Small Moments: A Child’s Memories of the Civil Rights Movement – Mary M. Barrow

(Reviewed by Pat Luboff)

I just discovered a treasure that you might not find if you’re depending on the mainstream bestsellers list for reading recommendations. I can’t say enough good things about Small Moments by Mary M. Barrow.

Small Moments is a big book, but I don’t mean page-wise. It illuminates the horrors of racism and sexism by painting a picture of exquisite detail as seen through the eyes of a young girl. The devil is in the details. Like a pointillist oil painting, the tiny bits of information in the fleeting facial expressions, the hand gestures, the thoughtless things people say, all add up to the big picture of the world as it was in the early 1960s.

In that world, the head of the house made decisions that affected everyone without consulting anyone. He beats his son, he makes his wife and family move to a town and a house they don’t want, he sends his servant’s husband away, he spouts his hatred constantly without being challenged. He embodies the ignorance and prejudice of the times.

But he is not the main character in this true story. The central figure is the author’s housekeeper, Amelia, an African American woman who has moved in with the family. Ms. Barrow communicates the essence of this woman expertly and effectively. The effect is that the reader is pulled into the scene and experiences the emotions of all the characters, especially the author/child and Amelia/Mimi.

Each chapter is introduced with a small reference to the actual historical events of the time. The chapter then tells the story of an event in the lives of the family, the microcosm as it reflected the macrocosm. Wow! What a subtle feat! The reader is led to understanding and left to drink in the pervasiveness of the thought system that, eventually, kills the author’s beloved Mimi.

This is the kind of book that makes you wish you had nothing else to do but read it: the kind of book that makes you slow down reading towards the end because you don’t want it to be over. I give Small Moments 10 bookmarks out of 5!

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