Night On Fire
"What they saw were Negroes and white people together--
traveling, marching, getting beaten up and burned. It started in my
little town of Anniston, and it moved to Birmingham and Selma and
Washington, DC. I watched the flames catch and spread to Montgomery,
where they were fanned and blessed by Martin Luther King. The people
sang, the mob roared, and I glimpsed freedom."
Billie, protagonist of Ronald Kidd's Night On Fire, and her best
friend, Grant are in the local grocery store. A black boy about her
age gets kicked out. The store owner explains: "Personally, I don't
mind them coming. But they might bother some of my customers."
Black students are not allowed to compete in the local spelling
bee. A young woman, Jarmaine, who turns out to be the daughter of
Billie's family's maid, Lavender, speaks up to protest the unfainess.
The audience is angered by her refusal to keep quiet.
There are intimations of overt and covert racism in Billie's
world. But nothing that comes before can prepare for Mother's Day,
1961, the day the Freedom Riders bus arrives in her town and the
parking lot near the grocery store becomes a little bit of Hell on
Night on Fire is one of the most powerful coming of age novels I
have seen targeted to intermediate grade students. Billie has to face
revelations of racism in her family and community...and possibly in
"In the parking lot of Forsyth's Grocery I had seen something
awful. Was it here too, in my house, at our table? There were no
angry mobs, no fires or threats, no clubs or chains--just apple pie,
two cups of coffee, and a glass of milk. We weren't burning buses or
beating people up. We weren't doing anything. Maybe that was the
On a personal note, some people these days are reassuring themselves
that, in the face of all the atrocities we're seeing on the news, at
least they aren't personally shooting unarmed blacks, deporting
immigrants to almost certain death, trashing environmental
protections, or scrapping meals on wheels. Fortunately a lot of us
feel strongly that this can't be enough, that all it takes for evil to
win is for good people to be silent.
A great big shout out goes out to all who speak up for peace and
justice in these treacherous times.
Sent from my iPod