Friday, July 11, 2008

REVIEW: 'It was never about a hot dog and a Coke!' by Rodney Hurst

Title: It was never about a hot dog and a Coke!
Author: Rodney Hurst
Price: 27.95 (hardcover)
Genre: History
ISBN: 1595942017
Point of Sale: Amazon

The most poignant histories are those written by the people who were there, getting their hands dirty, breathing in the air of the moment, and Rodney Hurst, author of It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke!, was unarguably one of those people.

Already a highly involved civil rights activist at the age of 16, Hurst’s account guides the reader through his memories of his civil rights protest years, adding his memory banks to the archives of American history.

“Mr. Pearson gave us this definition of history,” Hurst explains, “’History is a narration of facts…arranged in chronological order…with their cause and effect.’ He wanted to make sure, and wanted us to make sure, that the narrated facts were actually facts. He also wanted us, as Dr. Cornel West would say, to refuse to settle for mediocrity” (29). A noble goal, perhaps, but one obscured in Hurst’s book by constant references to God’s influence on the civil rights movement’s success (undermining the hard work of the activists themselves), the absence of a bibliography, and a presiding defensiveness that is left unaddressed.

However, It Was Never About a Hot Dog and a Coke! does house the occasional historical gem: a vivid account of the violence on Ax Handle Saturday, the failure of the press to accurately cover events, and just what it felt like to be a black, Christian, teenager in the 1960s.

As in nature, it is diversity that leads to a healthy ecosystem, or in the case of books, a more complete (or complex) understanding of events. Despite its shortcomings, Hurst’s book does boldly insist that we face up to history’s ruddy complexities—unlike high school history textbooks—and challenges the reader to examine how far we’ve really come in the present, never forgetting, as Hurst repeatedly chants, that “freedom isn’t free.”


Nicolette Stewart is the co-author of College Prowler’s Guide to Skidmore College, an ex-journalist, reluctant English teacher, and travel writer. She currently lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany with her typewriter Herman and blogs on

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