Aug 24, 2013

Where Were You When...?

Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon.        JFK was assassinated.     
The Twin Towers came down in New York City. 

There are iconic events, sometimes even slivers of time, which impress themselves indelibly on the minds of everyone who was alive to experience them. Even when that experience is indirect, filtered through media (especially Moon landings), it's easy to recall where you were and what you were doing at the time. 
Photo from archives: 
For anyone alive in August, 1963, the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was such an event.

Throughout the past fifty years (and long before that memorable day in Washington, D.C.) Martin Luther King, Jr. was in the spotlight in this country and around the world. The Time Magazine archives of cover articles demonstrates that fact. I've shared some stories of civil rights leaders in a previous post  of some of Kadir Nelson's biography titles. There are many picture books depicting specific events and full biographies about the history and struggles of civil rights
Martin often finds his way into my thoughts when leadership and inspiration are the theme of a post.

Little, Brown Books for Young readers, 2013
This week that's more true than ever. MARTIN AND MAHALIA- His Words, Her Song, by Andrea Davis Pinkney and Brian Pinkney is a perfect book for this week, and forever. With a release timed to celebrate this 50th Anniversary year, the Pinkneys reveal ways in which the leadership and inspiration of Martin and Mahalia were intertwined throughout their lives. This was never more true than on that remarkable day on the Washington mall fifty years ago, August 28, 1963. With so much at stake, each scheduled speaker prepared text well in advance, then vetted it and filtered it through numerous advisors. Martin did the same, despite his infamous capacity for extemporaneous speaking. As the final speaker that day, Martin's prepared speech was nearing its end when Mahalia, sitting nearby, exhorted him to "Tell them about your dream, Martin." That call, like a call to prayer, led him away from his script and deep into his heart to finish with the words that are now as much a part of the fiber of America as the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.
Top Shelf Productions, 2013

One of those speakers was the very young John Lewis. As the last surviving speaker from that day, now-Congressman John Lewis partnered with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell at Top Shelf Productions to produce MARCH: BOOK ONE. It's a graphic history of the past and recent present, a story within a story, tracing Lewis's personal history, on to the point at which he stood on that stage fifty years ago to speak, and into the near-present when he sat in the audience in 2009 as a congressman,  witnessing the inauguration of Barach Obama. There he was within sight of the original gathering. (Click here for a School Library Journal review.)

For those who lived at the time, regardless of their politics or perspective, images and memories of that day in Washington and many other Civil Rights protest moments are indelible. For those who came later, as is true for any other momentous event, the visceral impact of history is lost. 

In a recent syndicated column Leonard Pitts of the Miami Herald discussed the unusual audience he observed at a viewing of the movie, THE BUTLER. He noted the multi-generational nature of the audience, young children and teens in tow with grandparents who had lived through times now changed, at least to a degree. A movie has the capacity to bring history to life, to simulate experiences in ways that transmit some of the emotional and empathetic reactions of those who lived it.

Not unlike movies, and in some ways better, these titles offer readers a portal to the past. They also serve as a vivid reminder to those who experienced history to share our own stories, to extend our experiences into future generations.

Archives are readily available, but has a wealth of photos, videos, and other documentation.

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