…the story told here is largely personal, and Hunter-Gault's experience elevates the book from the informational to the inspirational. To the Mountaintop is decidedly more historical memoir than straight history. Hunter-Gault's accessible first-person narrative makes the events covered in the book (in the years 1959-65) engaging and moving. A current photograph of the author…and her dynamic prose will help readers realize that the great questions she confronted, though they date back to a particular moment in history, are very much alive in 2012.
The New York Times
Emotionally engaging, eye-opening, and thoroughly accessible, this historical memoir (published in association with the New York Times) illustrates how the personal becomes political by placing the author’s individual battle for equal education in the context of the larger civil rights movement. Each chapter opens with front-page Times headlines, beginning with the election of President Barack Obama. Reflecting on the long journey to that historic moment, the author starts with the overturning of the “separate but equal” doctrine in 1954. In 1959, Hunter-Gault applied to the University of Georgia, seeking to open up “the lily-white system of public higher education.” Eventually admitted, she endured harassment and threats: classmates threw a brick through her window, chanting “Two, four six, eight,/ We don’t want to integrate.” Hunter-Gault highlights key political strategies in the struggle for equal rights (lunch counter sit-ins, the Freedom Riders, voter registration drives); explains philosophical differences between civil rights groups like the NAACP, SCLC, and SNCC; and emphasizes the great personal risks undertaken by individuals seeking change. A time line and several Times articles are included. Equal parts educational and inspiring. Ages 12–up. (Jan.)
From the Publisher
“The book deftly combines memoir and history, and includes many full-text articles from the New York Times's coverage of the period.” VOYA
“This powerful complement to the civil rights canon draws a compelling line from the beginnings of the m"ovement 'to the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which opened the door to the long corridor that led to the White House in January 2009.'” Booklist, Starred Review
“…informed and passionate.” School Library Journal, Starred Review
“This gracefully written history affirms the importance of the struggle, the difficulties, and the efforts of so many, echoing an Obama campaign statement, ‘I stand on the shoulders of giants.'” Horn Book Magazine
“Emotionally engaging, eye-opening, and thoroughly accessible, this historical memoir (published in association with the New York Times) illustrates how the personal becomes political by placing the author's individual battle for equal education in the context of the larger civil rights movement.” Publishers Weekly, Starred Review
Children's Literature - Denise Daley
Charlayne Hunter-Gault is an African American woman who experienced the Civil Rights Movement first hand. She was a bright and enthusiastic young college student who lived in Georgia during this transformational period in American history. Charlayne writes about her own experiences and involvement with the Civil Rights Movement and also provides details about the many other events that were occurring at this time. She recounts the movement's efforts to end segregation by organizing sit-ins and other nonviolent protests. Her story is supplemented with many photographs as well as with information from newspaper articles. Copies of the newspaper articles are shown throughout the book and the full-text articles can be found at the back of the book. At the back of the book there is also a comprehensive timeline that begins by listing the U.S. Constitution ruling that defined blacks as "3/5 of a person" in 1787. It concludes with Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009. Charlayne's account begins in 1959 and ends in 1965. Her straightforward and unbiased retelling of the cruel and disturbing treatment of the blacks and whites who were determined to "reach the mountaintop" is nothing short of compelling. Reviewer: Denise Daley
VOYA - Anna Foote
As a journalist with decades of experience, Hunter-Gault is well qualified to write a history of the civil rights movement. But this book is personal, tooit is her memoir of being one of the two black students to desegregate the University of Georgia in 1961, when she and fellow student Hamilton Holmes were each just nineteen years old. The book deftly combines memoir and history, and includes many full-text articles from the New York Times's coverage of the period. The volume is well illustrated with images of those Times pages, and photos from the Associated Press and other news sources. A time line and exhaustive bibliography make this an authoritative resource, though the lack of an index could be a problem for some readers and researchers. This title may appeal to teens over other histories of the civil rights movement since Hunter-Gault emphasizes the importance of students in making this historical change. She includes stories of young people desegregating schools, marching from Selma, taking Freedom Rides, and registering poor, black Mississippi voters. She emphasizes the role of SNCC (the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) within the movement. She also points out the importance of young people in Barack Obama's campaign and election, linking the movement to the current day. Reviewer: Anna Foote
The first African American woman to write for The New Yorker describes her experiences as one of two black students to desegregate the University of Georgia in 1961. Hunter-Gault has reported for the New York Times, NPR, and CNN, but her college years were a fight from the first, with mobs of white students chanting outside her dorm every night, “Two, four, six, eight. We don’t want to integrate.” Her story serves as a frame to talk about the broader school desegregation movement in the South, contrasting her own journey to that of President Barack Obama, who was born the year she entered college. This very personal account (shorter than her 1992 memoir about the same period, In My Place) offers a unique witness to the events of the Civil Rights Era, as an accomplished woman looks back on her younger self, making history.
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School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—As one of two students who, on January 9, 1961, integrated the University of Georgia, the author comes across as a prescient young woman who knew what she wanted and was willing to brave life-threatening situations to get it. Alternating between her personal experiences in getting an education—a struggle from elementary school on—and the broader history of the movement, she offers a clear perspective on the Civil Rights Movement from 1959 to 1965 that is both informed and passionate. The prose is vivid and well composed, extended ably by black-and-white photographs of school integration, the Selma march, the Freedom Riders, and the March on Washington, among others. Concluding with a detailed time line running from 1787 to 2009 and with the full text of several New York Times articles covering civil-rights issues, the end matter also includes a sound bibliography, lengthy index, and quotation notes by chapter. For a slightly older audience than Ellen Levine's Freedom's Children (Putnam, 1993), this is a solid, well-written, well-researched title.—Ann Welton, Helen B. Stafford Elementary, Tacoma, WA
Starting with the inauguration of Barack Obama in 2009 and working back to the early 1960s, Hunter-Gault covers many of the significant moments in the civil rights movement, including her own pivotal role in desegregating the University of Georgia. It was 1961, the year Barack Obama was born, and Hunter-Gault and Hamilton "Hamp" Holmes became the first black students to enroll in the University of Georgia, confronting the racism at the core of the oldest public university in the United Sates. Hunter-Gault places their contribution in the larger context of the civil rights movement from 1960 through 1965, but she has trouble balancing her personal narrative with the many other stories she covers. Given the number of excellent volumes on the subject, this would have been a stronger contribution if Hunter-Gault had focused on her own story; as it is, the book is something of a hodge-podge. Her premise that the civil rights movement was launched in 1960 is questionable, given the many pioneers in the decades prior. Backmatter includes an extensive timeline, articles by other writers on issues of the movement and an extensive bibliography, but there is no mention of any of the excellent works on the subject available for young readers. A missed opportunity to offer something special. (Nonfiction. 12 & up)