Climbing the Rough Side
of the Mountain
By Norman and Velma Murphy Hill
Regalo Press (October 17, 2023)
About The Project
“Labor and civil rights activists Norman and Velma Hill recount more than six decades of struggles, triumphs and frustrations in their tireless work as ‘crusaders for democracy.' An inspiring memoir.”
"This book is Norman and Velma’s shared story of their relentless struggle, fighting with their minds, bodies, spirits and love to make America realize the best of itself. And in devoting their lives to this work, they helped this nation move significantly closer to being a true democracy."
—From the foreword by The Honorable John Lewis written prior to Lewis’ death in 2020.
At a time of renewed challenges to the status quo of race relations and labor rights, this intimate memoir tells the little-known story of an extraordinary couple who were engaged in every major battle in the struggle for social and economic justice in the second half of the twentieth century.
Having first laid eyes on each other on a picket line outside a Woolworth’s in Chicago in 1960, Velma and Norman Hill quickly forged a partnership of equals.
In 1960, a brick hurled by an angry white mob knocked Velma unconscious during a protest she’d organized to desegregate Rainbow Beach on Lake Michigan, a protest now considered a key battle in the civil rights struggle. Norman took the 21-year-old in his arms and rushed her to safety. The injuries she sustained at Rainbow Beach caused Velma to lose the child she was carrying. Velma and Norman married a month later--the start of their lifelong commitment to one another and to the fight for civil rights and economic justice in America.
Mentored by two movement giants, A. Philip Randolph and Bayard Rustin, the Hills worked, individually and as a couple, on voter registration drives, the 1963 March on Washington and the 1965 Selma to Montgomery March, as well as countless campaigns to desegregate restaurants, public schools, housing and labor unions.
Through their eyes, readers gain access to such pivotal moments as the meeting of advisors hoping to convince Martin Luther King, Jr to consolidate his work in the South rather than take on the intractable racism of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley… imploring Stokely Carmichael to not turn his back on nonviolence… and convincing George Meany, the powerful head of the AFL-CIO, to fund a new organization to bring race, labor, and politics together.
Through their important work, the Hills have crossed paths with Malcolm X and Presidents William Clinton and Barack Obama.
The Hills continue to dedicate their lives to racial and economic justice. Climbing the Rough Side of the Mountain is a history, a call to action and a much-needed road map to guide a new generation of activists working to build a more just America.
More to come
Launch at AFL-CIO, Washington, DC
Event at PennSouth, NYC
Word Up Bookstore, NYC
P&T Knitwear Bookstore, NYC
About the Authors
Norman and Velma Hill have been lifelong activists in the civil rights and labor movements and the only Black couple to hold leadership positions in those movements.
Norman Hill was National Program Director of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) under Jim Farmer and Staff Coordinator for the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. He served as the president of the A. Philip Randolph Institute from 1980 to 2004, the longest tenure in the organization’s history. He remains its president emeritus.
Velma Murphy Hill, a graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, was leader of the Chicago Wade-in to integrate Rainbow Beach. She was Northeast Regional Field Secretary for CORE and an assistant to the president of the United Federation of Teachers that successfully organized 10,000 New York City public school paraprofessionals. She subsequently served as International Affairs and Civil Rights Director of the Service Employees International Union and Vice President of the American Federation of Teachers.