Author David Dennis Jr. and his activist father, David Dennis Sr., traveled to Jackson, Mississippi to hold a book signing and reading event at Lemuria Bookstore on May 17 in honor of the release of their new book, The Movement Made Us: A Father, a Son, and the Legacy of a Freedom Ride. Jackson’s First Lady and English professor, Ebony Lumumba, hosted the discussion. During the course of the conversation, they talked about the impetus of the book and the importance of the Movement.
In the early 2000s, circa 2002-2003, David Dennis Jr. was a junior at Murrah High School in Jackson when the idea for a book about his father’s life began to take form. One day, after entering the 2nd floor classroom of Mrs. Alix Davis Williams, he and the entire APAC English class, including this article’s writer, were assigned a bit of light reading in the form of the book The Things They Carried by Tim O’Brien.
Written in 1990, the book is a collection of short stories about the author’s time as a soldier in the Vietnam War. While reading the narrative, Dennis quickly drew the connection(s) between what happened to O’Brien and his infantry during one of the most controversial wars in American history and what happened to his father during the Civil Rights Movement, especially the time immediately preceding, during, and following Freedom Summer in Mississippi.
Through this discernment, he concluded that the Movement was a war – maybe somewhat invisible or disregarded but a war nonetheless. While Americans were fighting to establish and uphold democracy in Vietnam from 1955 until the fall of Saigon in 1975, Black Americans were fighting to do the same thing in America (it should be said for much longer and even still).
David Dennis Sr. came to Mississippi, by way of Louisiana, to work with CORE (The Congress of Racial Equity), eventually becoming the Mississippi director for the organization. The Movement Made Us chronicles Dennis’ introduction to activism – which is preceded by a poignant juxtaposition to The Things They Carried – through his work organizing; working with Medgar Evers; meeting James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman; and narrowly escaping the same horrific death that the three activists met, among other anecdotes.
But what stands out the most in the book is the generational healing that occurred between father and son throughout the course of its making. Dennis Jr. writes four letters, strategically placed amongst the war stories, that seem to travel through space and time as a son recognizes the depth of his father’s life, despite the shortcomings, and a father reconciles with the ghosts of his past, moving through the guilt of being a war survivor. And the last letter reaches towards the future to Dennis Jr.’s son as he understands the weight of trying to fight in his own right for the next generation to not have to go through the same injustices and inequities as this one.
To hear more about The Movement Made Us, check out the latest episode of the “Volume” podcast where Dennis Jr. recently sat down with Jackson Advocate publisher DeAnna Tisdale Johnson. The episode is available to stream on Spotify. The Movement Made Us is available for purchase in stores and online at various retailers.