While serving as a first round panelist for Cybils nonfiction earlier this winter, I read and posted some notes about THE FIRST STEP: How One Girl Put Segregation on Trial, written by Susan E. Goodman and illustrated by E. B. Lewis. (Read it HERE.)
As Goodman so adeptly points out, within the text and in the back matter, the court loss described was, in fact, a gain. By laying the foundation for future cases and eventual successes, civil rights cases culminated in the landmark BROWN vs. BOARD OF EDUCATION ruling in 1954-55.
Labeling that last ruling as landmark is not meant to suggest it succeeded in ending segregation and discrimination in education. Nor was that the last case the Supreme Court would face regarding Constitutional protections for civil rights. Far from it. But it, too, was another step, a giant one, in the continuing process of opening hearts and minds to the reality that the only race that matters is the human race.
|Arthur A. Levine Books, 2015|
The same is true for the Supreme Court ruling described in The Case for Loving:
The Fight for Interracial Marriage, written by Selina Alko and illustrated by Sean Qualls and Selina Alko. Although this simple picture book portrays an adult issue (confirming the constitutional right to interracial marriage), the narration and illustration combine to make it a kid-friendly, empathetic experience for even the very young.
(A 2016 film depicts an adult version of the true story of Richard Loving and Mildred Jeter . See a Movie trailer on YouTube, HERE.)
At its core, this compelling and dramatic story is about family. Alko focuses on the human desire (and right) of all people to pursue happiness through marriage and raising a family, freely and safely, anywhere in our country. From the cover, through the end pages, and winding across every spread, iconic images of happiness and love (hearts, flowers, birds and music) combine with active children engaging in familiar family situations to depict real people living real lives. The illustrations adopt a folkart approach with colorful collage, paint, and stamp art, presenting a child-like take on a mature story. Kids "get" this, they rebel against the injustice, cheer for the strength and validity of of the court challenge, and revel in the eventual victory.
An equally valuable use for this book will be with older readers. It's an ideal way to introduce an immediate experience with the mid-twentieth-century "legal" manipulations and maneuvers that sustained Jim Crow laws for more than a century beyond the emancipation of enslaved people. The inimitable Diane Rehm conducts an outstanding program on the topic of Jim Crow laws, providing voice to several points of view in an interview, here. Another resource to share is the NPR program that examined the official Congressional apology for slavery and Jim Crow laws from the summer of 2008, here. In each case, both the transcript and the recordings are available to allow for careful discussion and review.
A rude awakening to the reality of those years can be explored by researching the NEGRO MOTORIST GREEN BOOK, an annually updated resource for anyone of color traveling south during the many decades of segregation and unchecked activity by the Klu Klux Klan. This article in Smithsonian Magazine details the origins and need for THE GREEN BOOK.
|Carllrhoda Books, 2010|
Those sophisticated investigations, though, can be translated to the heart by another picture book, RUTH AND THE GREEN BOOK, written by Calvin A. Ramsey and Illustrated by Floyd Cooper. In this case, as in Alko's and Goodman's books, the immediacy of individual lives and the relatable illustrations evoke personal and visceral responses from readers of any age. In each book the back pages provide further insights and explorations from the authors and offers resources for further exploration and research on the topics and characters portrayed. Now, more than ever, providing young people with the facts of our own history and the ease with which individual liberties were distorted and restricted is essential. Actually, it's not a bad time fro adults to review these stories and resources.
(For more on the Supreme Court, check this recent post about Deby Levy's I DISSENT: Ruth bader Ginsberg Makes Her Mark.)