Yesterday, December 1st, marked the 60th anniversary of the arrest of Rosa Parks for refusing to give up her seat on a Montgomery, Alabama bus. Did you know that she was not the first person arrested for this? In March, of 1955, a teenager named Claudette Colvin created a spark for the Civil Rights movement.
Colvin had to take the public bus to get to her high school. One day, on her way home, the bus driver told her to give up her seat for a white woman who was standing. Colvin refused, saying she didn’t feel like standing. The bus driver called the police who physically removed Colvin from the bus.
This incident earned her a place as a plaintiff in the the court case that would rule the segregation of buses as unconstitutional, Browder vs. Gayle. When the case went to the Supreme Court in 1956, Colvin, who was 17 at the time, was the last witness to testify.
The book Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice recounts her story, from her childhood through her decision to move to New York. It’s a fascinating story and a look at how the Civil Rights movement was organized and planned. The book includes details on how the African-American community organized to make the Montgomery bus boycott effective, while still allowing them to go about their lives. Most everyone knows the story of Rosa Parks, but before reading this book I knew very little about Claudette Colvin. Hers is a fascinating story and gives much more context to Parks’s story as well.
April is a lot of things. As Mrs. Trusty pointed out yesterday, it’s OT Month (watch out for the Snapple machine). It’s also Poetry Month. So for today’s new book, I thought I’d highlight a book in verse.
Frank X Walker’s Turn Me Loose tells the story of Civil Rights activist Medgar Evers. Evers grew up in Mississippi and served in the Army in World War II. When he returned after the war, he went to college, got married, found a job, and settled into the Civil Rights movement. He worked to break down the Jim Crow laws and even applied to the segregated University of Mississippi Law School as a test case for the NAACP. As he became more active and helped investigate the deaths of people like Emmet Till, he became an target for white supremacists. In June of 1963, Evers was assassinated in his driveway by Bryon De La Beckwith, a member of the White Citizen’s Council.
Walker’s collection of poetry tells the story of Evers by telling the story of the people around him. Short poems paint a picture of life in Mississippi from both sides of the Civil Rights movement. While Evers himself is not a voice in the book, you hear about the atmosphere and the tragedy through the characters of De La Beckwith and his family and through Evers’s family, specifically his wife and brother.
I’ll be honest, while this book is short and can be read quickly, it is not an easy read. The ideas expressed by the De La Beckwiths can be disturbing and the experiences related by the Everses are heartbreaking. But it’s a good book to read. I’ve done a lot of reading up on Medgar Evers since I read this book…I knew his name, but not much about him when I started it. He has a fascinating story. For a quick primer on his life, check out (yep, I’m going to say it) the Wikipedia article on him (remember, I’ve always said Wikipedia is a good jumping off point).
Interesting “current events” fact I found in that article. There used to be a TV show on called In the Heat of the Night. It was a cop show, set in Mississippi, that often dealt with racial issues since it focused on two cops, one white, one Black. There was one episode that seems to reference Evers’s murder. The Bryon De La Beckwith character is played by James Best, who is perhaps best known for playing Sheriff Roscoe on The Dukes of Hazard, and who just passed away yesterday.
So yesterday Jake told us all about the history of Florida. Florida. I bet it’s nice and warm there now. I bet there’s no snow on the ground in Florida. I bet I could run outside if I were in Florida.
Oooopps. Did I type that out loud?
Anyway…back to the books. So how about some books set in Florida?
Carl Hiaasen is one of my favorite writers. He writes for adults and kids and both sets of books are equally as engaging and funny. Hoot, Flush, Scat, and Chomp are set in Florida. Each book looks at a different environmental issue facing animals (and people) there. Usually, quirky kids are going up against big corporations and figuring out how to make their points heard.
On a completely different topic, Michaela yesterday talked about school integration. One of my favorite books on that topic is Elizabeth and Hazel: two women of Little Rock. This is probably one of the most iconic pictures from the civil rights movement
(photo by Will Counts via npr.org)
The African-American student is Elizabeth Eckford. She was one of the Little Rock Nine. The student yelling at her is Hazel Massery. Author David Margolick sought out the two women a few years back to see where life had taken them both. The result of that is this book.