Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice

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by Phillip Hoose
     
 

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Before Rosa Parks, there was 15-year-old Claudette Colvin. Now available in paperback: her National Book Award–wining story, told by the incomparable Phillip Hoose.See more details below

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Overview

Before Rosa Parks, there was 15-year-old Claudette Colvin. Now available in paperback: her National Book Award–wining story, told by the incomparable Phillip Hoose.

Editorial Reviews

The New York Times Book Review

Hoose's book, based in part on interviews with Colvin and people who knew her--finally gives her the credit she deserves.
The Wall Street Journal

History might have forgotten Claudette Colvin, or relegated her to footnote status, had writer Phillip Hoose not stumbled upon her name in the course of other research and tracked her down. . . .The photos of the era are riveting and Claudette's eloquent bravery is unforgettable.
a Best Book of 2009 selection The Washington Post

Before Rosa Parks, there was Claudette Colvin, a teenager who knew her constitutional rights and was willing to be arrested to prove it
New York Daily News

Compelling.
The New York Post

Hoose vividly recreates Colvin's bravery.
Chicago Tribune

Hoose makes the moments in Montgomery come alive, whether it's about Claudette's neighborhood, her attorneys, her pastor or all the different individuals in the civil rights movement who paths she crossed . . . . An engrossing read.
author of A People's History of the United States Howard Zinn

Phil Hoose, who has done pioneering work in bringing to our attention the crucial role of young people in social movements, here tells the extraordinary, yet little-known story of Claudette Colvin, who, even before the famous incident involving Rosa Parks, sparked the historic bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama. Claudette Colvin was a remarkable teenager. With great courage she acted upon her principles -- and played a significant role in the drama of the civil rights movement. This is a story that if taught in every classroom in the nation, might well inspire a new generation of young activists to join the on-going struggle for social justice.
Christian Science Monitor

Today, thanks to Hoose, a new generation of girls--and boys--can add Claudette Colvin to their list of heroines.
Sacramento Bee

Hoose writes in a fluid, easy style and weaves in many voices of the time. He captures the tension and explosive emotions in the pivotal scenes.
Starred Review Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

Smoothly weaves excerpts from Hoose's extensive interviews with Colvin and his own supplementary commentary.
Starred Review Booklist

This inspiring title shows the incredible difference that a single young person can make.
Starred Review The Horn Book

Hoose reasserts her [Claudette Colvin] place in history with this vivid and dramatic account, complemented with photographs, sidebars, and liberal excerpts from interviews conducted with Colvin.
Shelf Awareness

This stirring account affirms Colvin's rightful place in history and gives young people a reason to stand up for what's right, even if the laws are not.
Marian Wright Edelman

In Claudette Colvin: Twice Toward Justice young readers finally get to hear Claudette Colvin's story in her own words, giving them a detailed look at segregated life in 1950s Montgomery, Alabama, and showing them how one teenager helped change the world.
a Fanfare 2009 book The Horn Book

Through interviews with Colvin and others, Hoose delves into the details behind this largely unknown incident, ensuring that readers will have Colvin's courageous story forever seared into their memories.
Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Good War Studs Terkel

Phil Hoose's profile of the remarkable Claudette Colvin is MUST reading for anyone still imbued with hope. She is a lighthouse in a stormy sea.
Publishers Weekly

In March 1955, nine months before Rosa Parks triggered the bus boycott in Montgomery, Ala., by refusing to surrender her seat to a white passenger, a 15-year-old Montgomery girl, Claudette Colvin, let herself be arrested and dragged off the bus for the same reason; in 1956, Colvin was one of four plaintiffs in Browder v. Gayle, a landmark case in which Montgomery's segregated bus system was declared unconstitutional. Investigating Colvin's actions, asking why Rosa Parks's role has overshadowed Colvin's, Hoose (We Were There, Too! Young People in U.S. History) introduces readers to a resolute and courageous teenager and explores the politics of the NAACP and bus-boycott leadership. Because Colvin had been tearful in the period following her 1955 conviction, when her classmates shunned her, she was deemed too "emotional" to place at the center of the bus boycott; by the time Parks assumed that position, Colvin was disgraced: pregnant but not married. Hoose's evenhanded account investigates Colvin's motives and influences, and carefully establishes the historical context so that readers can appreciate both Colvin's maturity and bravery and the boycott leadership's pragmatism. Illus. with b&w photos. Ages 10-up. (Feb.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
VOYA - Sherrie Williams
Nearly a year before Rosa Parks famously refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a Montgomery public bus, fifteen-year-old African American student Claudette Colvin was the first to be arrested for that brand of civil disobedience in the Alabama city. This book offers a glimpse at a long-overlooked figure in the civil rights movement, who is now credited with being an important factor in sparking the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Colvin faced a court hearing and became pregnant shortly after her arrest. Local activists felt that she was not the right "face" for the cause, and she was generally forgotten in accounts of the civil rights movement for nearly fifty years. Hoose provides an in-depth account of her life, both during the civil rights movement and in the years afterward. This story of Colvin's contributions to the civil rights movement is enhanced by first-person accounts, interviews, primary sources, and well-captioned illustrations. Potentially unfamiliar terms and concepts are explained within the text or in clear and unobtrusive sidebars. Of special interest is the exploration of the importance of perceived cultural, social, and physical appearance in the search for a public face for the legal battles of the civil rights movement in Montgomery and nationwide. This fresh look at a well-documented period in American history will appeal to readers from young teens to adults. Reviewer: Sherrie Williams
Children's Literature - Marilyn Courtot
Most of us are aware of what Rosa Parks did in 1955 when she refused to give up her seat on the segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. It was a historic moment, but I also knew that there had been another young woman who had refused to move from her seat, but the details about her and the event were scant. Hoose has done a remarkable job researching and obtaining first person accounts of the bus incident involving a teenager named Claudette Colvin. Her bravery in the face of bullying from the bus driver and the police officers was remarkable. So was her agreement to be one of the ones to testify in Browder v. Gayle, a major Civil Rights case. Stepping back to the incident of Claudette's arrest, all charges against her except assaulting an officer (which she did not attempt) were dropped. It left her with a criminal record and the lawyers in the Civil Rights Movement had no case to appeal in relation to segregation. However, the experience changed Claudette's life forever. She was not treated as a heroine—actually pretty much the opposite—and since she was on probation her life took a drastic turn in that she stayed near home and family. Her one outlet was the NAACP youth meeting where Rosa Parks appointed her as youth secretary. However, her chance to shine came when Fred Gray, a young NAACP lawyer, proposed a challenge to the constitutionality of a state law in the hope that the case would be taken up by a three-judge federal panel. It was and now Fred had to find plaintiffs who would be able to stand up to the pressure of testifying before these judges. Claudette was among those chosen and who immediately agreed to be a plaintiff. Charles Langford, one of the plaintiff'slawyers, stated "if there was a star witness in the boycott case, it had to be Claudette Colvin." Hoose focuses on the difficulties in Claudette's life, her pregnancy as a teenager, her move north, the birth of another child, and eventually the turn around that came when she began work as a nurse's aide. Her place in the Civil Rights Movement remained in the shadows until fairly recently, but now her story has been told. It is one that stays with the reader and you cannot help but marvel at what she did as a teenager. My only frustration with the book was wanting to know a bit more about this woman in her later years and also what happened to her two sons. That aside, this book is a must read for anyone who wants to understand more about segregation, Jim Crow laws, life in Montgomery before and during the bus boycott, and perhaps get a glimmer of what kind of grit fighting segregation took. Reviewer: Marilyn Courtot
School Library Journal

Gr 6 Up

In Montgomery, AL, in March 1955, 15-year-old Colvin refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. She was arrested, and although she received some help from local civil rights leaders, they decided that the sometimes-volatile teen was not suitable to be the public face of a mass protest. Later that year, Rosa Parks sparked the famous bus boycott. Colvin was left with a police record and soon faced the additional problems of an unwed pregnancy and expulsion from school. In spite of those troubles, she consented to be named as a plaintiff in the court case that eventually integrated Montgomery's buses. Thus Colvin played a central role in the city's civil rights drama, but her story has been largely lost to history. Hoose, who had been curious about the often-unidentified teen who first defied bus segregation, persuaded her to tell her story. His book puts Colvin back into the historical record, combining her reminiscences with narrative about her life and the tumultuous events of the boycott. He includes background about segregated Montgomery and places Colvin's story into the context of the larger Civil Rights Movement. The text is supplemented with black-and-white photos, reproductions of period newspapers and documents, and sidebars. While virtually all students know Rosa Parks's story, this well-written and engaging book will introduce them to a teen who also fought for racial justice and give them a new perspective on the era, making it an outstanding choice for most collections.-Mary Mueller, Rolla Junior High School, MO

Kirkus Reviews
Claudette Colvin's story will be new to most readers. A teenager in the 1950s, Colvin was the first African-American to refuse to give up her seat on the bus in Montgomery, Ala. Although she later participated with four other women in the court case that effectively ended segregated bus service, it is Rosa Parks's action that became the celebrated event of the bus boycott. Hoose's frank examination of Colvin's life includes sizable passages in her own words, allowing readers to learn about the events of the time from a unique and personal perspective. The sequence of events unfolds clearly, with its large cast of characters distinctly delineated. Period photographs and reprints of newspaper articles effectively evoke the tenor of the times. Both Colvin and the author speculate that it was Colvin's unplanned (and unwed) pregnancy that prevented her from being embraced as the face of the Civil Rights movement. Her commitment to combating injustice, however, was unaffected, and she remains an inspiring figure whom contemporary readers will be pleased to discover. (notes, bibliography, index) (Biography. 12 & up)
Pulitzer Prize–winning author of The Good Wa Studs Terkel

Phil Hoose's profile of the remarkable Claudette Colvin is MUST reading for anyone still imbued with hope. She is a lighthouse in a stormy sea.
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books Starred

Smoothly weaves excerpts from Hoose's extensive interviews with Colvin and his own supplementary commentary.
Booklist Starred

This inspiring title shows the incredible difference that a single young person can make.
The Horn Book Starred

Hoose reasserts her [Claudette Colvin] place in history with this vivid and dramatic account, complemented with photographs, sidebars, and liberal excerpts from interviews conducted with Colvin.

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780312661052
Publisher:
Square Fish
Publication date:
12/21/2010
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
160
Sales rank:
103,869
Product dimensions:
5.99(w) x 8.94(h) x 0.54(d)
Lexile:
1000L (what's this?)
Age Range:
13 - 17 Years

Read an Excerpt

Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice


By Phillip Hoose

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2009 Phillip Hoose
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4299-4821-0



CHAPTER 1

Jim Crow and the Detested Number Ten

I swear to the Lord
I still can't see
Why Democracy means
Everybody but me.

— Langston Hughes


Claudette Colvin: I was about four years old the first time I ever saw what happened when you acted up to whites. I was standing in line at the general store when this little white boy cut in front of me. Then some older white kids came in through the door and started laughing. I turned around to see what they were laughing at. They were pointing at me. The little white boy said, "Let me see, let me see, too." For some reason they all wanted to see my hands. I held my hands up, palms out, and he put his hands up against my hands. Touched them. The older kids doubled up laughing. My mother saw us, and she saw that the boy's mother was watching. Then my mom came straight across the room, raised her hand, and gave me a backhand slap across my face. I burst into tears. She said, "Don't you know you're not supposed to touch them?" The white boy's mother nodded at my mom and said, "That's right, Mary."

That's how I learned I should never touch another white person again.

* * *

If, Like Claudette Colvin, you grew up black in central Alabama during the 1940s and 1950s, Jim Crow controlled your life from womb to tomb. Black and white babies were born in separate hospitals, lived their adult lives apart from one another, and were buried in separate cemeteries. The races were segregated by a dense, carefully woven web of laws, signs, partitions, arrows, ordinances, unequal opportunities, rules, insults, threats, and customs — often backed up by violence. Together, the whole system of racial segregation was known as "Jim Crow."

Jim Crow's job was not only to separate the races but to keep blacks poor. In 1950, nearly three in five black women in Montgomery, Alabama's capital city, worked as maids for white families, and almost three-quarters of employed black men mowed lawns and did other kinds of unskilled labor. The average black worker made about half as much money as the average white. "The only professional jobs ... open to blacks were ... pastoring a black church and schoolteaching, which was open because of segregated schools," recalled the Reverend Ralph Abernathy, the minister of the First Baptist Church in Montgomery during the 1950s.

Jim Crow kept blacks and whites from learning together, playing or eating meals together, working or riding buses or trains together, worshiping with one another, even going up and down in the same elevator or throwing a ball back and forth in the same park. Black and white citizens drank water from separate fountains and used different bathrooms. They were forbidden to play sports on the same team, marry one another, or swim together in the same pool.

Some of the segregation laws didn't matter too much in the daily lives of black citizens, but the bus was different. Riding the bus was like having a sore tooth that never quit aching. Montgomery's neighborhoods were spread out, and the maids and "yard boys" — people like Claudette Colvin's parents who scraped together a few dollars a day by attending to the needs of white families — depended on the buses to reach the homes of their white employers. Thousands of students also rode the buses to school from the time they were little, learning the transfer points and schedules by heart. They gathered in clusters at the corners, chatting and teasing and cramming for tests, until the green and gold buses chugged into view and the doors snapped open. Most blacks had to ride the bus.

But everything about riding a bus was humiliating for black passengers. All riders entered through the front door and dropped their dimes in the fare box near the driver. But, unless the entire white section was empty, blacks alone had to get back off the bus and reenter through the rear door. Sometimes the driver pulled away while black passengers were still standing outside.

In other Southern cities, like Atlanta and Nashville and Mobile, black passengers sat in the back and whites sat in the front of the bus, with the two groups coming together in the middle as the bus filled up. When all the seats were taken, riders of both races stood.

But Montgomery had its own rules and traditions. Here, each bus had thirty-six seats. The first four rows of seats, which held ten passengers, were reserved for white passengers only. Day after day weary black passengers remained standing over empty seats in front. Trying to hold on to their packages and small children, they jostled for balance even as the aisles became jammed with dozens of seatless passengers. Seating behind the first ten seats was up to the driver, who constantly glanced into the mirror above his head to keep track of who was sitting where. If the ten white seats in front were filled, the driver ordered black passengers to surrender their seats in the middle and rear of the bus to newly boarding white passengers. In fact, if even one white passenger wanted to sit in a row occupied by four black riders, the driver would glance up and yell, "I need those seats!" All four blacks were expected to stand up and make their way to the rear.

It didn't matter if they were elderly, pregnant, ill, or balancing children on their laps. It also didn't matter that the city bus law — or ordinance, as city laws are called — had said since 1900 that no rider had to give up a seat unless another was available. Drivers simply ignored the law until it became customary for blacks to move when the driver told them to. When he said to get up, he expected people to get up, and they did. If there were no seats left in the rear, black passengers were simply out of luck.

The Montgomery City Lines bus company hired tough men to command their buses. And Montgomery's city ordinance gave them police powers. Every driver understood from the day he was hired that his main job, other than driving the bus, was to enforce the Jim Crow rules. Some drivers carried pistols.

Having to stand up at the end of a long day within plain sight of an empty seat was both depressing and infuriating. "The ten empty seats became an obsession to weary workers," wrote Jo Ann Robinson, an English professor at Alabama State College at the time. "The number ten became a damnable number ... Nobody wanted that number on anything that belonged to him." And being packed together inside a small tube magnified the rudeness of segregation. "There were no Negro drivers," recalled Martin Luther King, Jr., of the Montgomery buses. "It was not uncommon to hear [drivers] referring to Negro passengers as ... 'black cows' and 'black apes.'"

Over the years, a few black riders stood up to the drivers. In 1946 Geneva Johnson was arrested for "talking back" to a driver and not having the correct change. Charged with disorderly conduct, she paid a fine and her case was dismissed. A few years later Viola White and Katie Wingfield were arrested for sitting in seats reserved for whites. They also pleaded guilty and paid fines.

In the summer of 1949, sixteen-year-old Edwina Johnson and her brother Marshall, one year younger, had come down from New Jersey to visit relatives in Montgomery. During their stay they climbed aboard a city bus and sat down next to a white man and his son. The white boy ordered Marshall to move. Deeply offended, Marshall refused. The driver twice ordered the Johnsons to the back, but they stayed put. Why should things be different here than back home? The exasperated driver radioed police, who were waiting at the next stop to arrest them. When Edwina and Marshall's relatives were called, they hurried to the police station, paid the teenagers' fines, and got them out of jail. Soon the Johnsons, shaken, were on their way back to New Jersey.

It could get rougher. A driver showered insults upon a woman named Epsie Worthy when she refused to pay an extra fare at a transfer point. Ms. Worthy got off the bus rather than pay more, only to have the driver follow her outside and begin punching her. She fought back with her fists, exchanging a flurry of blows with the driver, who spat upon her as he struck her. Police separated the two and charged Ms. Worthy with disorderly conduct.

The most shocking incident of all happened in 1952, when a man named Brooks boarded a City Lines bus, dropped a dime in the fare box, and headed down the aisle toward the back. The driver shouted at Brooks to come back, get off, and reboard through the rear door. Brooks said he'd rather walk and asked for his dime back. The driver refused, an argument heated up, and the driver called police. An officer soon boarded the bus, ordering Brooks off. Brooks wouldn't budge until he got his dime back. The policeman shot him, and Brooks later died of his wounds. The coroner ruled his death justifiable homicide, justifiable because the officer said Brooks had been resisting arrest.

The few passengers who defied the drivers usually cooled off at the police station, paid their fines, and tried to put their humiliating experiences behind them. Why fight? The white judges, the intimidating police, the insulting drivers, and the crushing weight of all the years of custom and law were simply overwhelming.

But change was in the wind. On Monday, May 17, 1954, in the case of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka, the U.S. Supreme Court outlawed racial segregation in public schools. It was a solid punch to Jim Crow, one that produced powerful shock waves throughout the South. The ruling allowed black students to anticipate a different future and emboldened a few of them to try to make it happen.

One such student was fifteen-year-old Claudette Colvin, whose school had been studying black history almost nonstop for a solid month. Around 3:30 on March 2, 1955, this slim, bespectacled high school junior boarded the Highland Gardens bus with a few of her friends and slid into a window seat on the left side, behind the white section. She piled her textbooks on her lap, smoothed her blue dress, and settled back for a five-block ride that not only would change the course of her life but would spark the most important social movement in U.S. history.

CHAPTER 2

Coot

To me, God loved everyone. Why would He curse just us?

— Claudette Colvin


Claudette: I was born Claudette Austin, September 5, 1939, in Birmingham. My mom named me after Claudette Colbert, a movie star back then, supposedly because we both had high cheekbones. My biological father's name is C. P. Austin, and my birth mother's name is Mary Jane Gadson. C.P. left my mother to look for a job, stayed away for a year, and came back just long enough for my sister Delphine to be born. Then he took off again. When he came back a third time and wanted to stay, my mother finally said no.

When I was just a baby I went off to live with my great-aunt, Mary Ann Colvin, and my great-uncle, Q. P. Colvin, in a little country town called Pine Level, about thirty miles down Highway 231 from Montgomery.

Mary Ann and Q.P. are the ones I call Mom and Dad. They were a lot older than my birth parents, more like my grandparents' age, but I loved them both, and I was happy to be with them. I think the reason they took me is that their only child, Velma, was away teaching school most of the year, so they had plenty of room for me. Later Delphine came to live with us, too. So I grew up in a quartet — Mary Ann, Q.P., Delphine, and me. And our dog, Bell, and two horses and lots of chickens, cows, and pigs. Back then, while World War II was going on, whenever one of our hens would lay a bad egg we'd mark it with an "H" — for Hitler.

People always said I was smart. I don't know about that, but I was inquisitive for sure. I wondered about everything and asked about everything: Why don't the stars fall? Where is Japan? Is it different from China? How did God make the earth so fast, in six days? Did He make the stars, too? When Bell died would she go to heaven? Shouldn't Easter be on a Monday? Weren't there supposed to be three days after the Crucifixion — so it'd be Saturday, Sunday, Monday, right?

The biggest mystery of all was how the white man came to dominate us. In the South, it was taught that white people were better than blacks. Somehow, they were the masters and we were there to work for them. My mom said white people thought God made them special. My Sunday school teacher said we had been cursed by one of Noah's sons. I didn't buy that at all. To me, God loved everyone. Why would He curse just us? My mom thought she was as good as anyone else. So did I. One day I told my pastor, Reverend H. H. Johnson, "I don't want to serve a God that would have a cursed race." He seemed proud of me for saying that.

I was a tomboy, tall and skinny and very fast, and I loved to be outdoors. I could climb trees as well as anyone. My best friend, Annie Ruth Baines, and I knew every trail and shortcut from Pine Level to our homes. A No Trespassing sign meant nothing at all to us. In the summer we would count the insect tracks in the sand across the road and try to figure out what bug made which track. We were walking to school together the first time we ever got close to a skunk, right out in the middle of the road. We ran up to pet it and got sprayed. The teacher took one sniff and sent us home.

Pine Level didn't have much more than a few shacks for the sharecropper families, a schoolhouse, a church, and a general store, but I was at home in all of it. I floated free, and slept at the homes of my mom's friends as much as in my own bed. They all raised me together. Some nights I ended up at Baby Tell's house — she was my mom's best friend, plump and short and always happy to see me. She lived in an old farmhouse, the biggest house in Pine Level. White people used to own it, and we never knew exactly how Baby Tell's family got it. Her attic was full of paintings and an organ and an old spinning wheel. Annie and I used to look out the attic window and pretend the Yankee soldiers were about ready to come charging over the hill.

Other nights I slept at Mama Sweetie's, a tiny woman in her sixties who was the best reader in Pine Level. She had read the entire Bible many times. She had her own blue-covered Webster's dictionary. Mama Sweetie taught practically every child in Pine Level their ABCs and how to write their names and how to count to a hundred, using peanuts. She cooked for all the people when they came in from the fields. Baby Tell and Mama Sweetie were like sisters to my mom, and mothers to me. They loved me to keep them company. My nonstop talking and constant questions seemed to drive my mom crazy, but it didn't bother them at all: they loved that about me.

Our school was a one-room white wooden building with red trim. Annie and I walked there together every day, lunch sacks in one hand, book sacks in the other. It had a potbellied stove in the middle and a picture of Abraham Lincoln on the wall. One teacher taught all six elementary grades, and sat us in sections around the room, grade by grade, two to a desk. The room was rarely full because students kept getting pulled away to do farmwork. A farmer would just appear in the doorway and yell, "I need two boys to help with the cows," and they'd be out the door in a flash.

I loved school. I memorized the Dick and Jane reader so my teacher would think I could already read. One day she asked me to read aloud, but I got way out ahead of the text. She couldn't figure out what was going on. She told my parents to take me to Montgomery to get my eyes checked. I learned the entire second grade in advance just by listening to Annie — she was a year older than me — and by hearing Mama Sweetie read from her Bible and her Webster's dictionary. When it came time for me to start second grade I could already read and write and spell and even do some arithmetic. They tested me and told me to go sit with the third graders. After that, I was always younger than the other kids in my class.

I knew plenty of white people, and they knew me. You had to be very careful around them. They never called the adults "Mr." or "Miss" or "Mrs."; they used their first names instead. Or sometimes they made up little nicknames to dominate us. I was Coot. A doctor gave that name to me when I was little to distract me from the shot he was about to give. He sang, "Oh she's the cutest little thing," but it came out "coot" — and the name stuck.


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Claudette Colvin Twice Toward Justice by Phillip Hoose. Copyright © 2009 Phillip Hoose. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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