Cover image for Speak now against the day : the generation before the civil rights movement in the South
Speak now against the day : the generation before the civil rights movement in the South
Egerton, John.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Chapel Hill, N.C. : University of North Carolina Press, 1995.

Physical Description:
704 pages, 48 unnumbered pages of plates ; 24 cm
General Note:
Reprint. Previously published: New York : Knopf, 1994.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
E185.61 .E28 1994C Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



The compelling story of the earliest calls for desegregation and racial justice in the South.

"Make room on your library shelf . . . for John Egerton's magnificent Speak Now Against the Day . His book is a stunning achievement: a sprawling, engrossing, deeply moving account of those Southerners, black and white, who raised their voices to challenge the South's racial mores. . . . [This] is an eloquent and passionate book, and . . . one we cannot afford to forget.--Charles B. Dew, New York Times Book Review

"A rich and inspiring story. . . . [Egerton] has uncovered a buried treasure.--Studs Terkel

"[A] superb book, measured but eloquent.--Dan T. Carter, Washington Post Book World

Author Notes

John Egerton was born on June 14, 1935. He received an undergraduate degree from the University of Kentucky after serving two years in the Army and then went into public relations. He moved to Nashville, Tennessee in 1965 to work for the Southern Education Reporting Service, which monitored integration efforts following the Supreme Court's decision in Brown v. Board of Education. The job led to a prolific career filled with newspaper jobs, magazine assignments and books.

His first book, A Mind to Stay Here, was published in 1970. During his lifetime, he wrote 10 historical and literary books and contributed to several more as a writer and editor. His other works include The Americanization of Dixie: The Southernization of America and Southern Food: At Home, on the Road, in History. He won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Award for Speak Now Against the Day: The Generation Before the Civil Rights Movement in the South and the Lillian Smith Book Award for Generations: An American Family.

He was the co-creator of the documentary A Child Shall Lead Them, about the desegregation of Nashville's schools. He co-founded the Southern Foodways Alliance, dedicated to Southern food and culture. He died of an apparent heart attack on November 21, 2013 at the age of 78.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

Spanning the years 1932-54, Egerton's intensely detailed dissection of his native South covers its seemingly somnolent attitude toward civil rights before the Brown desegregation decision sounded reveille. Beneath the stasis of the Jim Crow regime, though, brave individuals bestirred complacent white supremos, who generally managed to remain united in defense of the status quo. Egerton often hangs his narrative on this theme of conservative unity/liberal disharmony, which culminates in the idea that an opportunity for ending segregation uncoerced by the North was missed after the war. With such a strong, sturdy structure in place, Egerton's prose almost effortlessly covers the impact of the New Deal and the political lay of the land, particularly the congressional barons who kept blacks separate and unequal for as long as they could. But Egerton's fluency builds on hard research, interspersed with lighter personal views about growing up a vaguely liberal white. Apart from politics and the fortunes of nascent civil rights organizations, other passages critique 20 years of journalism and the incomparable literary florescence of white and black writers. (The title lifts a phrase from a prescient Faulkner speech delivered a month before Rosa Parks refused to move to the back of the bus.) The signal service this engrossing chronicle provides is the historical resurrection of lawyers, scriveners, tenant-farm organizers, and everyday people who sweltered under segregation even as they cast about for ways to end it. A milestone narrative in civil rights history. (Reviewed October 1, 1994)0679408088Gilbert Taylor

Publisher's Weekly Review

Egerton, author of several books on Southern culture and history (Generations), has put together a sprawling history of the South from 1932 to 1954-the Depression to the landmark Brown desegregation decision. His title derives from Faulkner's lament against Southern white intransigence, and his underlying question is: why wasn't change grasped sooner? Egerton answers by probing the writings of infrequently daring intellectuals (Myles Horton and Don West of Tennessee's Highlander Folk School were among the few real radicals) and often-reactionary politicians (``feudal barons'' like Virginia Senators Carter Glass and Harry F. Byrd), describing the modernizing impact of radio and roadways, and charting cataclysms like the New Deal and WWII. He captures neat anecdotes: the white director of the University of North Carolina Press, who commissioned the 1943 book What the Negro Wants, was shocked by black demands for equality. Egerton's near-encyclopedic approach, surveying lists of academics, writers, organizations and institutions, makes his book read like a compendium, but given his ambitious topic, he has done yeoman work to recapture an era. Photos not seen by PW. (Nov.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Native Southerner Egerton (Shades of Gray, LJ 10/1/91) details a rich historical narrative of black and white Southerners opposing white supremacy during the 1930s and 1940s. Egerton superbly weaves descriptions of social and intellectual ferment, politics, and culture (e.g., literature, religion, music) into a coherent synthesis. He explains why the South failed to dismantle white supremacy when the possibility existed for voluntary, peaceful social reform. Egerton excoriates the crude, anti-democratic, self-serving social elites and politicians who denied human rights to black Americans. His book is a tribute to those black and white Southerners who wanted racial equality when many white Americans preferred not to acknowledge that racism had corroded America. Strongly recommended for public and academic libraries.-Charles L. Lumpkins, Bloomsburg Univ. Lib., Pa. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

If historians (or readers) have forgotten or ignored the efforts to change race relations before the activities of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., this book goes far in recovering the era form 1932 to 1954. Egerton believes that the South had a chance to change course in the years following WW II but failed to do so. He primarily blames the white southern conservatives called Bourbons for their adamant resistance, but he also faults white liberals for their hesitancy and their devotion to segregation. Before King, southern blacks were too powerless to initiate change by themselves. The Truman administration and the Supreme Court required changes, but the Bourbons, the Klan, and White Citizens Councils successfully resisted desegregation. Furthermore, southern reactionary politicians charged the Civil Rights Movement as communist-inspired, and the chance for internal reform passed. The South still believed in a hierarchical society, Victorian rigidity, and conformity, and the it remained isolated, impoverished, and defensive. Egerton's effort complements Harry Ashmore's Civil Rights and Wrongs (CH, Oct'94). General; upper-division undergraduate; graduate. L. H. Grothaus; Concordia Teachers College