I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

Book reviews are subjective. I tend to rate books not according to how “perfect” they are, seem to be, or are said to be in general but rather to how perfect they are to me. Revell provided me with a complimentary copy of this book for an honest review.

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

(Click the title to find the book description/blurb.)

Despite the 1954 U.S. Supreme Court ruling against it, racial segregation in public schools was still prevalent in Little Rock, Arkansas for years afterward. In 1957, nine African American students were chosen to integrate the city’s all-white Central High School. Those students became known as the Little Rock Nine. One of their number, author Melba Pattillo Beals, recounts this matter and more in her memoir, I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire.

As the title indicates, this isn’t just an account contained within the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, but it spans much more of the author’s lifetime and experiences. Even so, issues of prejudice and equal (or unequal) rights, including gender inequality, appear frequently throughout this story of adversity, faith, and perseverance.

This isn’t a book about detached, historical “figures” but about people. It’s not a testimony of immediate victories for social justice, or complete accord within the black community. Beals wasn’t even always sure she was doing the right thing by being a part of integration.

The author makes interesting points, including how racism isn’t merely about donning conspicuous white hoods or blatantly calling black people “niggers.” Subtle racism is just as vicious, and also treacherous, particularly when it’s institutionalized or otherwise trickier to call out and combat. Still, one of my biggest takeaways from the book is that when it comes to injustice and other challenges, you have to know when it’s time to hold your peace and simply keep on living, and when it’s time to speak up and fight.

Again, this book is about much more than racism and civil rights, but I’d recommend it to anyone with an interest in social justice, Christian memoirs, or both.


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