I have come to regard David Halberstam as one of my favorite writers, at least the non-fiction variety. Since becoming a subscriber to Oyster Books almost a year ago, I have already read several of his works, which range in topic from the automobile industry, to baseball, to the decade of the 1950’s. Currently, I am burrowing my way through “The Children,” a novel — and a very long one — about the desegregation movement of the early 1960’s that originated, oddly enough, right here in Nashville, Tennessee.
At the moment, I am a little more than one-third through the book, much of which has taken place in my own city. Not only is the plot itself riveting, but because I have been to many of the places he writes about, I can actually visualize these things taking place. Halberstam’s take on recent American history has come to fascinate me, simply because there is so much I didn’t know. One the one hand, the events he describes in “The Children” seem remote, as belonging to a time whose end has already come. And yet, these events took place in the same decade in which I was born, which makes the plot seem not so remote at all.
Those who actually did the heavy lifting during those heady times were barely out of high school, most of them in their late teens and early 20’s. Many of them weren’t even from Nashville, but simply came here to attend college, like Fisk University, on whose grounds you can find the historical marker pictured below. They knew that what they were doing was significant, but they could not have known that their place on the history shelf would eventually take up a large and prominent space.
And so the only question I am left with is what would it have been like to be alive back then, to have been able to witness these events as they unfolded, to know these individuals as they were back then?