The Times They Were A-Changin’ — book review

The Times They Were a-Changin’: 1964, the Year the Sixties Arrived and the Battle Lines of Today Were Drawn

My long-time friend Bob McElvaine has crafted a highly original and deeply insightful analysis of events from 1964 and their direct connections to the present day’s brutal political divisions.

McElvaine makes a solid case that the Trump movement’s extreme right-wing activities are solidly rooted in an attempt to overturn the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the subsequent gains of African Americans, women, and the LGBTQ community.

As a world-renowned historian, McElvaine’s masterful, highly readable (and frequently humorous) interpretation of events solidly makes the connections between the violence of The Proud Boys and the KKK.

Also well-drawn are parallels between the white nationalist forces of the late 1890s that overthrew Reconstruction and essentially re-enslaved African Americans through the pseudo-legal fraud known as Jim Crow Segregation.

McElvaine offers an important and credible origin of the decline of confidence by Americans and their government: A steady stream of lies and misinformation by President Lyndon Johnson and his successors.

“Most of the issues facing and dividing Americans in the 2020s can be reduced to the question: Should we return to what 1964 was all about, or should we seek to bury the accomplishments that began to be achieved then and make the United States again the sort of ‘white man’s country’ it still was in the 1950s and early 1960s?”

The book comes alive with mini-bios of the key players in the major events of the 1960s.

To McElvaine’s credit, his deft use of music from the era to make many of his points leavens what could have been a slow slog through 456 pages.

The contradicting meaning to freedom…throughout

This book was both introspection and revelation for me. It rekindled old memories and constructed an interpretive scaffolding of perspective and a and deeper understanding of the time

I was a high school sophomore in Jackson Mississippi and was deeply affected by he deaths of Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman and James Chaney at the hands of a gang of subhuman Neshoba County racists.  Those obscene deaths began my inadequate involvement with the civil rights movement, and my ultimately successful determination to attend Cornell University where Schwerner had been a student.

I found The Times They Were A-Changin’, a bitter reminder of the fragility of progress and the ever-present need to remain actively vigilante against primitive retrograde attempts to de-humanize those considered different.

Lew's Books