Cynthia Griggs Fleming. Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Smith Robinson. New York: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1998. x + 228 pp. $24.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8476-8971-2.
Reviewed by Matthew C. Whitaker (Michigan State University)
Published on H-Women (October, 1999)
In Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, Cynthia Griggs Fleming, offers a sagacious presentation of the remarkable life of activist Ruby Doris Smith Robinson, who played a critical role in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the tumultuous civil rights movement at large. Magnificently constructed, firmly grounded in the dominant body of secondary literature, and employing primary sources such as myriad oral testimonies, Soon We Will Not Cry stands as a sensitive yet powerful testament to the agency and influence of African American women in the civil rights Movement, and the uproarious and inspiring history of SNCC.
Beginning with her first organized sit-in in March 1960 at the young age of seventeen and continuing through her tenure in SNCC as a leader and a trailblazing progressive, until her premature death from cancer at age twenty-six, Ruby Doris Smith Robinson was strong, dedicated, and exacting in her work, her commitment to substantive social, economic, and political equality, and her unyielding attacks on patriarchy and racism. During her brief life, Robinson matured into one of the most prominent leaders in the struggle for black liberation. As Fleming has indicated, her wisdom, determination, and dauntlessness catapulted her expeditiously to an uppermost leadership role in SNCC. Struggling and protesting against segregation, police brutality, massive resistance to civil rights by Southern whites, sexism practiced by white and black men, and white female antagonisms, Robinson waged war on inequality on multiple fronts.
Indeed, Fleming's study of this woman who displayed true "courage under fire," reveals that Robinson's activism was not confined to issues pertaining to race. Women's rights were as important an issue as racial liberation. Never failing to "speak truth to power," Robinson was critical of hegemony, and the ways in which it sought to tyrannize people of color and women.
Fleming sheds new light on the accomplishments, losses, contradictions, and unusual pressures Robinson faced. She argues that as Robinson's duties in the SNCC expanded (including voter registrations, freedom rides, and the solidification of administrative headquarters in Atlanta), she continued to balance multiple agendas involving, friends, family, and her counterparts in struggle. Despite extensive leverage in SNCC and the many responsibilities she attended to as the organization's top Administrative Assistant, Robinson deliberately evaded the media and desired to seek public praise for her efforts. Fleming's study examines Robinson's persistence in taking white racial malevolence and dissension within SNCC head-on, and her unwavering commitment to the fight against oppression. In the examination of Robinson's roles as daughter, mother, wife, friend, leader, and student.
Fleming addresses the difficulties faced by African American women activists during the civil rights movement. In this way, Soon We Will Not Cry serves as a welcomed addition to an ever-expanding body of literature on black women in the civil rights movement. Other works which include: Belinda Robnett's How Long? How Long?: African-American Women in the Struggle for Civil Rights, Vicki L. Crawford, Jacqueline Anne Rouse, Barbara Woods, and Marymal Dryden's Women in the Civil Rights Movement: Trailblazers and Torchbearers, 1941-1965, and Jo Ann Gibson Robinson's The Montgomery Bus Boycott and the Women Who Started It: The Memoir of Jo Ann Gibson Robinson.
The book is separated into seven chapters: Chapter One, "Soon We Will Not Cry," Chapter Two, "Growing Up Black in Atlanta," Chapter Three, "Early Movement Days," Chapter Four, "Ruby Enters SNCC," Chapter Five, "Freedom Summer and Sexual Politics," Chapter Six, "The Final Phase of Activism," and Chapter Seven, "Liberation". Chapter Five is one of the more revealing and instructive sections in the text. Using Robinson's life as a point of departure in her analysis of black and white female tensions during this turbulent period, Fleming underscores the concerns black women had with regard to white women's involvement in SNCC, and interracial liaisons between black men and white women in the organization. Fleming posits that "during freedom summer, Ruby Doris was harried, harassed, and stretched to the limit by her administrative duties. In that context, the disruptive effect that a white female presence in SNCC could often cause was just another headache. In the cauldron of conflicting emotions swirling around in the civil rights movement generally and Freedom Summer in particular, Ruby Doris's feelings about white women were varied and problematic. They were inextricably bound to her perceptions of white female attitudes, her feelings about African-American womanhood, and above all her commitment to the movement" (p. 140).
Soon We Will Not Cry is a poignant story of one woman's short but robust life and her legacy, as well as a story of organized resistance, and the cornucopia of successes and failures which accompany insurgency at many levels. Straight forward, devoid of superfluous jargon, and exploding with passion, this book will undoubtably appeal to a wide audience. Academicians, lay readers, and all who are interested in African American studies, civil rights, and women's history, will all find this work enlightening, lucid, and timely.
. The phrase "speak truth to power" is borrowed from Darlene Clark Hine, Speak Truth to Power: Black Professional Class in United States History. New York: Carlson Publishing, 1996, and Manning Marable, Speaking Truth to Power: Essays on Race, Resistance & Radicalism. New York: Westview Press, 1998.
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Matthew C. Whitaker. Review of Fleming, Cynthia Griggs, Soon We Will Not Cry: The Liberation of Ruby Smith Robinson.
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