Friday, February 5, 2010

For Black History Month

Marching For Freedom: Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary

Marching for Freedom: 
Walk Together Children and Don't You Grow Weary
By Elizabeth Partridge
Viking, 72 pages
$19.99, ages 10 and up

Even though it's been more than four decades, the Civil Rights Movement in the South doesn't always feel like history. The battles fought and won by Martin Luther King Jr. and thousands of ordinary  Americans are still fresh and relevant to to those that still need to be fought in this country and worldwide.

Elizabeth Partridge's brilliant new book, which reads like a thriller and is illustrated with more than 50 stirring, amazing photographs, focuses on the children and teenagers who participated in the landmark 1965 march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery.

The book begins: "The first time Joanne Blackmon was arrested, she was just ten years old."

That was in 1963. Joanne was with her grandma and a crowd of others who were trying to register to vote. She and her sister, Lynda, three years older were each jailed about 10 more times in the next two years before Dr. King came to Selma to kick off the campaign to win blacks the right to vote.

"Don't worry about your children," he told parents. "Don't hold them back if they want to go to jail."
In researching the book, Partridge traveled to Selma and interviewed people who were kids and young adults during the march.

"Day after day in 1965, they'd protested, sung and marched," she writes on her Web site. "They were threatened and bullied, jailed and beaten, then got up the next morning and headed out again. I was awed by their courage and determination."

Partridge doesn't neglect the leaders of the times. King, Rosa Parks, President Lyndon Johnson and others appear large as life throughout the book.

But the roles of the young people will fascinate today's kids.

Some of the stories are terrifying and violent. Partridge interviewed Lynda Blackmon (now Lowry) about Bloody Sunday, the confrontation with state troopers on the Pettus Bridge on March 7, 1965, the day the march began.

Tear gas canisters were flying. Troopers lashed out with nightsticks. Lynda, enveloped in a cloud of tear gas, was hit over the eye and again in the back of the head. Her wounds took more than 30 stitches to close, but what was most painful, she said, was the hatred in the eyes of the white men attacking them.
"These people beating us, they took pleasure in it."

The march continued and swelled, of course. Lynda got patched up became the youngest person to complete the entire march.

Ultimately, Partridge ends on notes of triumph, empowerment and hope. The Voting Rights Act was signed on Aug. 6, 1965, six months after Bloody Sunday.

She writes:

"Selma, Dr. King said, was a 'shining moment.'

It was also a testimony to nonviolent protest. Hundreds of students had put themselves at risk to change America's voting laws. Their idealism and bravery encouraged the adults."

Young readers will be inspired to wonder, 'if they could do that, what could I do?"

Partridge's resources are excellent: source notes, bibliography and index. Again, her Web site has some excellent links, including footage of President Barack Obama's visit to Selma, interviews with people who were involved in the 1965 march and a taped conversation between Dr. King and President Johnson.

Partridge is the author of some other great nonfiction, too, including John Lennon: All I Want Is The Truth, This Land Was Made for You and Me: The Life and Songs of Woody Guthrie, and Restless Spirit: The Life and Work of Dorothea Lange.
-Rebecca Young

1 comment:

Jeff said...

Her Lennon book is good. I especially love its glossy format.