On May 17, 1954, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the case of Brown v. Board
of Education of Topeka, Kansas that state-sanctioned segregation of public
schools is unconstitutional.
In September 1954, in an Air Force base school near Salina, Kansas, young
African American teacher Mrs. Johnnie Mitchell Nelson became the teacher of
a second grade class of twenty white children. Mrs. Nelson knew, but did her
pupils understand they were making history together?
Through a class roster of persona poems by poets Doug Anderson, Martha
Collins, Alfred Corn, Annie Finch, Helen Frost, Margaret Gibson, Jeanine
Hathaway, Andrew Hudgins, Mark Jarman, Peter Johnson, Meg Kearney,
Ron Koertge, David Mason, Leslie Monsour, Dinty W. Moore, Marilyn Nelson,
Lesléa Newman, Michael Palma, Michael Waters, and Katherine Williams, this
anthology presents Mrs. Nelson and her class, imagining how she and her
students may have experienced their unique situation.
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About the Author
A Life in Poems and A Wreath for Emmett Till. In 2012 she was awarded the Frost Medal for distinguished lifetime achievement in poetry. She is a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets and Poet-in-Residence of the Poets Corner at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. "For years, every time I looked at the photograph of my mother with her 1954-55 class, I wondered what those children experienced. I'm so glad my friends agreed to explore that question. I loved trying to catch Mama's voice in the poems I wrote for this collection."