Crossing the Lines by Richard Doster

Sports reporter Jack Hall didn’t see any problem with black athletes, especially if they were good, but he didn’t want his friends to think he was chummy with them or any Negro person. That would be crossing the line. His friends felt the same way. Playing baseball was fine. It’s not like those people were sitting in the same classroom or dancing with our children.

And Jack and Rose Marie Hall had a personal interest in avoiding desegregation issues. In the previous year, 1954, their home had been bombed by someone who didn’t like Jack’s public stand in favor of the Negro player on the local team. Now, the Halls have moved to Atlanta, and Jack’s new boss, Ralph McGill, wants to look into the Montgomery, Alabama, bus boycott inspired by Rosa Parks. Jack is the only reporter at a meeting of community leaders who choose then-unknown-preacher Martin L. King to lead the boycott. That frontline position gets King’s house bombed within a few months, and the Halls feel a new link to a family they would rather not befriend.

Crossing the Lines is loaded with historical detail, even some casual references from the characters which are not explained to the reader. It lead me to wonder if certain characters I took as wholly fictional creations were actually based on living people. Mr. Doster explains some of the details in an afterward and brief interview at the end of the book, impressing on the reader the faithfulness of his account.

The narrative takes Jack from the Montgomery Improvement Association’s boycott of buses to a Sugar Bowl game and a World Series in which black athletes play to the first day of integrated schools in Little Rock, Arkansas, (highlighting a famous photo of Hazel Bryan and Elizabeth Eckford) to Sam Phillips and the dawn of rock and roll to conversations Flannery O’Connor, ironing out most of the subtleties on the way. It’s essentially a writer’s book, spending a lot of time on Jack Hall the reporter, and in this way the reader is urged to see how decent Christian white people thought about the more-or-less quiet injustice to the black people in their cities—they didn’t. At one point, Jack talks with his pastor about a Christian’s responsibility to build godly communities. That applies to the Negros, they agree, but “outright integration . . . it’s going to take you some places you really don’t want to go.”

The history recorded in this book is very interesting, and I think this book has a place in telling it to new readers. It would benefit from less attention to the back office details of the reporter and more attention to historical details of the civil rights movement.

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