I just finished reading a very important book. The Newspaper Boy, by Chervis Isom, is a well-written and entertaining memoir, subtitled, “Coming of age in Birmingham, Alabama during the civil rights era.” I first met Chervis a few years ago at the Alabama Writers’ Conclave and have always enjoyed my conversations with him. When news of his book came out, I was eager to get a copy.
The Newspaper Boy is fascinating on several different levels. It is delightful and engaging as a story about a boy growing up in a working class family, going to school, discovering girls, and getting his first job delivering papers. It is also an important first-hand account of an historical time in the city of Birmingham. I have written before on this blog about civil rights and growing up in the Deep South under the apartheid of racial segregation, but in reading Chervis Isom’s memoir, I gained a much clearer picture of what was happening in Birmingham during those days leading up to the civil rights movement. I learned important details about how local government was structured, and how speeches by a rabble-rousing Ace Carter of the White Citizens Council revved up the populace in an attempt to preserve segregation. I also learned about the important work of some open-minded civic leaders such as David Vann and Abraham Berkowitz.
It was inspiring for me to read about how an ordinary young fellow growing up in a society steeped in racism began to question a way of life that had once been accepted without question. It is a story about being able to listen to another point of view and thereby beginning a slow process of change. It is a story about how a liberal arts education can propel a young college student to approach life with a much broader view. It is a story about quietly finding liberation from the shackles of cultural ignorance.
For more information about this important book, you can visit the author’s website for The Newspaper Boy at http://www.thenewspaperboy.net . To read a very fine interview with the author in Weld, go here. For another review of the book, go here. The Newspaper Boy is a thoughtful reflection of a life lived during times of change. It is also a book that is important for our time as we face new hopes and challenges for building a city that works for the benefit of all.