"The Rock and the River" is a book for young adults written by Kekla Magoon and published in April 2010. It explores the life of Sam Childs, a fictional, but all-too-real depiction of a young black male growing up in the middle of the strife-filled protests of 1968 Chicago. His struggle between choosing the non-violent protests of his father or the more radical methods of his brother drives the story and provides inspiration for its title.
Kekla Magoon set her book in the strife-filled streets of 1968 Chicago with good reason. That place and time was a snapshot of civil rights movement at the peak of its power and prominence. This notoriety came at a steep price. What started primarily as peaceful challenge to the racist establishment degraded into ever-increasing violence. Clashes between police and protesters erupted on the streets, climaxing in riots following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. For people such as Sam Childs, the moments of transition between peace and protest became a time of personal introspection and confusion, forcing them to make tough decisions about the direction of their lives.
The Black Panthers
The Black Panthers are key to the story, being the group which has embraced Sam's brother, Stick, and tempt him with promises of change. The Black Panthers evoke in many people an image of violence and illegal activity. Historically, however, their role in the minority communities of 1868 Chicago was more than one of urban terrorism. They provided food, medical care and other aid (often without charge) and spread a message of community strength. While it is true that some radical members of the organization did promote radical means for change, their ultimate goal was to foster a society that would accept their people as equals.
Sam's dad, Roland Child, is modeled after the peaceful civic leaders who followed Dr. Martin Luther King's example of selfless, nonviolent protest. Despite the violence that followed the wake of the protests of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the majority of protesters were of Martin Luther King Jr.'s peaceable ilk. These people were sometimes the unfortunate victims caught in the crossfire between less disciplined protesters and police. In "The Rock and the River," Roland is stabbed during a peaceful demonstration, forcing Sam to reexamine the effectiveness of his father's methods.
From the start, Sam Childs is pulled by two forces. His father's vision of slow peaceful change, and his brother's more confrontational view. Both challenge Sam to examine himself. His world view changes from merely black and white to a much broader, more complex spectrum as he does. He is a boy becoming a man, realizing the consequences of his decisions in the unsteady world around him. Even his home life becomes more complex as his brother leaves home to join the Black Panthers and his father is stabbed. These crises crystallize his resolve and force him to step into the world of an adult, following his brother's feet, but keeping his father's commitment to peace.
- Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images