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October 17, 2023
CLIMBING THE ROUGH SIDE OF THE MOUNTAIN
The Extraordinary Story of Love,
Civil Rights, and Labor Activism
By Norman and Velma Murphy Hill
Regalo Press, October 17, 2023
“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.” —Kirkus Reviews
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.
This first-person narrative, written in the warm, alternating voices of Velma and Norman Hill, chronicles the couple’s public and private life and the pivotal role they played in the civil rights and trade union movements during their 62 years of marriage.
Their story begins in 1960, when a brick hurled by an angry white mob knocked Velma Murphy unconscious during a protest she’d organized to desegregate Rainbow Beach on Lake Michigan, injuring her so severely she was later unable to bear children. Norman Hill took the 21-year-old in his arms and rushed her to safety. They married a month later, the start of their lifelong commitment to one another and to the fight for justice in America.
The memoir traces the Hills’ extraordinary journey from Chicago to Washington, DC, Selma to South Africa and beyond, first as young foot soldiers and later as movement icons. It provides insight into the couple’s work with Martin Luther King, Jr. and Stokely Carmichael, Bayard Rustin, A. Phillip Randolph, Walter Reuther and George Meany. It tells the story of how Velma organized 100,000 NYC school paraprofessionals to join a union. It describes how they crossed paths with Malcom X, Presidents William Clinton and Barack Obama and it lays out the lessons they learned about working for change.
As the late Congressman John Lewis wrote in the forward, “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.”
More than a history and a love affair, Climbing the Rough Side is a call to action – and a much-needed road map to guide today’s new generation of activists working to build a more just America.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS
Norman and Velma Murphy 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 East Coast 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.
"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.
"This book is about two people who fell in love with each other and with the movements for social and racial justice. It is a must-read for those who are committed to a society free of racial and gender oppression and to the right of workers everywhere to share in the wealth that we help to create every day. Norman and Velma are true heroes of the civil rights and labor movements, and their efforts helped build a better society for all."
–Liz Shuler, President, AFL-CIO.
"Norman and Velma Hill’s passion for justice –and for one another – is an inspirational story… Their journey from idealistic young social justice soldiers to civil rights icons is quintessentially American and should be held as an example for the next generation of leaders."
–Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League
"Whether it’s expanding civil rights, strengthening our democracy, or creating more opportunity for working families, the impact of (the Hills’) activism will be felt for generations to come. This book provides first hand insight into their struggle, sacrifice, and service."
–Richard L. Trumka, Late President, AFL-CIO
"A powerful, compelling and often touching narrative, not least providing information that deep-seated racial hatred was not unique to the South. A new generation will learn more from this book about two of those who well fit the description of giants on whose shoulders we all stand."
–Charlayne Hunter-Gault, journalist and author