The Silence of Our Friends by Mark Long and Jim Demonakos, illustrated by Nate Powell
Houston, 1968 is a tough place to be different. The Long family has just moved from San Antonio to a Houston suburb where Jack Long has taken a new job as “the race reporter” for a local television station. At home, his wife watches the horrific broadcasts from Vietnam while his children aren’t quite sure about the neighborhood kids who pass the time going “n****r-knockin’.” Jack’s attempts at fair representation and reporting get him threatened with “Stick with your own kind or you’ll get fired.”
Civil rights protests have reached local Texas Southern University, a historically African American institution, making it a hot spot for news coverage. There Jack Long meets Larry Thomas, an African American activist and professor, who comes to Jack’s aid during a potential volatile situation. A friendship is tentatively forged, then reinforced to include both families … but hard-won trust can be too-easily broken and color lines prove difficult and dangerous to cross.
Based on co-creator Mark Long’s childhood experiences, Silence is a chilling reminder of the not-so-distant race wars that nearly imploded the country. Capturing a little-known event – a peaceful campus protest turned violent which ended with false accusations of murder – Silence provides stark testimony from multiple viewpoints. Small moments so memorably depicted here by illustrator Nate Powell – a blind child unknowingly bringing in a KKK rally flyer attached to the front doorknob, an angry father slapping his own son in uncontrollable frustration after being humiliated by a store clerk, a mother desperately wailing for her hit-and-runover young child, an old friendship irrevocably broken – give this graphic memoir unflinching strength.
The final quote at book’s end returns to the title, and belongs to Martin Luther King, “In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies … but the silence of our friends.” The implied question can’t be ignored: what would you do?
Readers: Young Adult, Adult