Archive for January, 2015

Episcopal Journal recounts Anniston civil rights violence with Phil Noble

Wednesday, January 28th, 2015 by Brian Seidman

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town by Phil NobleThe February 2015 edition of the Episcopal Journal offers a full-page feature on Reverend Phil Noble’s book Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town, and the events in Anniston, Alabama, that lead to the city’s formation of the Human Relations Council. With racial tension in the news and resurgent interest in the Civil Rights Movement with the release of the movie Selma, Noble’s first-hand account of the violence and reconciliation in his town remains required reading.

The Day1 religious blog also posted an excerpt from Noble’s book.

Noble was minister of Anniston’s First Presbyterian Church in 1961 when the Freedom Riders arrived in Anniston on their mission to end segregation. A mob surrounded their bus, and broke the windows, dragged out and beat the passengers, and set the bus on fire. In his book, Noble recalls that the reaction from the Anniston community was mixed. “Anniston had the capacity for racial violence that was equal to any other community in the South,” Noble writes. “Some felt the horror of the tragedy. Others said, ‘It’s too bad, but they got what they deserved.'”

The violence so alarmed Anniston’s religious, business, and political communities that they created the biracial Human Relations Council, with Noble appointed as the council chair. As the Episcopal Journal recounts, from Beyond the Burning Bus, Noble’s committee would vary their meeting times and locations for fear of those who disagreed.

“We would set a date and time for our next meeting, and then a half-hour or hour before the meeting I would call and tell members the place [to meet],” Noble writes. The group alternated between such locations as a church, the YMCA, a bank’s board room or the Chamber of Commerce. Because white and black members of the council were strangers to each other, Noble describes how he talked about the need for respect and for a sense of trust in how they dealt with one another. Eventually, Noble succeeded.

“The minister at Grace Episcopal Church told one of his members who was to serve later on the Human Relations Committee that we had gotten to a first-name basis, black and white,” Noble writes. “The member was indignant that there would be such familiarity, that blacks would call whites by their first names.”

Deeply entrenched customs pervaded the South then, and segregation still ruled. The council had mixed results in attempting to desegregate the city’s public buildings without incident or violence. An attempt to integrate the public library, undertaken with the approval of the library board, resulted in the beating of two black council members by a group of about 50 whites on the library steps. As the two attempted to flee by car, one was wounded by gunfire.

It is worth noting that, while the mayor and newly elected town commissioner supported the work of the biracial council, the police chief and most members of his force did not. Noble describes how thin a line the council members trod. “The black community thought we were going too slow, and the white community thought we were going too fast,” Noble says. “Our churches were no exception.

“One of the reasons for the success we had was that we were able for the most part to maintain that balance. We made enough progress so that the black community did not feel completely frustrated, and, at the same time, the progress was gradual enough so that the white community accepted it.”

Read the full Episcopal Journal book review at the link. You can also read an additional excerpt from Beyond the Burning Bus at

Beyond the Burning Bus: The Civil Rights Revolution in a Southern Town is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.

Tablet magazine names Matzo Frogs a best Jewish children’s book of 2014

Tuesday, January 27th, 2015 by Suzanne La Rosa

Matzo Frogs by Sally Rosenthal, with illustrations by David Shelton

Mazel tov to Matzo Frogs by Sally Rosenthal with illustrations by David Sheldon. It made the “best Jewish children’s books of 2014” list published by Tablet Magazine.

Marjorie Ingall’s round-up is a joy to read. She calls Matzo Frogs a “livelier, goofier, amphibian tour-de-force,” adding, “The book teaches kids the expression mitzvah goreret mitzvah — one good deed leads to another. The nutty frogs are bold and vibrant, outlined in black ink, against blurry backgrounds, so they really jump.”

Rosenthal’s picture book is in good company with another by Eric Kimmel, Simon and the Bear, a “shaggy-bear tale of a Russian immigrant who winds up stranded on an iceberg on Hanukkah with a polar bear.” Kimmel gave Matzo Frogs early praise. In his blurb for the book, he says, poetically, “I love this story. I laughed so hard. How do I get the frogs to come to my house?”

The frogs and the book are at NewSouth’s house. Read more about Matzo Frogs on the official NewSouth Books page, or find a copy at your favorite bookstore.

Dothan Eagle profiles Mac Otts’s compelling new memoir on race

Monday, January 26th, 2015 by Lisa Harrison

Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist by Mac Otts

The Dothan Eagle recently profiled S. M. “Mac” Otts, author of Better Than Them: The Unmaking of an Alabama Racist in connection with Mr. Otts’s presentation at the Houston-Love Memorial Library. The feature recounts the story of a young man ready to assault civil rights protesters who grew to become the adoptive father of an interracial child, dedicated to improving relations between blacks and whites. The descendant of plantation slave owners, Otts was reared in the mentality of racism. His personal attitudes began changing during his college years. His memoir recounts an incredible transformation.

Speaking about race today, Otts told the Eagle:

“What if I’m a white person waiting in line at the grocery store to purchase groceries, and the person in front of me is counting coupons and I’m bothered,” Otts said. “If they’re black, is that different from if they’re white? There are a lot of remnants even with people who have overcome the primary thing of racism, and one of biggest reasons, I think, is we don’t communicate openly.”

The Mac Otts of 1965 probably wasn’t interested in talking out his issues.

Today’s Mac Otts wants others to realize how transformative honest discussions can be.

With Better Than Them Mac Otts offers a compelling contribution to the contemporary conversation on race.

Better Than Them: The Unmasking of an Alabama Racist is available from NewSouth Books or your favorite bookstore.