Taking the Fight South: Chronicle of a Jew’s Battle for Civil Rights in Mississippi by Howard Ball
Distinguished historian and civil rights activist Howard Ball has written dozens of books during his career, including the landmark biography of Thurgood Marshall, A Defiant Life, and the critically acclaimed Murder in Mississippi, chronicling the Mississippi Burning killings. In Taking the Fight South, arguably his most personal book, Ball focuses on six years, from 1976 to 1982, when, against the advice of friends and colleagues in New York, he and his Jewish family moved from the Bronx to Starkville, Mississippi, where he received a tenured position in the political science department at Mississippi State University. For Ball, his wife, Carol, and their three young daughters, the move represented a leap of faith, ultimately illustrating their deep commitment toward racial justice.
Ball, with breathtaking historical authority, narrates the experience of his family as Jewish outsiders in Mississippi, an unfamiliar and dangerous landscape contending with the aftermath of the civil rights struggle. Signs and natives greeted them with a humiliating and frightening message: “No Jews, Negroes, etc., or dogs welcome.” From refereeing football games, coaching soccer, and helping young black girls integrate the segregated Girl Scout troops in Starkville, to life-threatening calls from the KKK in the middle of the night, from his work for the ACLU to his arguments in the press and before a congressional committee for the extension of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, Ball takes the reader to a precarious time and place in the history of the South. He was briefly an observer but quickly became an activist, confronting white racists stubbornly holding on to a Jim Crow white supremacist past and fighting to create a more diverse, equitable, and just society.
Ball’s story is one of an imitable advocate who didn’t just observe as a passive spectator but interrupted injustice. Taking the Fight South will join the list of required books to read about the Black Lives Matter movement and the history of racism in the United States. The book will also appeal to readers interested in Judaism because of its depiction of anti-Semitism directed toward Starkville’s Jewish community, struggling to survive in the heart of the deep and very fundamentalist Protestant South.
Year first published: 2021