THE MOVEMENT MADE US: A Telling
As I read THE MOVEMENT MADE US, I reflected on what I learned about generational racialized trauma in books such as My Grandmother’s Hands by Resmaa Menakem. Menakem’s book is wonderful, full of wisdom and advice. But what we learn from the father/son telling in THE MOVEMENT MADE US is on a different level. David Dennis Jr., in collaboration with his father, takes us into the Civil Rights battles and the after-effect on both Dennises. As a result, we gain emotional learning. The courage and vulnerability such a telling requires is a true gift to the reader.
The Power of Interviews
THE MOVEMENT MADE US is the result of intensive interviews between the journalist son and the activist father. At the time of the interviews, Dennis Sr. was almost eighty years old. The telling of Dennis Sr.’s recollections are interspersed with present-day letters from Dennis Jr. to his dad and, lastly, to his own children.
Early in my writing career, I interviewed my mom for a family memoir. The core of the memoir was the silence about my dad’s death when his car hit a train, killing himself and the other woman in the car. Often, as I asked my questions, my voice shook at broaching a taboo subject, my courage to know faltered. What I was excavating doesn’t approach the intensity of violence, responsibility, and hatred Dennis Jr. was asking his dad to remember. Nor was my relationship with my mom as complicated as Dennis’ with his dad. I admire his undertaking, and his honesty about how hard that undertaking was on both men.
The Power of White Supremacy
Following Dennis Sr.’s activist life, the story begins in New Orleans, weaves through Shreveport, and spends a great deal of time in Mississippi. The arc of the telling culminates in Dennis Sr.’s insights into the power of white supremacy. Dennis Sr. told himself whites wouldn’t harm women and children. That whites wouldn’t harm other whites. That democracy was more important than white supremacy. One by one, each of these beliefs tumbled to the dominance of white supremacy.
The hopelessness I felt reading Dennis Sr.’s experience was similar to my feeling reading Derrick Bell. Dennis Jr. increased this hopelessness by tying his father’s experiences to his own modern-day experiences. But—and this is the crucial note the book ends on—he also answered the hopelessness.
The Ultimate Power of the Movement
The book ends with a letter from Dennis Jr. to his own two children. The letter is an eloquent answer to the “seemingly unstoppable force of generational terror.” I’ll let you read it for yourself, but the belief in the power to heal and change the flow of three-dimensional time lifts all hopelessness. I know that one day the story will mean as much to this next generation as it did to the first two.
Civil Rights memoirs, David J. Dennis, generational racialized trauma, Generational terror, Mississippi Civil Rights Movement, The Movement Made Us, the power of white supremacy
Derrick John Knight
An insightful review informed by your own experience
Ellen Morris Prewitt
Thank you, Derrick!