Wednesday, December 4, 2019

A Theory of Grace: guest post by Ethel Morgan Smith

Hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday!

I spent a couple of weeks in November as a resident at VCCA, the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, a truly wondrous home for the arts. I've been there many times, and each time, it's an amazing experience. While there, I worked on revisions for my novel-- still working on them-- and will tell you more about that soon. But I came home in time for Thanksgiving!

Today we welcome Ethel Morgan Smith to the blog. She will share an overview of her forthcoming book, A Theory of Grace: Voices & Visions of the Civil Rights Movement.

It sounds fascinating and relevant, and I look forward to reading it. Take it away, Ethel!

Ethel Morgan Smith

Theory of Grace tells us stories we’ve not heard before about The
Civil Rights Movement. The voices of the 10 individuals interviewed
offer more than personal stories; they afford a fresh historical
perspective. Their stories will move us, teach us, and take us on a
compelling journey. This work is dynamic and will raise new questions
about what it means to be human beings who seek justice against
tremendous resistance.

One narrow and prevailing view sees the TCRM in terms of Martin Luther King, Jr. 
and/or Rosa Parks, marching and making speeches. Many others consider that 
it ended with the Obama presidency. The TCRM is so much bigger and deeper than that.
It grew from intellectual and historical efforts; and it continues to
advance. The Movement is and was powered by mostly people like the
individuals I write about, ordinary citizens, stepping into big
moments by working behind the scenes, whether it was our teachers, our
parents having bake sales, or car washes to raise money for civil
right workers, or volunteers who helped with voter registration in our
churches and homes. This work expands the TCRM to the present and
future. Some of these brave warriors worked at the elbow of icons, and
others were clearing new paths, all passing through history without
wide recognition. The beauty of this book is the implied notion that
there were–and still are--thousands, and thousands more, each doing
their bit to achieve social justice for all. Theory of Grace
introduces us to some new witnesses and new voices that most people
haven’t heard. It takes a giant step forward toward negotiating the
narrative of a continuum of time periods, making it a work of social
change. And like the narrative that it is, it writes a new chapter in
history; a new culture is born.

We cannot talk about TCRM without visiting earlier movements that
began planting seeds of hope and freedom: slavery, Reconstruction, Jim
Crow, the Great Migration, WWI, and WWII. Many of my interviewees:
Emma Bruce, John Canty, Andrea Lee, Ann Cole Lowe, and Virginia
Blanche Franklin Moore, can trace their ancestry back to slavery,
which provides a direct chain of narrators. We will learn not only
about their contributions, but also about the extraordinary impact on
dozens of others. The book will view contemporary events, in all of
their catastrophic and challenging potential, through the lens of the
brave individuals who overcame equally extraordinary obstacles of the

Ethel Morgan Smith is the author of two books: From Whence Cometh My Help: The African American Community at Hollins College and Reflections of the Other: Being Black in Germany. She has also published in The New York Times, Callaloo, African American Review, and other national and international outlets.

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