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Cover image for Son of the rough South : an uncivil memoir


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Book 921 FLEMING 1 1

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Legendary civil rights reporter Karl Fleming was born in North Carolina's flattest, bleakest tobacco landscape. Raised in a Methodist orphanage during the Great Depression, he was isolated from much of the world around him until an early newspaper job introduced him to the era's brutal racial politics and a subsequent posting as Newsweek 's lead civil rights reporter took him to the South's hotspots throughout the 1960s: James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississipi, the 1963 Birmingham church bombing, the assassination of Medgar Evers, the murders of three civil rights workers in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and more.

On May 17, 1966, Fleming was beaten by black rioters on the streets of Los Angeles. Newsweek covered the incident in their next issue, and here's what they wrote: "That he was beaten by Negroes in the streets of Watts was a cruel irony. Fleming had covered the landmark battles of the Negro revolt from Albany, Ga., to Oxford, Miss., to Birmingham, Ala., and numberless way stations whose names are now all but forgotten.... No journalist was more closely tuned into the Movement; once when a Newsweek Washington correspondent asked the Justice Department to name some Dixie hot spots, the Justice man replied, 'Ask Fleming. That's what we do.'"

In Son of the Rough South , Fleming has delivered a stunning, revealing memoir of all the worlds he knew, black, white, violent, and cloistered -- and a deeply moving read for anyone interested in any rough South.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

Fleming covered the social struggles of the 1960s for Newsweek as its chief civil rights reporter. What makes this bracing memoir more than a simple morality tale about good activists versus evil traditionalists is Fleming's deep connection to Southern culture: raised in crushing poverty in smalltown North Carolina during the Depression, he was given over to a church orphanage at the tender age of eight when his mother could no longer afford to take care of him. Stumbling into journalism almost by accident, Fleming (now the L.A.-based spouse of Ann Taylor Fleming) began to see the racist culture around him in a new way, and vowed to expose the truth. Following this youthful and idealistic declaration is a harrowing and brutally honest account of Fleming's experiences on all sides of the civil rights battle: oafish, vile Klansmen as well as inspirational leaders, activists and everyday people struggling for equality are here, but more compelling are Fleming's own struggles to understand his place as a white Southerner in the midst of the chaos, fear, hatred and optimism that marked the South in the early 1960s. Eventually, the violence, both personal and political, overwhelmed Fleming, and he recounts in sobering detail his struggle to make sense of his life and his past in the years following the end of the Civil Rights movement. The territory may be familiar, but Fleming provides a complex and fresh perspective. (May) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Kirkus Review

A long-time Newsweek journalist piggybacks his life's story onto the most important news event of his career: the turbulent drama of the civil rights movement. Unfortunately, though, Fleming's brilliance as a journalist is strangely at odds with his weakness as a memoirist. Clearly more comfortable recalling the violence of the struggle for racial equality, he offers vibrant portraits of the most harrowing incidents of that era, including the enrollment of James Meredith at the University of Mississippi, the investigation into the disappearance of three civil rights workers near Philadelphia, Miss., and the funeral of Martin Luther King Jr. in Atlanta. These sections stand out with sharp observations of body language, vocal inflections, political maneuvering, street theater and the steely determination of both civil rights agitators and segregationist status quo enforcers to plant their politics on the landscape. Strangely, though, Fleming's attempt to tell his personal story is less compelling. Born in 1927 in North Carolina, raised for most of his childhood in a Methodist orphanage (even though his mother was still alive and healthy), he escaped poverty and isolation through a late-teens stint in the Navy and then became a reporter. Yet he fails to enrich the account of his own life with the kind of revealing detail he brings to his historic coverage. The two stories that brought him his greatest national exposure, as the victim of a vicious assault during the 1966 Watts riots and one of those fooled by the D.B. Cooper hoax, are presented in an antiseptic and detached manner. His narrative of the post-Newsweek years sweeps along in an elusive rush lacking emotion and specificity; he casually, almost accidentally, drops in an account of being hospitalized and treated with electroshock therapy. It would seem the story of Fleming's life is the dramatic news events he covered, not the life itself. The author's talents as a historian far outweigh his abilities as an autobiographer. Copyright ©Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Booklist Review

Fleming will forever be remembered as the Newsweek reporter who was photographed after being severely beaten in the Watts riots of 1966. In this memoir, he recounts the long road that led to his reporting on race relations and the incendiary social issues that exploded that day. He was born in 1927 in a poor, bleak North Carolina community and raised in an orphanage when his mother could no longer afford to take care of him. Fleming left college early to begin life as a reporter with a small-town newspaper, covering the police beat with a cynical police chief who mistreated blacks. It was Fleming's first hint that, having grown up in an orphanage, his sympathies were with the underdog. He went on to cover the turbulent racial changes in the South, including James Meredith's enrollment at the University of Mississippi and the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr and Medgar Evers. In this stunning memoir, Fleming offers the perspective of a poor white boy witnessing the racial turbulence that changed the U.S.--Vanessa Bush Copyright 2005 Booklist

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