In September 1957, the nation was transfixed by nine black students attempting to integrate Central High School in Little Rock in the wake of the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision. Governor Orval Faubus had defied the city's integration plan by calling out the Arkansas National Guard to prevent the students from entering the school. Newspapers across the nation ran front-page photographs of whites, both students and parents, screaming epithets at the quiet, well-dressed black children. President Eisenhower reluctantly deployed troops from the 101st Air-borne, both outside and inside the school.
Integration proceeded, but the turmoil of Little Rock had only just begun. Public schools were soon shut down for a full year. Black students endured outrageous provocation by white classmates. Governor Faubus's popularity skyrocketed, while the landmark case Cooper v. Aaron worked its way to the Supreme Court and eventually paved the way for the integration of the south.
Betsy Jacoway was a Little Rock student just two years younger than the youngest of the Little Rock Nine. Her "Uncle Virgil" was Superintendent of Schools Virgil Blossom. Congressman Brooks Hays was an old family friend, and her "Uncle Dick" was Richard Butler, the lawyer who argued Cooper v. Aaron before the Supreme Court. Yet, at the time, she was cocooned away from the controversy in a protective shell that was typical for white southern "good girls." Only in graduate school did she begin to question the foundations of her native world, and her own distance from the controversy.
Turn Away Thy Son is the product of thirty years of digging behind the conventional account of the crisis, interviewing whites and blacks, officials and students, activists and ordinary citizens. A tour de force of history and memory, it is also a brilliant, multifaceted mirror to hold up to America today. She knows what happened to the brave black students once they got inside the doors of the school. She knows how the whites' fear of "race mixing" drove many locals to extremes of anger, paranoia, and even violence. She knows that Orval Faubus was only a reluctant segregationist, and that her own cousin's timid tokenism precipitated the crisis.
Above all, Turn Away Thy Son shows in vivid detail why school desegregation was the hottest of hot-button issues in the Jim Crow south. In the deepest recesses of the southern psyche, Jacoway encounters the fear of giving black men sexual access to white women. The truth about Little Rock differs in many ways from the caricature that emerged in the press and in many histories -- but those differences pale in comparison to the fundamental driving force behind the story. Turn Away Thy Son is a riveting, heartbreaking, eye-opening book.
Elizabeth Jacoway grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, where she lived through the Little Rock desegregation crisis of 1957-59, but failed to question what was happening in her community. Her eyes were opened by graduate study in history at the University of North Carolina, where she earned a Ph.D. She has spent the past thirty years investigating the Little Rock crisis, interviewing every available participant, including members of her own family, while teaching at the University of Florida, the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and Lyon College. Married and the mother of two grown sons, she lives in Newport, Arkansas.
"A brilliant, highly nuanced, and multilayered account that dramatically changes our understanding of one of the signal battlefields of the Civil Rights movement, and one of the greatest tragedies in our nation's history. Elizabeth Jacoway's characters step off the page as heroic and cowardly, high-minded and base, resolute and conflicted -- in short, they have the ring of truth. Turn Away Thy Son is a masterpiece."
-- James H. Jones, author of Bad Blood: The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment and Alfred C. Kinsey: A Life
"To one of the epic stories of the Civil Rights era -- the desegregation of Little Rock Central High School -- Elizabeth Jacoway brings the scrupulousness of a fine historian, the balance of a judge, the sensibility of a novelist, and the passion of a native daughter for her tortured hometown. A great achievement."
-- David Margolick, author of Beyond Glory: Joe Louis vs. Max Schmeling, and a World on the Brink and Strange Fruit: The Biography of a Song
"This book is a must read. It is especially enlightening in terms of the behind-the-scenes activities on the part of people on both sides of the equation. Jacoway's writing style is engaging, and she demonstrates an ability to remain balanced in her presentation of the various points of view. I recommend this book highly to anyone who wishes to know more about what actually happened in Little Rock in 1957."
-- Terrence J. Roberts, Ph.D., and member of the "Little Rock Nine"
"This is a mesmerizing and brave book, a story with complicated layers and meanings for all Americans, a heroic saga of progress and its consequences."