Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matter

Picture books
I think Black Lives Matter is one of the most important
movements of our time. We live in a racist society. A lot of people
want to deny this. So I am very glad to find books that enlighten.
Last week, shelf reading at the Orono Public Library, I was lucky to
find three amazing picture books.
Carol Boston Weatherford's Voice Of Freedom is the biography in
free verse of Fannie Lou Hamer, the woman Malcolm X once called "the
country's number one freedom-fighting woman." When she was born to
sharecroppers in 1917, the last of twenty children, her mother was
given a cash bonus for birthing a future field hand. She was only six
when she had to start picking cotton. After sixth grade she had to
leave school and work full time in the fields.
When she was 45 Hamer volunteered to register to vote. Even
though she failed the first time, just trying was enough to get her
boss to fire her and the night riders to pursue her. She was strong
willed enough to try again and pass. Taking huge risks to gain rights
for her people became the story of her life.
My weakness in the language of art leaves me poorly equipped to
describe the art work of Ekua Holmes that perfecty compliments the
text. The colors range from rich and vibrant (a portrait of Hamer and
her husband) to stark and scary (a truck full of men with guns driving
past a bullet riddled window). In a picture of Hamer picking cotton
as a six-year-old child, she is the only person in focus. The
blurriness of her coworkers shows the way an overworked child in
sweltering heat would be seeing the world.
In Jonah Winter and Shane W. Evans' Lillian's Right To Vote an
elderly black woman climbs a hill to get to a polling place to vote.
As she does she remembers her family's experiences in the fight to
achieve this right. Her great-great grandparents were sold as
slaves. Her great grandfather saw the end of slavery. Her
grandfather was unable to pay a poll tax. Her uncle failed a test
that required him to answer impossible questions to be able to vote.
As a child she saw a cross burned on her lawn...
These two books would neatly compliment one another. While the
first carries specificity of time and place, the second conveys a
poignant and powerful inclusiveness, an everyman/woman quality.
Now here's something I didn't know. A century before Brown v.
Board of Education a black family went to court to fight segregated
education. That is the story told beautifully in Susan E. Goodman's
The First Step.
Sarah Roberts was attending a fine Boston elementary school
close to her home. One day a police officer pulled her out and told
her she would have to go to a school for black children. Her parents
were aghast. Not only would she be going to a school with far fewer
resources, but she would have to take a long, hazardous route that
passed five whites only schools. They decided to go to court, the
Massachusetts Supreme Court.
Any of these books would be a good starting point for discussion
for children well beyond the traditional picture book target audience.
On a personal note, I am thrilled that Black Lives Matters is coming
to UMaine. All my life I've seen racism. All my life I've had white
privilege. I think I was especially aware of this when my son hit his
teens and I thought on how black boys his age could put themselves in
danger just by going to the store to get a soda. Now we are going to
talk about racism. It's about time.
A great big shout out goes out to the Black Lives Matter people.
Julia Emily Hathaway

Sent from my iPod

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