Through Angel’s Eyes
Author: Steve Theunissen
The color of your skin should not define the person that you are on the inside but unfortunately sometimes it does. People had a hard time accepting those of other races and colors back in the 60’s and some still do now. Through Angel Eyes brings back a time period where many struggled for more than just racial equality but their existence too. Through the eyes of a young girl named Angel Dunbar we hear the voices of so many ring out as she tries to understand why people have to fight to be educated and learn about their heritage, hide truths from others because they are afraid and understand that standing up for what you believe does not mean carrying a weapon. The time period is the 60’s and the place is Alabama and the family might be the Dunbar’s but it could be any family or families that lived through the prejudice, injustice and indignities that so many endured but did not deserve.
We meet Angel and her family when her brother Jimmy tries to explain to his parents that he’s working hard to get more Black people the vote. His father’s reaction and what he shows him explains his feelings about what his son is doing but does not stop him from forging ahead. Angel is a smart yet impressionable child who admires her brother but who wants to understand the world as we relive this time period in the South when the Civil Rights Movement was growing and a young child named Angel Dunbar narrates the story in her own dialect which brings the events to light as if they were happening right now. Angel learns about hate, racism, abuse the fears of many who live near her and the lack of understanding so many have for the injustices faced by the blacks and the tortures inflicted on them because of the color of their skin.
Angel’s class in school is filled with students that want to learn and some that even ask the right questions. Sitting in class and listening to Mister Newton read Tom Brown’s Schooldays started a discussion that would change everything for the students in her class. Ronny Jackson was outspoken and often got into trouble for being disrespectful. But, Mister Newton had a way about him that could handle this young man.
Change is difficult to handle for some. There are those that embrace it as they would a warm hug and others fear it like a cold winter’s snowstorm. Those who speak out are often shunned or criticized and silenced some hide from the truths that the world needs to face. Angel and Jimmy are not reactionaries, they are not militants. They are hopefuls; visionaries who seek to understand the injustices faced by their families, the slaves in the past and others in the present hoping to change it for the better. But, can they and will the world listen?
Non-violence: Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee: How to Understand their mission or goals are explained by a young man named Dave to readers and young adults as the author takes everyone back in time to the 60’s to a Woolworth’s in Greensboro where four young black boys sat down at a lunch counter and just wanted to be served. Calm, not creating a disturbance and sitting there waiting to be treated just like white people, these four young men took segregation down in a dignified, orderly and coordinated manner. Sit-in movements began in this Woolworths but did not end or stop there. This was just the beginning of what was to come as these four young men had as the speaker, Angel in the novel relates and describes this focal point of some many lives and the force that allowed these young men to persevere: Guts, conviction and the right way to get their point across. Nothing stirred up anger; the police had no reason to intervene and the young men made a strong impact on so many that day. Dr. Martin Luther King was the one who spearheaded this movement and whose ideals and commitment to this movement the author now relates.
Angel was so taken by the thoughts and words at this meeting she goes to the one person who supports and understands what is happening, Miss Hattie. Speaking to her about her troubles and concerns always clarifies things for her and puts them into perspective. Doubts come to all of us but before leaving Miss Hattie she tells Angel to remember: Harriet Tubman. Kids do not always understand the thoughts of others and when one young girl in her class blurts out the information that she does not want to share not only does it snowball but also her mother bans her from seeing Miss Hattie. Narrow-minded people, fearful and those that do not embrace change create major conflicts for Angel. Ronny Jackson is the one young boy in her class that seems to understand but does he? Does power come from the barrel of a gun or in a different way? As the African Studies class brought to light many positives for Angel and the other students, Ronny’s reactionary ideas were more to create a revolution and violence. Things would change after one meeting for the people of Birmingham and many other places as one day in April would bring to light that segregation was on its way out but not without a fight. April 3 would be a day they would never forget when black people would sit at lunch counters, boycott, sit-ins at restaurants and much more to get the message across. One man was working with the Southern Christian Leadership and brought the message to all that attended this meeting. So, why did a group of Black Muslims decide to throw rocks at the windows and why did one young man in her class tell everyone about this closed meeting? Why didn’t they want change?
Author Steve Theunissen takes the reader back to a time when a descending voice could be silenced with violence and the rights of so many were oppressed by a select few. The rise of the civil rights movement, the many different marches, the responses of the many different churches and finally the death of Dr. King, are just some of what marks this important period in time.
The news would broadcast the event as 25 Negroes let by Local Negro Activist Fred Shuttlesworth marched on the Baptist Church on 16th Street and then to the F.W. Woodworth’s Department Store. The police answered by arresting them. But, her mother was afraid, angry and more than upset when her son joined this group and Angel defended it. As Jimmy explains what happened at the meeting to Angel you can hear the determination in his voice, the pride in his words and the hope that someday it would make a difference. Angel took it all in and understood but was torn about how to deal with Ronny even when warned to stay away from him. Next, a boycott of all white stores and the hope that the community would support them so why did Angel want to go to a Black Power meeting with Ronny? What would her family say after learning what really happened to her father and why he was so against change?
As you read page 75 you learn more about what they planned and how their movement was different from that of Dr. King’s. Both wanted freedom for the Black People but both were going to accomplish it in different ways. As her father hears the words of Dr. King he beings to understand the message. But, their father gave them permission to attend the meetings to hear Dr. King and that was powerful enough and a great beginning.
As Angel and her friend Amie talk about how things have changed including her, we hear the words of Dr. King as the author shares his thoughts, his dreams and his ideals with readers on pages 86-88 as Dr. King’s words ring out in the hearts and minds of everyone. Protests, arrests, Dr. King and others in jail and more marches to come. So, what about her relationship with Ronny Jackson and why was he at one of her meetings? What happens when Angel and her friends join the protest at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church? What happens when the police come? Bull Connor an officer of the law what were his motives in pushing back the white people? Just what was he going to do? What happens next will make you shudder and understand the dangers involved when these people just wanted to protest, take a stand and yet the fire hoses came out and so many including Angel and her friend were hurt. What about Miss Hattie caught up in this too? What she learns and where they wind up makes her stand even stronger and prouder?
Something happens that changes everything when a friend is killed and another proves his loyalty we learn more about Angel, her feelings for Ronny and her convictions.
An ending that will definitely surprise the reader and one young girl that will endear you into your heart as Angel learns more about the civil rights movement, the young man that she cares about and what his fate might be, the March on Washington on August 28, 1963 and hear the I Have A Dream Speech and listen to the words and understand their meaning. An ending so powerful it will bring tears to your eyes and the hope that Angel had for the future will take more than just courage to withstand.
This is a book for all students’ middle school, high school and college to read, to understand that what happened in 1963 is still happening in many places even now. One powerful book. One must read for everyone to understand: Angel Eyes: See the world through the eyes of this young girl and you might understand what those living at that time went through and endured.
Fran Lewis: reviewer