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O’Brien Wins Book Award for “We Shall Not Be Moved”

By Victoria A. Rocha | ECT Staff Writer Published: August 21st, 2014

Mike O’Brien is now in good company with Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker and scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Mike O’Brien talks about “We Shall Not Be Moved” at a library in Howard County, Md. (Photo Courtesy: Howard County Library System)

Mike O’Brien talks about “We Shall Not Be Moved” at a library in Howard County, Md. (Photo Courtesy: Howard County Library System)

O’Brien, retired vice president of member engagement at the National Rural Utilities Cooperative Finance Corp., has received a 2014 Lillian Smith Book Award for “We Shall Not Be Moved: The Jackson Woolworth Sit-In and the Movement it Inspired.” The nonfiction work explores the impact of peaceful demonstrations for change in Civil Rights-era Mississippi.

The award recognizes authors whose writing extends the legacy of Lillian Smith, a writer, educator and social critic who died in 1966. Walker won the honor in 1984 and Gates in 1994.

“I am honored, humbled and speechless (for once),” O’Brien told ECT.coop in an email. “To be counted as an author who extends [Smith’s] urgent sense of moral imperative on matters of race in this country is so very meaningful to me.”

O’Brien will receive the award Aug. 31 at the Decatur Book Festival in Atlanta. The award is given by the Southern Regional Council, the University of Georgia Libraries and the Georgia Center for the Book. Also receiving honors: Bernard LaFayette Jr. and Kathryn Lee Johnson, authors of “In Peace and Freedom: My Journey in Selma.”

It’s the first formal award for “We Shall Not Be Moved.” Earlier this summer, a Brown University professor praised O’Brien’s skill in telling the story behind the book’s cover photo of a white youth pouring condiments on activists seated at the Woolworth lunch counter.

“By structuring the book through the dissection of an image, [O’Brien] provides a lesson in how to ‘read’ photographs and weigh the cultural, historical, and political significance of an image by understanding the individuals pictured,” wrote Franҫoise N. Hamlin in the June 2014 American Historical Review.

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