I Will Not Fear by Melba Pattillo Beals {Review}

I Will Not Fear: My Story of a Lifetime of Building Faith Under Fire by Melba Pattillo Beals (The ebook is $0.99 right now!)

“Then the realization hit me. The pain and torture were continuous during time spent inside the school. That was minimally seven hours each day. Add to that travel time, exit and entry times, and time spent in meetings, and I concluded my entire life was now wrapped around the word integration. I wasn’t at all certain I had understood how huge the task would be.” p 51

I Will Not Fear is written by Melba Pattillo Beals, one of the nine African American students chosen to integrate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1957. In this book Melba Beals tells us about her experiences during that time and her life to the present day. This is the story of how her faith in God, as taught to her by her grandmother, has sustained her through integration, finishing high school in California for her safety, attending school, raising her kids, building her impressive resume, and surviving some terrifying things besides.

Before I read this book, I had a very simple understanding of how schools actually became integrated in the south. I thought they integrated, there was some pushback, but they stayed. Problem solved. Even though I had heard about the Little Rock Nine, I had no idea the extent of the violence and response to forced integration. I really appreciated hearing this first-hand account of an event that, to many, is just history and how it has continued to effect her throughout her life. It really brings the problems to life and to the present political and cultural concerns in a whole new way.

I also read this book right after two of Maya Angelou’s biographies and at the same time as The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson (which tells the story of how millions of Black Americans migrated out of the south between 1915 and 1970). Pairing the historical and cultural analysis with these biographies really helped me to understand the depth of the problems in the biographies (not write them off as a one-off situation) and to ground more real people’s stories into the history that I was learning. I would recommend reading like this. Invaluable.

I really how Melba Beals focuses her writing so wholly on God’s providence for her safety and otherwise. It was a breath of hope to read it through the lens of faith instead of simply another story about how messed up something can be. Her writing is friendly, straightforward, and thoughtful, and her life stories are engrossing and sometimes terrifying. I read this book obsessively for a couple days.

Here are a few quotes:

  • “While preparing Thanksgiving dinner, Grandmother introduced me to two more crucial elements, two more of what she called the lynchpins in trust – gratitude and forgiveness. She explained that no matter what happens, I need to express my gratitude, knowing that whatever takes place has some piece in the ultimate puzzle that is the plan for my life.” p57
  • “Our purpose must be clear. Purpose means doing God’s work. It can never be activity for selfish reasons alone. There must be some share of gifting and contributing.” p 58
  • “Get off your ‘sit-down’ and show that you can get started doing His will. That’s all God requires of you, and He will do the rest.” Her Grandma India’s words in her head. 71
  • After moving from Arkansas and beginning to attend a high school in California: “To my amazement, the end of the first week came, and I found myself packed into a car owned by a student named Mary on my way to the Pickup Drive-In to get a hamburger. And yes, I did have a fleeting thought that they would take me to the woods, tie me up, and leave me there or hang me. It didn’t happen.” p84
  • “Life’s lessons come from unexpected places. We cannot afford to allow prejudices to shut out God’s blessings. Being equal is based on seeing equal. It is seated in each individual’s willingness to claim their own equality despite all evidence to the contrary and all talk by others who dare to question their value.” p 88
  • “Having faith in God let me consistently work at developing these skills so that I could grow an antenna to guide me in discerning whether using my energy to defend myself is tantamount to my survival or a waste of my time and energy. I must always ask myself, “Is fighting back in this particular instance, even in the face of inappropriate words or violent action, in compliance with God’s request to do unto others as you would have done to you.” Of course, it is important that I follow God’s words to treat others as equals; seeing equal is an essential quest for being seen as equal.” p 126

Have you read any amazing autobiographies recently? I’d love to hear! Tell me here in the comments or on Instagram :)

(Disclaimers: I received a copy of this book from Revell Publishing. All opinions are my own. This post contains Amazon Affiliate links.)

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