Haskins's biography of Bayard Rustin, the courageous, controversial, and brilliant "stage manager" of the 1963 March on Washington, fills a gap in YA biographical studies of this period. It sheds much light on Rustin's role, not as a star, but as an architect and organizer of civil rights strategies, as well as on his lifelong associations with A. Philip Randolph and Martin Luther King, Jr. Brought up a Quaker, Rustin was known to be homosexual, a leading member of the City University of New York Young Communist League from 1936 to 1941, and a pacifist resister during World War II. These attributes and experiences, which might have marked a less talented individual as an outcast, contributed to his low-profile style of activism, his exceptionally effective organizing skill, and his personal integrity. Teens who read this biography will learn about a key personality who remained active in broad movements for social change until his death in 1987 at age seventy-five. The writing style, however, does not do justice to the page-turning qualities of Rustin's extraordinary life. Oh Freedom! attempts to bring to life the real-life stories of ordinary, "everyday" participants in the civil rights movement. Children and teenagers of varied backgrounds interview those who were victims of segregation; those who picketed, marched, and struggled in the time of Martin Luther King, Jr.; and those who participated in the Black Power and social justice movements that followed. There are some well-known people among the interviewees (Bernice Johnson Reagon, James Farmer, Roy Wilkins), but most are ordinary people, frequently the interviewer's relative or friend. Each section is introduced with background material on the period. With a few exceptions, the interviews were disappointing. They lack the depth, and sometimes, the specificity, that would have given them vitality. The idea of the format was to ask the kind of questions that kids might ask, but the answers have an overly edited feel and are often so clipped and superficial as to be quite dull. There is a particularly illuminating interview with a former Klansman, which provides unusual insight into his racist mind; also interesting was the answer one of the interviewed gave to the question of what Rev. King did during the time he was in jail: "It was like a vacation; he used the time to sit quietly and think and read and play." There is a photograph of each interview pair (or trio in some cases), and the photography, typography, and layout were done with exceptional care. But overall, the book will not add much to a well-developed collection on the African-American struggle for freedom. The introductory material is written on a much higher level than the interviews. Any young person who can read these essays will probably find the interviews very elementary. These two titles are serviceable, if uninspiring, additions to the public or school library's civil rights collections. [Editor's Note: See our "Books in the Middle" list, this issue.] Index. Photos. Biblio. Further Reading. Chronology. Note: This review was written and published to address two titles: Bayard Rustin: Behind the Scenes of the Civil Rights Movement and Oh, Freedom: Kids Talk About the Civil Rights Movement with the People Who Made It Happen. VOYA Codes: 3Q 3P M J (Readable without serious defects, Will appeal with pushing, Middle School-defined as grades 6 to 8 and Junior High-defined as grades 7 to 9).
Oh, Freedom! represents the best kind of history learning, when children themselves discover truths. Beginning with only a brief overview of segregation and civil rights, the book is primarily a series of child-conducted interviews that collected vivid memories of how it was then in the neighborhoods, schools, marches and more. Interviewees from widely differing socioeconomic levels, locations, backgrounds, and fields of endeavor are represented. One Civil Rights marcher remembers being pushed and continuously stepping on Martin Luther King Jr.'s heels. Someone else tells how he went from being in the KKK to leading an interracial church. Individual experiences unite to give a personal version of history. There's also a lovely sense of the children's compassion and respect for adults who lived through these painful periods of history.
Children's Literature - Susie Wilde
Gr 4-8A unique collection of oral histories about the civil rights movement that grew out of a fourth-grade assignment. The 31 interviews, all conducted by children, are organized into three sections: "Life Under Segregation," "The Movement to End Legalized Segregation," and "The Struggle to End Poverty and Discrimination." Each part of the book is introduced by background information that provides a thorough historical context. The interviews are briefusually two pagesand include a black-and-white photo of the student and the interviewee. In addition, well-chosen historical photos support the text. They are especially powerful when they depict the subject participating in the activities that he or she describes. Some civil rights notables appear, such as James Farmer, but most of the participants are parents or other relatives and friends. Each one has a unique perspective, such as the minister of an interracial church who is a former member of the Ku Klux Klan, and an Asian-American woman who worked for civil rights because of her experiences in a Japanese internment camp during World War II. This book is important for the stories it tells, the pictures it shows, and especially for its prevailing messagethat we are all a part of history, and we can all share and appreciate one another's experiences.Marilyn (Makowski) Heath, Greenwood High School, SC
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