Shaking the Gates of Hell: A Search for Family and Truth in the Wake of the Civil Rights Revolution

Knopf. Mar. 2021. 400p. ISBN 9780525658115. $26.95. BIOG
Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist Archibald (The Birmingham News) presents a memoir exploring his childhood in Alabama as the white son of a preacher during the civil rights movement. His father was a warm, loving, moral presence in his life, yet Archibald aims to understand why his father had “a good heart and a pulpit and an inability to use it.” Using written copies of his father’s sermons, Archibald traces how the civil rights movement was barely mentioned except for veiled references in parables or metaphors. He also explores how this mindset was present in the larger Methodist community at the time and draws parallels to the treatment of the gay community during later years. His poignant reflections involve asking himself who he is, and who he would like to be. Archibald recognizes the inherent problems with judging another man in another time and also of his own moments of silence, but argues that studying the hypocrisy of the past is how change can occur today.
VERDICT A powerful reflection on the influences of family and community and the ability to act justly in tumultuous times. Biography readers, especially those interested in reconciling the past, will be captivated by Archibald’s honest, conversational style.
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