Liberty Street


Kezia’s secret Sundays have the power to set her free.

I was born on wash day.

“Did you have to work that day?” I once asked Mama.

“Our people work every day, Kezia,” she said.

They must work all week except on Sunday afternoons, when Missus Grace’s slaves are free to travel through town and visit with friends. Glorious Sundays, when slaves ...

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Kezia’s secret Sundays have the power to set her free.

I was born on wash day.

“Did you have to work that day?” I once asked Mama.

“Our people work every day, Kezia,” she said.

They must work all week except on Sunday afternoons, when Missus Grace’s slaves are free to travel through town and visit with friends. Glorious Sundays, when slaves throughout Fredericksburg walk along the dirt path they call Liberty Street, making small journeys that give them the only taste of freedom they can ever have.

Soon Sundays take on an even deeper meaning when Kezia joins a secret school to learn to read—even though it is forbidden to slaves. Meanwhile, Mama works frantically to earn extra money to buy Kezia’s freedom from Missus Grace before she is bonded out to another family far away.

Liberty Street is a moving story of courage and love, and a testament to those in the antebellum South who risked all in the name of knowledge and freedom.

Young Kezia is a slave, living in nineteenth-century Fredericksburg, Virginia, until her mother helps her escape. Includes historical notes.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
It is "Sunday! Sweet Sunday!" in pre-Civil War Fredericksburg, Va., and Kezia and her mother head down Liberty Street, the road traveled by captives who are "at liberty" for the afternoon. "White folks own the streets like they own us," says narrator Kezia. "But this path is ours, worn by the pounding of many bare feet." This potent symbol illuminates Ransom's (The Promise Quilt) story, which capably captures the back-breaking drudgery ("We work for [Missus Grace], candlelight to candlelight, day in and day out") and injustices ("It's against the law for Miss Eulalie to teach and for us to learn.... If we are caught, we could get thirty-nine lashes") of that time. Despite this rich premise, the narrative lacks dramatic impact and the characters never fully come to life. Instead, Velasquez's (The Piano Man) fine realistic illustrations deliver much-needed emotional resonance, especially a wrenching flashback in which Kezia's father is sold away. His visual devices also add poignancy: he frames his illustrations and places the characters directly in front, and often groups several scenes on a page. This layered illustrative approach, especially in the scenes when Kezia escapes to freedom, adds a you-are-there immediacy to a story that will likely interest young historians, but may not grab them by the heartstrings. Ages 6-9. (Dec.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Children's Literature
A young girl describes her life as a slave in the town of Fredericksburg. She and her mother work long and hard; their mistress Missus Grace has sold the father. Although it is against the law, Kezia goes secretly to learn to read, chafing at the restrictions. Her mother is meanwhile trying in vain to earn enough money to buy her freedom before she is sent away. Kezia's mother decides to send her through the tunnel to freedom in Canada, using her laundry for the "clothesline telegraph" to tell when it is safe. Although she is frightened and reluctant to go alone, Kezia bravely makes it out to freedom, vowing to study and to send for her mother as soon as she can. The oil paintings, like theatrical scenes, tell the visual story of the slaves' lives with details of dress and locale. The artist makes use of light and shadow to add dramatic impact. But it is the signal of the glorious saturated-red shirt flying in the breeze on the clothes line, filling the end-papers, which presages the successful flight to freedom. A historic note by the author about old Fredericksburg, Virginia, the lives of the slaves that lived there, and the real Liberty Street is included. 2003, Walker & Company, Ages 6 to 9.
—Ken Marantz and Sylvia Marantz
School Library Journal
Gr 1-5-Kezia belongs to Missus Grace, a widow. Monday is wash day, Tuesday is ironing day, and so on throughout the week, but Sunday is special because the slaves are allowed to go visiting without passes. They call the dirt path that leads downtown "Liberty Street." Kezia's mother sends her to the home of a free black woman who teaches slave children to read and write and makes plans for her daughter to join a group preparing to take the Underground Railroad to Canada. The book ends on a bittersweet note, as the girl begins her journey to freedom, leaving her mother behind to help others. Narrated by Kezia, the story is filled with emotion and suspense. Velasquez's dramatic illustrations make powerful use of light and shadow, shape and composition, and rich colors in this wrenching yet inspirational tale.-Anna DeWind Walls, Milwaukee Public Library Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Kezia is a slave in the small household of Missus Grace. She and her mother and Old Zeus work "from candlelight to candlelight, day in and day out." But each Sunday they have an afternoon off and they walk to town on a dirt path they have named Liberty Street. Her father has been sold and her mother is trying to save enough money to buy her freedom. In a secret school, she learns to read and to hope. With the help of a secret network that includes her mother and teacher, she begins the long, frightening journey to Canada. Told by Kezia in the present tense, the story is intense and powerful. Velasquez's illustrations are sweeping and detailed and perfectly match the text. An author's note further explains some of the realities of slavery and methods of escape. Strong and compelling. (Picture book. 8-11)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780802788696
  • Publisher: Walker & Company
  • Publication date: 10/1/2003
  • Pages: 32
  • Age range: 6 - 9 Years
  • Lexile: 510L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 8.75 (w) x 11.50 (h) x 0.25 (d)

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