The Shadows of Youth The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation

Andrew B. Lewis

Hill and Wang



Trade Paperback

368 Pages



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Julian Bond, Stokely Carmichael, Bob Moses, John Lewis, Marion Barry, Bob Zellner, Julian Bond, Diane Nash: their lives recall a decade when a small number of idealistic American youths forever changed history. Forcefully written and deeply researched, The Shadows of Youth spans the tumultuous decades from World War II to the present, weaving a collective biography of the young activists who—under the banner of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s—challenged the way Americans thought about civil rights, politics, and moral obligations. And the historians Andrew B. Lewis establishes that it was these young Americans, assuming the central role in defining the civil rights movement, who ensured that it was finally victorious.  The story of American civil rights has too long centered on the achievements of Martin Luther Kind, Jr., and a few familiar events. Drawing on a wealth of original sources and interviews, Lewis shifts the focus to the teenagers who spontaneously launched sit-ins across the South in the summer of 1960. Through the lives of bond, Carmichael, Moses, Lewis, Barry, Zellner, Nash, and their contemporaries, The Shadows of Youth unearths the cultural events that turned a disparate group of young adults into—to use Nash's term—skilled freedom fighters who were critical to the success of the movement. The trajectory of their lives, from their teenage years to adulthood, coincided with the arc of the most decisive era of civil rights. For the first time, this sweeping history establishes the centrality of their achievement to the movement's accomplishments.


Praise for The Shadows of Youth

"They were freshmen at North Carolina A&T on Feb. 1, 1960, when they took their seats at the whites-only lunch counter at Woolworth's in downtown Greensboro. Four young blacks tired of segregation laws, they were refused service and asked to leave. But they remained until the counter closed, and when they walked back to their dorm exhilarated, they had set in motion an act of civil disobedience—the sit-in—that took the civil rights movement by storm. The next day, 25 sit-in protesters showed up. Then 63 filled all but two seats at Woolworth's. The protest spilled over to the nearby Kress department store, and as word spread across North Carolina and across the South, so did the sit-in: By mid-April, more than 50,000 protesters—ordinary Americans, most of them young—had attacked Jim Crow at the counter. Andrew B. Lewis, a historian at Wesleyan University, recounts this pivotal moment in his book, The Shadows of Youth: The Remarkable Journey of the Civil Rights Generation, as he chronicles the roles of a band of young people who gave new direction and courage to the movement at a crucial time . . . The book is a shorthand history of the civil rights era—from lynching victim Emmett Till and the Supreme Court's Brown v. Board of Education decision that outlawed school segregation, to the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott, the rise of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the sit-in phenomenon—as it follows the lives of several key figures who forged the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, some becoming far better-known today than those four college students at Greensboro . . . He distills the vast trove of material on SNCC and the movement with a sure, skillful hand. The book would be an excellent starting point for anyone, particularly young people, wanting to learn about key points in the modern civil rights era and the rise—and fall—of SNCC. His portrait of Bob Moses, the philosopher-activist in a white T-shirt and bib overalls whose journey took him from Harvard University to Mississippi to Africa and back, would make anyone unfamiliar with him want to learn more. This is true of others in Lewis' account, such as Zellner, a white Alabama student who remained committed and courageous even when SNCC turned against him. The second half of the book chronicles SNCC's downward spiral, the success and prominence of some, and the disillusionment and personal travails of others in its aging cadre. But Lewis makes clear how much their fearlessness in youth mattered."—Kendal Weaver, Associated Press

“Lewis takes on this tumultuous journey in a fact-based account of the movement’s moral and political dilemmas . . . His view of the student movement working in the shadow of the iconic Martin Luther King is both insightful and alarming . . . The extent of Lewis’s research makes this an excellent tool and especially fertile ground for screenwriters, politicians, and anyone interested in this polarizing period of history.” —Sheli Ellsworth, San Francisco Book Review

"In this articulate volume . . . Lewis reminds us that there is still much to illuminate in the long shadows of modern history."—Teresa Weaver, Atlanta

"The Shadows of Youth does something that no other book on the civil rights movement has done. Andrew B. Lewis reminds us that that the legendary activists of SNCC were not merely civil rights shock troops, activists intellectuals, or democratic idealists; they were also baby boomers, and their story needs to be read in light of the peculiar Sturm und Drang of America's post-World War II youth culture."—Joseph Crespino, author of In Search of Another Country: Mississippi and the Conservative Counterrevolution

The Shadows of Youth is a kind of group biography of this generation of young men and women such as John Lewis, Julian Bond, Diane Nash and Stokely Carmichael. Lewis relies on already-published histories of the movement, but he knows how to tell a compelling story, and he is able to take these figures and render them in their full, three-dimensional complexity. The result is a taut, compact history of the civil rights movement seen from the perspective of a particular generation of its leadership.”—Michael A. Elliott, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

The Shadows of Youth brings to life once again the nation-transforming '60s. It does so from the perspective of intelligent, passionate black youths. In a clear, measured, and highly readable style, Lewis' book pays tribute to the courage of those students who began their march for freedom on that 1960 Easter weekend in Raleigh.”—William F. Powers, The Raleigh News and Observer

“Historian Lewis offers an engaging look at some of the major figures in the budding civil rights Movement” —Vanessa Bush, Booklist

"With deep admiration and rigorous scholarship, historian Lewis revisits the 'ragtag band' of young men and women who formed the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. Impatient with what they considered the overly cautious and accommodating pace of the NAACP and Martin Luther King Jr., the black college students and their white allies, inspired by Gandhi's principles of nonviolence and moral integrity, risked their lives to challenge a deeply entrenched system. Fanning out over the Jim Crow South, SNCC organized sit-ins, voter registration drives, Freedom Schools and protest marches. Despite early successes, the movement disintegrated in the late 1960s, succeeded by the militant 'Black Power' movement. The highly readable history follows the later careers of the principal leaders. Some, like Stokely Carmichael and H. 'Rap' Brown, became bitter and disillusioned. Others, including Marion Barry, Julian Bond and John Lewis, tempered their idealism and moved from protest to politics, assuming positions of leadership within the very institutions they had challenged. According to the author, 'No organization contributed more to the civil rights movement than SNCC,' and with his eloquent book, he offers a deserved tribute."—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



Read an Excerpt

When fourteen-year-old John Lewis opened the paper on May 16, 1954, the headline stunned him: the Supreme Court had de­clared segregated schools unconstitutional. He  could not believe it. Separate schools were one of the cornerstones of southern segrega­tion. He felt his world “turned upside down.” He was sure he would be attending an integrated school that coming September, a mere four months away. But Lewis’s hopes would be dashed by a school deseg­regation process that saw only
Read the full excerpt


  • Andrew B. Lewis

  • Andrew B. Lewis has taught at the University of Richmond, Hamilton College, and Wesleyan University, and, with Julian bond, is coeditor of Gonna Sit at the Welcome Table: A Documentary History of the Civil Rights Movement.