Thursday, December 4, 2014

Because they Marched

Because They Marched: The People's Campaign for Voting Rights that Changed America
Russell Freedman
Holiday House, 2014
Grades 5-8, 83 pgs

Veteran non-fiction author and Newbery winner (Lincoln: a Photobiography), Freedman, offers a factual, yet moving account of the Selma to Montgomery Rights March of 1965.  A pivotal moment in the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. led the three attempts to peacefully march from Selma to Montgomery Alabama to protest the reluctance of the state government to allow African Americans the right to vote.  Freedman traces the beginning of the movement in Alabama and the events leading up to the march.  We experience the violence and racism of the time and place.  After two failed attempts at a major peace march protesting the discrimination of the most heated area of the south, a third attempt reaches the state's capital building up to 25,000 marchers.  The aftermath of the march is explored, including President Johnson signing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, Barack Obama making a famous speech from the same spot on the forty-second anniversary, and what is happening with voting rights in the US today. Both first person accounts and incredible photos enhance Freedman's narration.

It is a big year for superbly written books on the civil rights movement.  Fifty years have passed since the movement broke ground and forced change, allowing for equal rights for Americans regardless of skin color.  Freeman, a master at penning non-fiction titles for young people, has offered his contribution to the years exception books.  I have read so much historical fiction this year on the civil rights movement, so I enjoyed learning a bit about it.  I know embarrassing little about this period in American history.  Growing up, the teachers always ran out of time at the end of the school year.  We never learned any history past WWII.  I know a bit about American history starting in 1970 because I was living it.  The civil rights era always seemed to me to be boring, angry, and so far removed from my experience.  Now, through the amazing books that have come out this year, I am finally discovering this incredible chapter of our history.  Freedman attributes the success of the movement in Alabama to young people, encouraging young readers to look at their own lives and make a difference.  This book is very readable with short and distinct chapters and a generous amount of pictures that tell could tell the story on their own.  Even though Freedman's account is very impartial, the story itself evokes emotion.  At one point I found myself tearing up, which is a very unusual reaction for me when reading non-fiction.  Martin Luther King Jr. comes off as a rock star and now I want to learn more about him.  Freedman is not cheap with his vocabulary and does not compromise his writing because his audience is children.  Because They Marched is a well researched and written work.  It may prove to be a challenge for some young readers, but those who go for it will be richly rewarded.  A time-line, source notes, bibliography, index, and the author's research process are included at the end of the book.  The battles fought by our predecessors may have happened fifty years ago, but the issues are still relevant today.  Today's news is filled with violence and hatred coming from a place of discrimination, whether its based on skin color, religion, or sexuality.  We have come a long way, but the war rages on.

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