Although not formally educated in American history, I consider myself a devout student. My interest was casual until the death of my father 17 years ago when it intensified. My first foray was tracking down his Korean War medals. Then I dove into my family’s history learning about its colonial and pre-colonial American past. The natural progression led to studying American history.
When I look back over the nearly two decades, I’m pleased with the quest and the natural growth it produced — including a better understanding of America’s race wars.
It’s Just A Word
Growing up in an evangelical home, I was acutely aware which words not to use. Soft curse words like damn could evoke a lecture. When, as a seven-year-old, I told Mom I wanted a recently released toy called Son of a Gun, she threatened to punish me (‘You want me to mash your mouth’).
But the N-word was more acceptable.
That is not to say my parents used the word or embraced it (they didn’t), but when I dropped the word as a teenager, in anger, at a black man, there was no lecture. I learned the word years earlier from my paternal grandfather who used it to describe a community of ‘yella n-word’ (a reference to their lighter skin tone) that lived near him in Cumberland County, Kentucky. As an eight-year-old sitting on the couch watching TV with Grandpa, he used it freely when black entertainers appeared on TV, saying, ‘Now there’s one happy N-word.’
I relay this, not to expose the subtle, and not so subtle, prejudice of my childhood, but rather to show that what we teach our children matters.
We’ve Got A Job
Juvenile-level literature like We’ve Got A Job matters on many levels. The book teaches our children positive role models, and it also tells the stories of parents who did ‘teach their children well.’
Like most Americans, I’ve long been familiar with the images, and TV footage, of the Civil Rights movement. Some of the most gripping images, like the one above, capture dogs attacking peaceful protesters. The water hose news footage is also very disturbing to watch especially since, as Americans, we lie to ourselves and say we’re a Christian nation ordained by God as a ‘city set on a hill,’ but our actions say otherwise.
But, what I never knew, until reading We’ve Got A Job by Cynthia Levinson was that thousands — literally thousands — of black juveniles were arrested and crammed into American jails because of their peaceful protests. In Job, the author details the lives of four participants — the youngest is nine-year-old Audrey Hendricks — telling their stories of courage and resolve as they took on the blind hatred of Alabama’s White power structure.
The Birmingham Children’s March took place between May 2 and May 11 in 1963. In the March, roughly 4,000 elementary, middle and high school children were arrested and jailed. The March was organized by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the author weaves in the role King, and other Black leaders, played as they navigated the delicate balance of protest amid the violence.
Although written for a 12-15 year old audience, the book is a compelling read for adults — and include many unknown facts and stories. One that struck me was — on the day four black girls were killed in a church bombing — two other black juveniles were murdered. One was killed by a police officer and a second, a 16-year-old black male, was shot and killed by a white Eagle Scout.
Levinson received several awards for the book including, the Golden Kite Award for Nonfiction. The book is a reminder that when evil exists — good people, of all ages — rise to resist.
Rating 5 out of 5. I rate this book highly for two reasons: it is very well written as it weaves a lot of information together, some well-known, some hardly known, into a compelling account of an important week in American history. The other reason — the author captures a story that was nearly lost to history.