students at New York City's Lexington School of the Deaf (her father is superintendent), non-hearing people, like other groups who feel themselves disenfranchised, increasingly reject the notion of having to accommodate themselves to the majority culture. Pointing out that American Sign Language is a legitimate language with its own rules and syntax and not an English language substitute, the deaf want to claim autonomy for their own culture. But is deafness, the author asks, a culture or a pathology? Cohen takes a moderate position, arguing that deafness is both a culture and a disability and that the non-hearing have to somewhat accommodate themselves to the hearing world, especially if they want to address the deaf unemployment rate, which is about 60 percent. In any case, Train Go Sorry (the title refers to the ASL translation for "missing the boat'') raises important questions about the issue of mainstreaming children with special needs.--David Ruenzel
Vol. 05, Issue 09, Page 1-24