Anne McCarty Braden (1924-2006) rejected her segregationist, privileged past to become one of the Civil Rights Movement's staunchest white allies. In 1954, she was charged with sedition by McCarthyist politicians who played on fears of communism to preserve Southern segregation. Though Braden remained controversial - even within the Civil Rights Movement - in 1963 she became one of only five white Southerners whose contributions to the movement were commended by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. in his famed "Letter from Birmingham Jail". Braden's activism ultimately spanned nearly six decades, making her one of the most enduring white voices against racism in modern US history.
Subversive Southerner is more than a riveting biography of an extraordinary Southern white woman; it is also a social history of how racism, sexism, and anticommunism intertwined in the 20th-century South as ripples from the Cold War divided the emerging Civil Rights Movement.
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Another side of the Civil Rights movement
The narration starts off a bit weak, but within an hour or so it seemed Morsey really found her voice for this book. I appreciated the subtle differences in voice for quotes that didn't veer into actual character 'voices' that are so common in fiction narrations. She did use a rather specific and effective Southern accent/tone when reading quotes from Anne, which thankfully didn't drive me up the wall like so many television characters do.
As interesting as it was, there was no way I could read this all at once. Given that Braden's work (and most of her life) was centered around the Cold War era struggle for civil rights and civil liberties there are a LOT of injustices detailed in this book that are frequently (and often simultaneously) heartbreaking and infuriating.
A surprising portion of Subversive Southerner is dedicated to Anne's upbringing in the South. At first I felt it was bordering on too much, but as the book progressed I found that detailed background helpful in understanding Anne's motives, her relationship with her family, and her interactions with others.
Anne's later life isn't explored nearly as in-depth, which is my only real complaint with the book. Fights for civil rights and civil liberties are still being fought and given that Anne literally worked as an activist until her death in 2006 I was hoping for a bit more detail regarding the last few decades.
That being said, for the events it does cover there is a lot of context given. It's not a straight up info dump, and Morsey does generally stick to relevant details, but there's a ton of historical information interspersed with Anne Braden's life and the book is the better for it. I learned a lot.
One thing I really loved, this being a biography of someone who was alive when it was finished, was the interview at the end with the author and Anne. That extra perspective was interesting and not something one usually gets with the typical historical biography.
This book was surprisingly personal to me. As someone born and raised in the South who moved up North at 25 to escape many of the things Anne fought against, it was an eyeopener into both how far we've come and how much farther we have to go. I wish I'd known about the Bradens' work growing up there because, being white, I didn't want to speak over people of color, but couldn't see a way to help much beyond examining my own actions and working to correct years of conditioning.
In all honesty Subversive Southerner should be subtitled "How to Be an Effective Ally and Activist Without Making it All About You Even In the Very Unlikely Event Literally Everyone Else is Trying to Make it Be". As such, I'd highly recommend it to anyone - especially if you're white, straight, male, cisgender, ablebodied, or any combination of the above.
- A. C. Skinner
- josie "Thank God for books of all kinds and ears to hear"