... [a] short, very potent primer on four groups of people usually left out of the general hallelujahs for the Greatest Generation ... Unfortunately, it’s hard to do full justice to them all in only 206 pages of text; the book could have been twice its length. With Murray, for example, we only see hints of her willingness to challenge just about every norm she encountered, from where she sat on a bus to her own sexuality. The length also keeps Gaines from fully explaining the fractious, changing nature of the American Communist Party ... Yet brevity can also be powerful and here, stripped to their essence, the stories of people like Fannie Lou Hamer, the martyred Evers and Rachel Carson...all hit with fresh impact ... an excellent starting point for understanding how we got to where we are, and what we risk returning to if we don’t rediscover the faith these men and women had in America’s enduring potential to remake itself in the image of justice.
Gaines provides engrossing character studies of people both well-known and more obscure ... All of these lives are well documented in biographies, memoirs and scholarly publications, from which Gaines skillfully draws his evidence ... More fascinating to me, however, are the many lesser-known individuals who populate Gaines’s book as agents of change ... it is clear that despite the somewhat triumphalist trajectory of Gaines’s narrative, pointing as it does to the legislative and regulatory victories to follow, these battles have not been permanently won.
... enlightening, powerful and intimate ... This excellent, well-researched and well-written book shows how far America has come and yet how very far we have to go to become the country we often think we are.
The book isn't really 'An Underground History' Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hamer, Rachel Carson, Norbert Wiener and other individuals featured by Gaines were public figures in the '50s—and many 21st-century Americans are familiar with them. Gaines maintains, not always persuasively, that in the 1950s Black women (like Pauli Murray) were 'pioneers of a vigorous postwar feminism.' And that Black World War II veterans (like Evers, Robert Williams and Kennard) believed 'nonviolence without the support of armed resistance to racist violence amounted to surrender' ... The Fifties is at its best when Gaines describes the courage of his heroes and the price they paid for standing up and speaking out in hostile environments.
... revelatory ... [Gaines] sheds light on a whole range of underground movements tackling everything from race relations to working-class feminism by way of non-binary sexuality ... Gaines’s great skill is to use individual life stories, with all their messy contradictions, to dislodge entrenched narratives about life in postwar America ... By attending to the experience of historical actors as they move through the world, he builds an account that is full of the complexity of lived experience. The result may not make for a simple read, but it is an infinitely rich one.
... an engrossing deep dive into the personal histories of important figures of what he calls “the long fifties” (roughly 1945–63); many of the book’s subjects have been overlooked in conventional histories ... This work by Gaines follows in the footsteps of David Halberstam’s 1993 book of the same title and will be enjoyed by readers seeking solid historical research that is also an informative read. Recommended.
Historian Gaines...delivers a compassionate and insightful group portrait ... Gaines provides essential historical context and vividly captures the resilience of these and other 'authentic rebels' who battled the FBI, McCarthyism, the medical industry, and the Ku Klux Klan ...This revisionist history is packed with insights.
Drawing on histories, memoirs, reportage, and government documents, the author creates a vigorous group biography of several feisty individuals who risked isolation and censure by advocating for systemic change ... Inspiring activists populate a useful revisionist history.