Wednesday, May 8, 2013

I've Got (Civil) Rights, You Know!: a review of 'Birmingham 1963, How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support' by Shelley Tougas and 'Marching for Freedom, Walk Together, Children, and Don't You Grow Weary' by Elizabeth Partridge

Partridge, Elizabeth. 2009. Marching for Freedom: Walk Together Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary. New York: Viking. ISBN 978-0670011896.

Tougas, Shelley. 2011. Birmingham 1963: How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support. Mankato, MN: Compass Point Books. ISBN 978-0756543983.

Everyone these days has a general knowledge of the Civil Rights Movement.  Martin Luther King, Jr., has a public holiday.  Barrak Obama was elected as the first African-American President of the United States.  Black artists and entertainers are among the top-grossing and most beloved performers in the music, fashion, and television and film industries.  It is difficult for young people today to imagine a segregated world, the scary kind, where simply talking to someone with a different skin color could get you shunned, bullied, or beaten.  Because it is so hard to imagine, young people today are in danger of taking the fight for Civil Rights for granted, of forgetting the sacrifices of the generation who earned their freedom.  In Birmingham 1963 and Marching for Freedom, authors Tougas and Partridge narrow in on two harrowing years in Alabama.

With insightful, historical media analysis, Tougas tells the story behind one of LIFE Magazine’s “Great Pictures of the Century.”  Charles Moore grew up in Alabama during a time when segregation was an accepted way of life.  Although his father, a minister, did not allow him to use racial slurs or mistreat African-Americans, Moore paid little attention to their troubles, instead focusing on his interest in photography.  After serving in the Marines, Moore returned to Alabama to work at the Montgomery Advertiser.  Moore’s timing coincided with the arrival of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Montgomery, and he soon began to cover various speeches, rallies and protests organized by civil rights leaders.  This is how he happened to be in the right place at the right time to capture a photograph of 14-year-old Carolyn Maull and two teen boys being slammed against a building by a blast of water from fireman’s hoses in Birmingham, Alabama, on May 3, 1963.  This is how he captured a photograph that rallied Civil Rights Support from all over the world. 

Partridge picks up the narrative where Tougas ends by detailing the impact that the Birmingham Children’s Crusade had on African-Americans in nearby Selma, Alabama, in 1964.  While their counterparts in Birmingham marched for desegregation in downtown businesses, the African-Americans in Selma were gathering peacefully to protest unjust laws which kept them from voting.  The narrative is set forth chronologically, following the events leading up to the organization of the famous Freedom March from Selma to Montgomery, including Bloody Sunday, a day-by-day account of the march, and the passing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. 

Both of these books are welcome additions to any Middle School or High School collection because they focus on the power of young people in the Civil Rights Movement.  Until reading these two books, I had never had a chance to study these movements in detail and was not aware of the great extent to which the movement was one of youth empowerment.  I didn’t know that children were jailed, some as young as 8-years-old, for peaceful protesting.  Both books do a fantastic job of setting the children’s movement within the larger context of Civil Rights and civil rights leaders like Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Ralph Abernathy, and James Bevel.  Yet they go beyond, to capture eye-witness accounts from the children who marched at the time, the children in the photographs included in the book.  Both books talk about the power of images and the skillful ways in which MLK and the SNCC and SCLC manipulated the media to sway sentiment toward the plight of the African-American community, yet they do not dodge the difficult ethical question of putting children in harm’s way.  Was it right of Civil Rights leaders to ask innocent children to willingly march into situations where they were likely to be beaten with billy clubs, bitten by police dogs, jailed, or even worse, killed? 

These two books are full of primary source photography and interviews.  Their oversized formats make the pictures easy to read.  The texts are clear with adequate kerning and line spacing.  Tougas’ book is written at a slightly lower reading level, with more sidebars inserted for additional information.  Partridge’s book is appropriate for a slightly more informed audience, but is very clearly sequenced.  Both books contain excellent back matter, bibliographies and additional resources.  They would be excellent studies for individual or group presentations in a US history or social studies class, shedding light on some lesser known events in the timeline of the Civil Rights Movement.

Rewards and Reviews for Elizabeth Partridge, Marching for Freedom: Walk Together, Children, and Don’t You Grow Weary
Boston Globe-Horn Book Award for Nonfiction, 2010
Jane Addams Children’s Book Award
Los Angeles Times Book Prize
IRA Notable Book, 2010
YALSA Best Book for Young Adults
ALA Notable Book

Effective and meaningful archival photographs, quotes, poems, and songs are woven throughout the narrative, giving readers a real sense of the children’s mindset and experiences. The bibliography, source notes, photo credits, and resources for further discussion and research are exemplary. An excellent addition to any library. School Library Journal, starred review

Partridge proves once again that nonfiction can be every bit as dramatic as the best fiction. … With a perfect balance of energetic prose and well-selected, breathtaking photographs, the volume portrays the fight for the heart of America. Kirkus Reviews, starred review

Partridge provides just enough context of the Jim Crow South to orient readers before plunging readers into the dramatic and harrowing events of the march. Partridge once again demonstrates why she is almost peerless in her photo selection. Horn Book, starred review

Reviews for Birmingham 1963: How a Photograph Rallied Civil Rights Support
…a motivating introduction to the period it describes, and the photographic analysis makes [it] a valuable source for team teachers of social studies and language arts. Lucy Schall, Voice of Youth Advocates, August 2011

Pair with...
Birmingham, 1963, a narrative poem by Carole Boston Weatherford, which combines primary source photography and commemorates the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church and the death of four girls on Sunday, September 15, 1963.  This event takes place between the events of both books reviewed above.

The Watsons Go to Birmingham, a young adult novel by Christopher Paul Curtis, in which a young boy deals with the aftermath of the 16th Street Baptist Church Bombing.

Related Websites

No comments:

Post a Comment