David Dennis, Jr.: Why American Civil Rights Activists Should Be Treated as War Veterans
David Dennis, Jr., in Conversation with Roxanne Coady on Just the Right Book
Many of us may know the broad outline of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. But for most of us, the details, the headline names, the level of malevolent violence and the horrific sacrifices were, at best, vague. But David Dennis, Jr., in his new book, The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Son, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride, poignantly and vividly gives us an intimate portrait of the personal side of the civil rights movement.
David wrote this book in collaboration with his father, David Dennis, Sr. His father had a pivotal role in the civil rights movement as an organizer and hero of the Freedom Rides, lunch counter sit-ins, and voter registration drives, as well as an official of the Congress of Racial Equity. Dennis, Sr.’s story exposes the risk, the relationships, and repercussions on families and lives that brings the movement to life for us. Dennis David, Jr. is an award -winning journalist and educator creates the stories of his father and the movement that has lingered in my mind and forced me to rethink today’s movement for Black Rights and safety.
Subscribe and download the episode, wherever you get your podcasts!
From the episode:
David Dennis, Jr.: One of the things I realized through the book was that these civil rights veterans are war veterans. My latest passion is that these veterans should be treated as such. They should be treated like war veterans in this country as people who fought a war to create democracy in a country that democracy was not there. And they did so well under the threat of war, not just threats, but they were bombed and they were spies and there were assassinations. This was about as dangerous of an escalation of democracy as you can have in the world.
PTSD comes from that. So there was a lot of this stuff that my dad had buried away. There are a lot of things that he totally forgotten. My dad’s memory, according to other historians of people I’ve talked to, is pretty good in terms of remembering things from the movement. But in the most dramatic moments, there were things he just did not remember. Like what happened that weekend that Medgar Evers was killed. Just some of those things are just really hard to come back to him. And he was digging up things that he long buried for a long time and talking to other people since the book has come out. And since they … have read the book, they have new memories that are coming out that they had totally forgotten about. So this is what all of these veterans went through and what they’re still coping with.
David J. Dennis, Jr. is a senior writer at The Undefeated. His work has been featured in Atlanta magazine, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and Huffington Post, among other publications. Dennis is the recipient of the 2021 American Mosaic Journalism Prize, is a National Association of Black Journalist Salute to Excellence award winner, and was named one of The Root’s 100 Most Influential African Americans of 2020. He lives in Georgia with his wife and two children and is a graduate of Davidson College.
Roxanne Coady is owner of R.J. Julia, one of the leading independent booksellers in the United States, which—since 1990—has been a community resource not only for books, but for the exchange of ideas. In 1998, Coady founded Read To Grow, which provides books for newborns and children and encourages parents to read to their children from birth. RTG has distributed over 1.5 million books.