Ellen Levine compiled the stories of over a dozen African American civil rights activists, all of whom were children and teenagers during the Civil Rights Movement in the American South. The stories these activists tell about their childhood struggles are at times shocking but always inspiring. Readers will learn about some of the major events in the Civil Rights Movement (such as the Montgomery Bus Boycott), as well as small victories with hometown sit-ins and day-to-day struggles with segregation. Intended for older school-age children and teens, this book includes frank and occasionally graphic discussions of the violence during that time period, including the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing.
I used this book as the basis for a library program for children ages 7 & up and their parents. I discussed the violence selectively–as an introduction for the younger kids that would not be traumatizing. I did share one picture of protesters being attacked with fire hoses when we talked about peaceful protests and talked about how African American students were bullied at first when integrating schools. I focused on the children and how they had used peaceful means of protest to help change attitudes in their country.
This program was very well-received by students and their parents. Students were surprised to learn that children their age (and sometimes younger than they) were arrested for peaceful protests–and shocked to learn that some “colored” schools didn’t even have bathrooms or outhouses! After the presentation, we had time for students to write or draw a reflection on what they had learned. I gave them the following prompts:
- One story that inspired me today was . . .
- One time I saw injustice when . . .
- One time I stood up for someone else when . . .
- One time I stood up for myself when . . .
- One time I was brave when . . .
- If I were alive in 1950, my life would have been different because . . .
I was so impressed with their observations about injustice and bullying in their own school environments and their insights into how segregation would have impacted their lives–no matter what their race. While the children wrote and drew, parents began a conversation about racism they had witnessed or experienced in their lifetimes. A parent from South Korea discussed her experience with injustice and protests during her childhood and how it compared to the American Civil Rights Movement. It was a very thoughtful and productive conversation.
This was one of the best-received programs I have ever done, and I found it personally inspiring, as well. I highly recommend the book, and if any librarians/educators would like more information about the program, just shoot me an email! I would be more than happy to share my presentation.