South of Little Rock is a story of love, hate, fear, and courage in a small town in southern Arkansas in 1957. It will make you smile. It will make you cry. It will make you angry. And it will give you hope.
Sam Tate is a white merchant, councilman, and widower who dotes on his two children—five-year-old Mary Jane and twelve-year old Billy—and has not given much thought to how black people live. He only wants to play baseball with them. The playing leads to friendship with black businessman Leon Jackson and raises hackles among whites.
Becky Reeves is an unmarried northerner who ignores a warning from her mother and comes south to teach. She uses methods that are unlike those of other teachers and Billy is one of her students.
Ida Belle Tate is a strong-willed woman who loves helping raise her grandchildren and quilting with her friends Emma Lou MacDonald and Almalee Jolly. She dislikes blacks and Yankees and does not want her son socializing with them.
Life changes for all of them when Governor Faubus resists the court-ordered desegregation of Little Rock Central High School and President Eisenhower sends troops to ensure it. While national authority clashes with states’ rights in the state capital, Preston Upshaw, an ambitious editor, and Elmer Spurlock, a bigoted minister, fan racial hatred and unrest in Unionville.
Amid cross burnings, White Citizens’ Council meetings, and all manner of ruminating, speculating, and sermonizing among townsfolk, white and black, at home, work, and church, Sam questions old ways, Ida Belle clings to tradition, and Becky’s teaching angers parents and school officials. All of this brings Sam and Becky together then combines with the family circumstances of each to stand between them.
Praise for South of Little Rock
“South of Little Rock not only captures America’s small-town past, it says something seminal—and remarkably relevant today—about our racial history.” – Charles Phillips, coauthor of What Every American Should Know about American History
“Meticulously researched, crisply rendered, and smartly constructed, South of Little Rock is an absorbing read.” – Scott Eberle, member of the New York State Council on the Arts and blogger for Psychology Today
“George Rollie Adams creates realistic characters and dialogue like a master playwright, with all the rhythms and incidental poetry of everyday conversations in a complex place and time. Reading South of Little Rock will be a highlight of anyone’s year.” – Don Daglow, Emmy Award-winning video game designer and author of The Fog Seller: A San Francisco Mystery
“South of Little Rock takes us back to a turbulent and troubled time to explore issues that continue to shape our lives.” – Lisa Feinstein, educator and history museum executive