If you're planning to teach about the civil rights movement, Reach And Teach offers a wealth of resources we hope you'll include in your lesson planning. To start, let's look at three books by an amazing storyteller, Larry Dane Brimner:
Black & White
We Are One: The Bayard Rustin Story
The Reach And Teach team is in complete agreement with the multitude of awards Larry Dane Brimner has received for his work. Painstakingly researched with incredible detail, these books are finely crafted works of art, compellingly written, sometimes chilling in their depictions, but always keeping the reader so engaged that the books are impossible to put down.
In the years leading up to 1963, racial bombings were so frequent in Birmingham, Alabama, that it acquired the moniker "Bombingham." Until September 15, these attacks had been threatening but not deadly. On that Sunday morning, however, a Klan-planted bomb detonated, killing four little girls. Before the sun had set, another two children would also be killed. This is the story of that tragic day in U.S. history that set the course for civil rights reforms.
In the nineteen fifties and early sixties, Birmingham, Alabama, became known as Bombingham. At the center of this violent time in the fight for civil rights, and standing at opposite ends, were Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor. From his pulpit, Shuttlesworth agitated for racial equality, while Commissioner Connor fought for the status quo. Relying on court documents, police and FBI reports, newspapers, interviews, and photographs, author Larry Dane Brimner first covers each man’s life and then brings them together to show how their confrontation brought about significant change to the southern city. The author worked closely with Birmingham’s Civil Rights Institute as well as with Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and his wife.
Bayard (pronounced BUY-ard) Rustin was a man with purpose--and a man with heart. His was a life dedicated to helping others--fighting injustices and discriminations--so that people could live as one. He made his mark working alongside African American labor-leader A. Philip Randolph and provided guidance to Martin Luther King, Jr., about the techniques and principles of Gandhi's nonviolent protest throughout King's short but remarkable civil rights career. He was thrust upon the world stage in 1963 when he spearheaded the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Kirkus (Sep. 1, 2007) had this to say about it: "An effective mix of major historical events and small, telling anecdotes, along with the attractive photo-essay format, make this a fascinating volume, informative and well written."
Now let's look at other resources we've recommended in other stories on our web site. The following comes from our Black History Month Teach-In for 2012.
The Tuskegee Airmen
What better way to launch Black History Month than to celebrate the Tuskegee Airmen! With a new movie arriving in theaters right now about these amazing airmen the team here at Reach And Teach was thrilled to discover that the White House hosted a screening with some of the airmen this week.
Reach And Teach created a free curriculum you can use to teach about the Tuskegee Airmen. Click here to check out that curriculum.
Claudette Colvin "I felt like Sojourner Truth had a hand on one shoulder and Harriet Tubman on the other!" That's how Claudette Colvin describes the feeling she had when the police were demanding she vacate her seat on the bus and move to where the other "coloreds" were seated. She refused and was dragged off that bus and thrown in jail. Unlike Rosa Parks, who famously refused to move to the back of the bus and is credited with ending segregation in public transportation, Claudette was scorned by her community for refusing to obey the police. But it was her action, before Rosa famously sat, that resulted in a landmark court case that made bus segregation illegal in America. Click here to check out a wonderful book by Phillip Hoose on Claudette Colvin and her courageous act of defiance.
Claudette Colvin is not a name that immediately comes to mind for most people when one thinks about the civil rights movement. With Martin Luther King's birthday in January and with February being Black History Month, we wanted to lift up a few names and faces that don't necessarily get the recognition they should. In this article we'll lift up some amazing people who have worked for social, racial, gender, economic, and geo-political justice: Bidi Mason, Bayard Rustin, Viola Desmond, Kim and Reggie Harris, Mildred Loving, Martin Luther King, and Mary Edith Abu-Saba. And, we'll also let you know about some great resources for learning more, celebrating, and singing!
Bridget (Biddy) Mason
Biddy was born in 1815 and given as a "wedding present" to Robert Smith and his new bride. Though he and his wife became Mormon, and the church urged them to free their slaves, they refused to do so. In 1856, Smith was trying to move his family and slaves and Biddy escaped, ending up in Los Angeles. Though Smith caught up with her, a local posse stopped him and Biddy went to court to sue for her freedom. California was a free state and the court eventually granted Biddy and other slaves who were with her their freedom
She worked as a midwife and nurse, saved enough to buy her own home, and became quite wealthy, sharing her wealth and her time with the poor and imprisoned. She was beloved by her community and became an honoree in the California Social Work Hall of Distinction. February 16th is Biddy Mason day!
One of our favorite YA (Young Adult) books is The Call to Shakabaz, an adventure novel about the creative use of nonviolence to overcome a tyrant. One of the characters in that book is a parrot named Bayard Rustin. An odd name for a parrot, until you understand that the real Bayard Rustin was a close and trusted adviser to Martin Luther King. He also happened to be gay (Mr. Rustin, not the parrot).
Rustin, raised by Quakers, was a committed pacifist and spent his adult life working for justice for many different groups of people including laborers, Japanese-Americans being interned, war-resisters, people of color, and homosexuals. Rustin died in 1987 from a perforated appendix. The New York Times included this in his obituary: "Looking back at his career, Mr. Rustin, a Quaker, once wrote: 'The principal factors which influenced my life are 1) nonviolent tactics; 2) constitutional means; 3) democratic procedures; 4) respect for human personality; 5) a belief that all people are one.'"
As you listen to Martin Luther King's "I Have A Dream" speech this year, imagine a little parrot sitting on his shoulder who championed nonviolence as the best means to achieve freedom. Bayard Rustin was no parrot, though, he was a lion of a man! Because Rustin was gay, many of King's other colleagues insisted that Rustin stay out of the limelight and most importantly, keep his sexual orientation to himself. We were blessed recently to have a woman stop by our shop, see that we had a civil rights focus, and then say to us "I'll bet I can say a name and you won't know who it is." We took the challenge. She said "Bayard Rustin!" We told her we knew all about Rustin, showed her some of the books, and then she really surprised us by saying that she had spent time in jail with Rustin. She was over 80 years old but as feisty as ever as she shared her jailhouse stories with us. (Our friend Sydney Brown also, it turns out, knew Rustin. Small world.) If you'd like to know more about the way Bayard approached the world, check out this incredible book, Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin.
Like Claudette Colvin, Viola Desmond did her own sitting for social justice. She was also arrested for her action, scorned by her community, but sadly, her case didn't prevail in her homeland of Nova Scotia. She went to a segregated movie theater and insisted on sitting in the whites-only section on the ground floor, instead of the blacks-only balcony. She was arrested, charged, and convicted of...
Yep, seats in the white section cost a penny more in taxes and although she was willing to pay for a seat in the white section, the theater refused to sell her one. So, sitting in the white section deprived the government of one penny in taxes, a crime for which Desmond was convicted. In 2010 she was granted a posthumous pardon.
Kim and Reggie Harris
We got a call one day from Alan Edwards of Appleseed Recordings (Pete Seeger's label) saying "Hey! You guys ought to have some of our records in your store!" He was right. Through that connection we fell in love with Kim and Reggie Harris and their incredible music. Here's how they're described at Appleseed: "Kim and Reggie Harris will never be confused with the legions of navel-gazing singer-songwriters who drift into the category of "contemporary folk." As socially conscious acoustic musicians, the Harrises have been "walking the talk" for over 30 years, performing modern and historical songs that explore societal ills and proffer positive social messages. Whether entrancing festival crowds with their own material or dramatizing the Underground Railroad songs, the duo carry on the folk tradition of preserving important songs from the past and adding meaningful new compositions that reflect the world around them."
As shown in our CIVIO card game, in 1967, the Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriage was unconstitutional. The Lovings had gotten married in the District of Columbia where it was legal, and then went back to their home in Virginia. There, they were arrested and prosecuted, with the trial judge ruling that "Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix." The Supreme Court, however, eventually disagreed. You can read a script based on the arguments in this case by clicking here.
The Lovings were not very public people but just before her death in 2007, Mildred spoke about the idea of banning gay marriage, a hot topic in the United States even as Loving v Virginia reached its 40th anniversary. She said "I am still not a political person, but I am proud that Richard's and my name is on a court case that can help reinforce the love, the commitment, the fairness, and the family that so many people, black or white, young or old, gay or straight seek in life. I support the freedom to marry for all. That's what Loving, and loving, are all about."
Marriage Equality is a big item on the Reach And Teach agenda. We recently published a children's picture book called Operation Marriage, written by Cynthia Chin-Lee and illustrated by Lea Lyon. We're hoping it will be the 21st Century sequel to Heather Has Two Mommies.
BIG NEWS!!!! A new documentary about Midlred and Richard Loving will premier on HBO in February. Click here to check out information about the film.
Wherever There's A Fight
Wherever There's a Fight captures the sweeping story of how freedom and equality have grown in California, from the gold rush right up to the precarious post-9/11 era. The book tells the stories of the brave individuals who have stood up for their rights in the face of social hostility, physical violence, economic hardship, and political stonewalling.
It connects the experiences of early Chinese immigrants subjected to discriminatory laws to those of professionals who challenged McCarthyism and those of people who have fought to gain equal rights in California schools: people of color, people with disabilities, and people standing up for their religious freedom. The authors bring a special focus to the World War II internment of Japanese Americans, focusing on the infamous Korematsu case, which was foreshadowed by a century of civil liberties violations and reverberates in more recent times-regrettably, even today in the Patriot Act. And they follow the ongoing struggles for workers' rights and same-sex marriage.
State and federal constitutions spell out many liberties and rights, but it is the people who challenge prejudice and discrimination that transform those lofty ideals into practical realities. Wherever There's a Fight paints vivid portraits of these people and brings to light their often hidden stories.
Martin Luther King
Martin Luther King's Beloved Community
The team at Reach And Teach believes in the power of nonviolence and few in history have lived and died for that belief the way Martin Luther King did. Much of his dream has come true but there is still a very long way to go before we have the "beloved community" he imagined. As we celebrate Black History Month, let's rededicate ourselves to building that kindom one heart at a time.
You can't celebrate Martin Luther King's life, civil rights history, or Black History Month without singing! Check out Freedom Song. Melding memorable music and inspiring history, Freedom Song presents a fresh perspective on the civil rights movement by showing how songs of hope, faith, and freedom strengthened the movement and served as its voice. In this eye-opening account, you'll discover how churches and other groups-from the SNCC Freedom Singers to the Chicago Children's Choir-transformed music both religious and secular into electrifying anthems that furthered the struggle for civil rights.
From rallies to marches to mass meetings, music was ever-present in the movement. People sang songs to give themselves courage and determination, to spread their message to others, to console each other as they sat in jail. The music they shared took many different forms, including traditional spirituals once sung by slaves, jazz and blues music, and gospel, folk, and pop songs. Freedom Song explores in detail the galvanizing roles of numerous songs, including "Lift Every Voice and Sing," "The Battle of Jericho," "Wade in the Water," and "We Shall Overcome."
As Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr., and many others took a stand against prejudice and segregation, a Chicago minister named Chris Moore started a children's choir that embraced the spirit of the civil rights movement and brought young people of different races together, young people who lent their voices to support African Americans struggling for racial equality. More than 50 years later, the Chicago Children's Choir continues its commitment to freedom and justice. An accompanying CD, Songs on the Road to Freedom, featuresthe CCC performing the songs discussed throughout the book.
Mary Edith (Bentley) Abu-Saba, Ph.D
Since we started our article with the name of someone you might not instantly have recognized from the civil rights movement, we'll close this article with one more name you might not recognize. Our friend, Mary Edith (Bentley) Abu-Saba, helped us pick the little shop we now operate in San Mateo. She was part of the Rebuilding Alliance team (who share our space) and after having looked at place after place after place, where one person loved the place but someone else not so much, we were at the end of the line and figuring that we wouldn't find anyplace that we all loved. One last place, though, was yet to be seen. When the realtor unlocked the door, Mary Edith took one look, walked across the shop to the far corner, sat down on the floor near a window overlooking the outdoor garden. "This is it!" she declared with her arms crossed. "I am not moving until you sign the lease."
This wasn't Mary's first experience sitting down and refusing to move until she got her way. Way back on December 14th, 1960, she sat down at Patterson's Drug Store Lunch Counter in Lynchburg Virginia. She had gone to the store to talk to the owner, to ask him to change his policy and allow African Americans to sit down and eat there. The owner wasn't interested in talking and she and her companions sat down at the counter and refused to budge. The police were called and still they sat. Eventually, she and her friends were arrested and became known as the Patterson Six.
In December 2010, Mary Edith was recognized by Randolph College for her courageous act, but the college and town weren't very impressed with her back in 1960! She was tried and convicted and served 30 days in jail. Click here to check out the full story about Mary Edith.
We recently asked Mary Edith to look check out our newest book, Operation Marriage, and consider sharing comments we could use as part of the book launch. Here's what she said: "I have been involved in civil rights issues since college days when I served a 30-day jail sentence for sitting at a lunch counter with three other whites and two African-Americans, just having a cup of coffee," says Mary Bentley Abu-Saba, Ph.D. "Here we are now, having to dig through the weeds of another civil rights issue: marriage equality. The beauty and emotion of this book flows from its presentation through children's eyes. The simplicity of children's thinking can effectively pierce the rough hewn edges of adult logic!! Every school library should have this book and be proud!"
And the team at Reach And Teach is proud to have Dr. Abu-Saba, now retired and living too far away in North Carolina, as a friend! Thank you for sitting down in that far corner of our shop at 178 South Blvd. and thank you for sitting down at Patterson's! Oh yeah... and thank you for all the oranges and bananas!
Other Resources for Civil Rights / Black History Month