Saturday, February 24, 2007

Freedom Walkers

I read Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in my role as a judge for the Cybils Book Awards. We were asked not to post any reviews of the finalists while we were judging, so that someone wouldn't be able to predict the winner, so I have held off. Now that it was announced that Freedom Walkers did indeed win, and especially in light of the fact that February is Black History Month, I would like to share my thoughts on this book.

One might think that they've heard the story about the early days of the civil rights movement, and specifically the roles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks as far as standing up (or sitting down, as the case may be) for what is right. However, Russell Freedman tells this story as a collective experience, from the points of view of the teenagers, men, women, leaders and followers who sacrificed for over a year in this boycott in order to bring about change. Yes, it lasted for over a year. How many of you knew that? I did not. It was the length of time and the full sacrifice that was made that really spoke to me from the pages of this book. A great wrong was being legislated in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, and all across the South, and a dedicated group of African Americans, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., finally decided not to be victims any longer.

As I read, the sense of the injustice settled over me heavily. It is hard for me to believe that this world existed only ten years before my birth. Hearing the quotes and seeing the pictures that were carefully selected proves that this story is not just a kind of legend or myth. It's not a pretty story, but this is a fair telling of these events. There are a few sympathetic Whites mentioned, but in general, there were not many who were willing to defend the rights of the minorities. I continue to live in hope that times have changed and will continue to change so that a time will come when color or nationality or creed truly doesn't make a difference. It was lack of knowledge, ignorance, that created the attitude of superiority and hatred of that time, and so I feel that it is my responsibility not to forget, and to learn about this time and those individuals and groups who have brought change, and to teach my daughter as well.

Is this book a downer? Not really. I was left with a slight feeling of incredulity at the actions and justification of the White leaders and the lengths that they went to in order to try to keep the Black citizens "in their place." However, it is the conviction and peaceful actions of the African American citizens, day after day, month after month, after living with a lifetime of unfair treatment, that left me with a feeling of hope. One person, or a group of single individuals, can make a difference. They have made a difference throughout history and each of us can continue to do so. Around the time I began reading this book, I came across a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. in my day planner. I also happened to be grappling with my response to a difficult situation. This quote inspired me to do what I knew was right, even though it would have been much easier to ignore the situation or try to forget it: "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter."

What books or movies have opened your eyes to the role of race in our history and society? If you feel that it is your responsibility to learn and understand and teach your children, how is it that you do this?

This review is linked to Semicolon's Saturday Review of Books. Click over to read other reviews, or link up your own review that you've posted any time this week.

Title: Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott
Author: Russell Freedman
Published by: Holiday House
Date: 2006
Pages: 113
Book Source: Review copy from publisher
Recommended for 5th grade through adult: those interested in civil rights and especially for those who do not have any interest in the civil rights movement.


Rachelle said...

Wow, Jennifer, thanks for the review. I have become more interested in understanding the experiences of those of other races, religions and even political parties, and my bookshelves are full of books to that end. My favorite one lately was My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon. What an eye-opening look at the experience of an African-American woman around my age who grew up here in the West, yet her experience was so different from mine.

cloudscome said...

I have had this book on my desk to read. I started it but haven't gotten all the way through it yet. I'm glad you reviewed it here! I think I became aware of race/ethnicity in the third grade when I first attended an integrated school outside Cleveland OH in the late 60s. I have been interested in it ever since and read a lot around those issues. I remember watching "Eyes on the Prize" on PBS. There is a segment on the Montgomery Bus boycott that is very dramatic; chilling and inspiring. I am glad you are blogging about it and asking these questions!