The Rock and the River


By Kekla Magoon

Book Talk by Gili Warsett


Sam isn’t trying to make waves, not until he watches an innocent friend being beaten by the cops while he stands by, terrified and frozen.  Thirteen years old in 1968, Chicago, and everything is changing but Sam is standing still.  Sam and his older brother, Stick used to be best friends, but now Stick is a Black Panther.  Their parents don’t approve of Stick’s decisions and now it’s down to Sam, whose father– a protégé of Martin Luther King, Jr.– believes in nonviolence and expects Sam to stand behind him while he speaks about racism and inequality to crowds of protesters and demonstrators.

Sam, who has always been more of a rock than a river finds his brother’s gun in the room they’ve always shared.  The water starts rushing forward now, and Sam doesn’t feel like standing still. There’s pressure coming from all directions.  Maxie, that smart, cute girl from school is going to Black Panther meetings.  It’s Maxie who teaches Sam about the other things the Panthers are doing; they aren’t just carrying guns or resorting to violence as he originally thought.  The Panthers are serving free breakfast at his school; they’re setting up a free clinic; they’re paying for Sam’s now-jailed friend’s legal fees; they’re providing tutoring and political education classes.

Sam learns that The Black Panther Party is committed to the voices of youth.  For the first time, Sam must choose a path instead of following someone else’s lead.

This story is fiction, but this pressure is real.

This is a story about a thirteen-year-old boy whose world is bursting open.  On the one hand, his father’s pressuring him to choose nonviolence at any cost.  Even after his father is stabbed while speaking at a rally, Sam is supposed to only use words as weapons.  Sam has never let his father down.  But now Sam has held a gun, and he’s armed with impatience and anger at the injustice he’s seen firsthand.  Everything’s getting heated.  In this work of historical fiction, Kekla Magoon breaks the silence about being young and taking up the armed fight in the Civil Rights Movement.  Sam’s struggles are truly a matter of life and death.

“As the river flows, it wonders what it would be like to be so still, to take a breath, to rest.  But the rock will always wonder what lies around the bend in the stream.”  In the end will Sam choose to be the rock or the river?  Is there room in his world for him to be The Rock and the River by Kekla Magoon?


Additional Readings:

Fire In the Streets by Kekla Magoon

One Crazy Summer by Rita Williams-Garcia

Assata: An Autobiography by Assata Shakur

The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley