This review was originally posted on my blog, Snapshot, two years ago. I’m proud to repost it today. On another note, the finalists for the 2009 Cybils awards to which I alluded have been posted. Check them out for some great recommendations!
I read Freedom Walkers: The Story of the Montgomery Bus Boycott in my role as a judge for the Cybils Book Awards. We were asked not to post any reviews of the finalists while we were judging, so that someone wouldn’t be able to predict the winner, so I have held off. Now that it was announced that Freedom Walkers did indeed win, and especially in light of the fact that February is Black History Month, I would like to share my thoughts on this book.
One might think that they’ve heard the story about the early days of the civil rights movement, and specifically the roles of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rosa Parks as far as standing up (or sitting down, as the case may be) for what is right.
However, Russell Freedman tells this story as a collective experience, from the points of view of the teenagers, men, women, leaders and followers who sacrificed for over a year in this boycott in order to bring about change. Yes, it lasted for over a year. How many of you knew that? I did not. It was the length of time and the full sacrifice that was made that really spoke to me from the pages of this book. A great wrong was being legislated in the city of Montgomery, Alabama, and all across the South, and a dedicated group of African Americans, led by Martin Luther King, Jr., finally decided not to be victims any longer.
As I read, the sense of the injustice settled over me heavily. It is hard for me to believe that this world existed only ten years before my birth. Hearing the quotes and seeing the pictures that were carefully selected proves that this story is not just a kind of legend or myth. It’s not a pretty story, but this is a fair telling of these events. There are a few sympathetic Whites mentioned, but in general, there were not many who were willing to defend the rights of the minorities. I continue to live in hope that times have changed and will continue to change so that a time will come when color or nationality or creed truly doesn’t make a difference.
It was lack of knowledge — ignorance — that created the attitude of superiority and hatred of that time, and so I feel that it is my responsibility not to forget, and to learn about this time and those individuals and groups who have brought change, and to teach my daughter as well. This book is appropriate for fifth grade and up.
Is this book a downer? Not really. I was left with a slight feeling of incredulity at the actions and justification of the White leaders and the lengths that they went to in order to try to keep the Black citizens “in their place.” However, it is the conviction and peaceful actions of the African American citizens, day after day, month after month, after living with a lifetime of unfair treatment, that left me with a feeling of hope.
One person, or a group of single individuals, can make a difference. They have made a difference throughout history and each of us can continue to do so. Around the time I began reading this book, I came across a quote by Martin Luther King, Jr. in my day planner. I also happened to be grappling with my response to a difficult situation. This quote inspired me to do what I knew was right, even though it would have been much easier to ignore the situation or try to forget it: “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”