My Soul is Rested: Movement Days in the Deep South Remembered
is an African American history book by Howell Raines. Published in 1977, it won the 1978 Alabama Author Award for Nonfiction. The book provides an insight into the leaders behind the Civil Rights Movement and the people who risked everything in the name of freedom. Born in Alabama in 1943, Raines worked as a newspaper reporter and political editor before becoming a news correspondent with The New York Times
. He is the author of a handful of nonfiction and fiction books.My Soul is Rested
primarily comprises personal recollections and first-hand accounts of the Civil Rights Movement. Each chapter is dedicated to a specific individual who was instrumental in campaigning for civil rights. The interviewees range from prominent Civil Rights Movement leaders to those who loyally served and followed them. For the most part, the interviews were conducted specifically for the purposes of this book.
Two books make up My Soul is Rested
. The first book focuses on the key players at the outset of the Civil Rights Movement. Raines dedicates an entire section to Alabama, otherwise known as the “Battleground State,” paying special attention to the earliest student sit-ins and the birth of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, or the “SNCC.”
Most significantly, Raines emphasizes the peaceful and civil measures undertaken by African Americans to secure their civil rights. As Raines explains, this was not designed to be a violent or aggressive movement. Instead, the key figures of the time believed in promoting justice through civilized discourse and peaceful protests.
Book two of My Soul is Rested
considers the specific groups of campaigners involved in the Civil Rights Movement. For example, Raines considers the lawmakers, the journalists, and the teachers who played vital roles in moving the campaign forward. Raines does not limit his studies to African Americans—he also includes testimonies from white people who participated in the movement. Raines reminds us that the Civil Rights Movement engaged everyone in America and no history of the era is complete without considering multiple perspectives.My Soul is Rested
includes interviews with figures we most commonly associate with the Civil Rights Movement. These famous individuals include Rosa Parks, who refused to give up her seat on a bus, and Dr. Martin Luther King, who led the peaceful movement in the South through his charismatic activism. My Soul is Rested
also includes the stories of lesser-known individuals who were no less instrumental to the success of the movement.
The book opens with Edgar Nixon’s story. He was the man responsible for the 1955 Montgomery Bus Boycott—the event which arguably triggered the Civil Rights Movement. Edgar explains how, when Rosa Parks was arrested, no one down at the station would tell him what had happened.
On the other hand, as soon as a white man asked what happened to Rosa, the officers explained that she was arrested for breaking Alabama segregation laws. Black people fought oppression and disdain at every possible level, and yet they continued to protest peacefully. By speaking with men like Edgar, Raines hopes to capture the sheer scale of the discrimination and how it infiltrated every facet of life.
Edgar’s story of how he came to be a leader is typical for Civil Rights Movement leaders. He explains that, because he called meetings and people listened to him, people referred to him as a leader. He was never formally appointed a leader—he was simply accepted as one because he was not afraid to stand up for what matters. Raines highlights that men such as Edgar didn’t seek recognition. They only cared about getting the job done.
Not everyone was on the side of the campaigners. Men such as J.B. Stoner, for example, defended their segregationist views until their final days. Raines includes their perspectives to show how deeply rooted segregationist views ran and to reinforce the scale of the challenge facing the revolutionaries. Raines highlights the courage possessed by the leaders of the Civil Rights Movement in the face of impossible odds.
Raines describes the intelligence demonstrated by the African American campaigners. Andrew Young, for example, was instrumental in managing the peaceful negotiations, and he later became the first African American to serve as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations. He proved himself an indispensable politician and diplomat. He is just one of the many examples Raines includes in the book.My Soul is Rested
includes perspectives from across the key battlegrounds. Activists such as Claude Sitton, a reporter, were vital to the success of a movement spanning such a large territory. Reporters such as Sitton advocated tirelessly for the Civil Rights Movement, even knowing that their perspectives might jeopardize their entire careers. By interviewing people like Sitton, Raines emphasizes how men and women from across every walk of life were responsible for the success of the Civil Rights Movement.