A Civil Rights Journey

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By Saúl Galdamez Gonzalez

Award winning nonfiction writer Ana Maria Spagna visited the Cal State East Bay campus on May 13 to discuss her most recent book, “Test Ride on the Sunnyland Bus: A Daughter’s Civil Rights Journey.”

The discussion was held in the University Library where Spagna treated the small crowd in attendance to a reading from her book.

Her book tells the one of the many least heard about stories to come out of the civil rights movement, the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.

Spagna began the program by first telling the audience how it was that she began her journey to learn more about not only the movement but her father’s involvement in it as well.

“My book is a blend of memoir and history,” said Spagna. “[It] tells the story of my search to understand my late father’s involvement in the early civil rights movement, specifically in the Tallahassee Bus Boycott.”

She described to an incident in which her father, Joseph Spagna, was involved in back in 1957. He and five other men had planned to board a bus called Sunnyland in Tallahassee.

Her dad was one of the three white men who wanted to ride the bus together with three young black men. All six were arrested and they took this issue all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

“I wanted to examine – and expose – the awe-inspiring heroism shown by everyday people in the civil right movement,” said Spagna. “Not just Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr., and not just my dad and his friends, but hundreds, thousands, of every day citizens, black and white.”

To get the whole story she spent a lot of time researching this incident and tracking down the other five men to ask them questions about what happened.

Spagna described her book as being divided into three parts which are “I Think I Can Serve,” “A Highly Personal Thing,” and “50th Anniversary”

The first one describes the bus ride her father took, the second covers her correspondence with two of the riders, and the last one is about her attendance at the anniversary celebration of the boycott.

Spagna read some selections from her book and would stop once in a while to open the floor up to any questions people had.

“I was unaware of other movements that took place,” said Joseph Cardillo, a senior at CSUEB and a member of the audience. “This made me realize that there are more stories that need to be exposed.”

Spagna included multiple sides of the civil rights movement because she says that history isn’t one story but many.

“It’s good to hear about multiple sides of the civil rights movement,” said Cardillo. “It’s interesting to learn of other locations in the country.”

The reading and discussion were a success as people couldn’t stop talking about the book on their way out.

“I am proud of my book,” said Spagna. “I feel humbled and inspired that I had the chance to take this journey…and that I am able to share it with readers.”