Book review: Kim Ruehl explores the life of Highlander Folk School activist Zilphia Horton in 'A Singing Army'

University of Texas Press / "A Singing Army"

"A SINGING ARMY: ZILPHIA HORTON AND THE HIGHLANDER FOLK SCHOOL" by Kim Ruehl (University of Texas Press, 320 pages, $30).

Long before former No Depression magazine editor Kim Ruehl wrote "A Singing Army: Zilphia Horton and the Highlander Folk School," she noticed a recurring pattern in historical accounts of the training center for labor and civil-rights activists founded in Monteagle, Tennessee, in 1932.

"It was always Myles, Myles, Myles," she said in a panel discussion at the Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee State University in April, referring to Myles Horton, Highlander's founding director. "That's how we tell history. There's this one hero at the center, and he has this idea, and the world bends to it."

As Ruehl sees it, Highlander's history is "about a community of people" who built the school together despite prevailing gender norms and Jim Crow racism during the Great Depression.