January 17 – Martin Luther King, Jr. Day

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About the Holiday

Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the man who dedicated his life and work to teaching—as Coretta Scott King stated—“the values of courage, truth, justice, compassion, dignity, humility and service” and led a non-violent Civil Rights movement to enact racial equality and justice throughout state and federal law. President Ronald Reagan signed the holiday into law in 1983, setting it on the third Monday of January to coincide with Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday on January 15. The holiday was officially observed in all 50 states in 2000. Today, learn more about the life and work of Martin Luther King and how you can help promote justice and equality for all. Consider volunteering in your community where help is needed

I’d like to sincerely thank Alice Faye Duncan for sharing a digital copy of Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop for review consideration. All opinions on the book are my own.

Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968

Written by Alice Faye Duncan | Illustrated by R. Gregory Christie

 

Informed by the memories of Dr. Almella Starks-Umoja, a teacher who as a child participated in the sanitation strike and told through the eyes of fictional nine-year-old Lorraine, Alice Faye Duncan relates the story of the 1968 sanitation strike in Memphis, Tennessee and the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King just a day after giving his final sermon “I’ve Been to the Mountaintop” at Mason Temple Church in support of the strike.

Through thirteen titled vignettes composed of lyrical and powerful language, Duncan reveals the detailed facts and emotions of those days that changed lives, altered the Civil Rights movement, and still resonate today. Duncan begins with “Memphis—1968” in which Lorraine describes a Memphis roiled by “the stinking sanitation strike” when “Black men marched for honor” and she also marched “with red ribbon in [her] hair.” She entreats the reader: “You must tell the story—so that no one will forget it.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

“Mud Puddles” tells of the moment in January when Lorraine’s father comes home so “distressed and out of breath” that Lorraine’s muddy shoeprints are forgotten by her mama as he tells them about his two fellow sanitation workers and friends—Echol Cole and Robert Walker—who were killed when a truck’s packer blade malfunctioned. “Daddy told Mama, ‘It ain’t right to die like that.’ / Mama shook her head, and I saw a new storm rising up. / I saw it in their eyes.”

In “Marching Orders” Lorraine lays out the ugly conditions sanitation workers like her father toiled under and introduces readers to Mayor Loeb, who refused to increase their wages from $1.70 an hour. She states, “When they could take the abuse no more, 1,300 men deserted their garbage barrels. They organized a labor strike on February 12, 1968. In the morning and afternoon, for sixty-five days, sanitation workers marched fourteen blocks through the streets of downtown Memphis.”

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

As the strike continued through the winter, “[crippling] garbage collection with terrific success,” “Winter Blues” depicts the sacrifices Lorraine’s family made, from going without electricity to missing bill payments to skipping treats or getting anything new. But Lorraine also “learned what the grown folks knew. Trouble visits every life. But as strikers marched through sun and rain, help came in many forms.” Two of these were a group of Memphis preachers who helped strikers pay bills and the NAACP.

Winter turns to spring with no concessions from Mayor Loeb and no end to the strike in sight. But then in “Martin” Lorraine learns in the newspapers her mama’s boss gave her that Martin Luther King Jr. would be coming to support the striking workers. “Silver Rights” recounts Lorraine’s memories of listening to Dr. King, his voice “loud and stirring” when he said, “‘All labor has dignity.’” He set the date of March 22nd when he would march with the striking workers. Lorraine’s daddy and mama vowed to be there. And as she recalled, “then Mama patted my hand and said, ‘We will take Lorraine. She can march with us.’” A haiku “Omen” reveals the cancellation of the march.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Beale Street,” Lorraine explains more about Dr. King’s dreams and work and his crusade he named “the ‘Poor People’s Campaign.’” The march was rescheduled for March 28, and on that day “Six thousand people—blacks, whites, men, women, and children—gathered in downtown Memphis. / Police stood guard with tear gas, billy clubs, and guns.” When looters shattered storefront windows, the police moved in, spraying tear gas and beating people.” Lorraine became separated from her mother but was swept to safety by her father. Following the riot, the National Guard was called in and a curfew put in place.

In the aftermath of the riot, Dr. King left Memphis, Lorraine tells readers in “Dreamers.” But he had promised to return despite death threats, and on April 3 he flew from his home in Atlanta to Memphis. It was a stormy night, but Lorraine and her family along with many others packed Mason Temple Church to hear Dr. King preach. But when they got there, Dr. King’s friend Ralph Abernathy told the crowd that Dr. King was too sick to appear.

Other people gave speeches about the strike, and Lorraine had fallen asleep in her mother’s arms when “KABOOM! A voice like the evening thunder shook me from my sleep.” In his booming voice, Dr. King “charged men, women, and children to make the world a promised land flowing with freedom and justice” and “encouraged Memphis strikers and strike supporters to march, boycott, and raise their voices for worker rights until victory was won.”

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-marching-orders

Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In “Lorraine” the narrator reveals that her name is the same as the Memphis motel where Dr. King lost his life. She recounts his last hour spent with friends and the moment when he steps out onto the balcony and James Earl Ray shot him from a boarding house nearby. In other cities across the country grief-fueled protests broke out, but Memphis was relatively quiet. As Lorraine listened to the radio that night, she wrote a poem “The King is Dead” that her mama hung on the wall of their rented house.

“Black Widow” relates the events of April 8, when Coretta Scott King fulfilled her husband’s promise to march for the Memphis sanitation workers. Along with 40,000 other people—“ministers, labor leaders, political figures, entertainers, and everyday people”—from Memphis and around the country, Lorraine and her parents marched. In “Victory on a Blue Note,” the Memphis Sanitation Strike comes to an end when president Lyndon B. Johnson sent a labor official to negotiate a settlement. The men received a pay increase and promotions based on merit, not race. As Lorraine’s daddy and mama celebrate, Lorraine reveals what she has learned: “So much was won. / So much was lost. / Freedom is never free.”

An inspirational poem for all readers, “Mountaintop” closes the book. Back matter includes an extensive and detailed timeline as well as information on the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel and a list of sources.

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Image copyright R. Gregory Christie, 2018, text copyright Alice Faye Duncan, 2018. Courtesy of Calkins Creek.

In Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop, Alice Faye Duncan’s use of a nine-year-old narrator makes her book even more powerful for today’s children in telling the story of the Memphis sanitation strike and the world-changing events surrounding it. Duncan intertwines conviction, pride, activism, and heartbreak together in her compelling and lyrical snapshots that reveal the facts and emotions behind this pivotal Civil Rights and economic rights protest for a living wage for all Americans. Children’s hearts will be filled with empathy for Lorraine as she supports her father, accepts the sacrifices her family must make during the strike, joins her mother in marches, and fears for the safety of the strikers and Martin Luther King Jr.

The life and work of Dr. King, his influence, and the hope he embodied as well as his shocking assassination are all encapsulated in Duncan’s concise paragraphs, allowing readers to understand his enduring inspiration to all who fight injustice. By overlaying the text with descriptions of the volatile weather experienced during the winter and spring of 1968, Duncan amplifies the fearful atmosphere of the times in a metaphorical way that will resonate with readers. Lorraine’s growth and insight gleaned from her experiences will stay with readers long after they read the story.

R. Gregory Christie’s dramatic collage-style gouache paintings set off Duncan’s vignettes with bold blocks of color while inviting readers to experience the determination, community, and dignity of the workers fighting for the universal desire for and right to recognition, safety, and a living wage. Christie’s illustrations are all the more evocative for their varied use of perspective, subtle glimpses of hope and support, and moving portraits of Lorraine’s father, strikers, Martin Luther King Jr., and Lorraine herself. The death of Dr. King is depicted in a tiny image of the Lorraine motel balcony on which three men pointing upward, a kneeling figure, and the fallen Dr. King are all portrayed in silhouette. The intense focus the reader puts on this image increases its effect on the heart and mind.

Compelling, moving, and inspirational, Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 is a must-read for all children. The book is a first-rate choice for home libraries and belongs in every school and public library.

Ages 7 and up

Calkins Creek, 2018 | ISBN 978-1629797182

Discover more about Alice Faye Duncan and her books on her website.

To learn more about R. Gregory Christie, his books, and his art, visit his website.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Activity

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-martin-luther-king-jr-coloring-page

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait

 

To inspire your dreams of a better future for all, color this printable page and hang it in your room!

Martin Luther King Jr. Portrait 

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-memphis-martin-and-the-mountaintop-cover

You can find Memphis, Martin, and the Mountaintop: The Sanitation Strike of 1968 at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review

February 12 – It’s Black History Month

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About the Holiday

Black History Month celebrates the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. Originally a week-long observance initiated by writer and educator Dr. Carter G. Woodson in1926 and occurring during the second week in February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln, Black History Month was officially established in 1976 by then president Gerald Ford. The holiday is now celebrated across the country with special events in schools, churches, and community centers.

The theme for 2021 is “Black Family: Representation, Identity and Diversity.” It explores the African diaspora and the spread of Black families across the United States through multiple perspectives. For more information about Black History Month, visit the ASALH website and africanamericanhistorymonth.gov.

Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book

Written by Keila V. Dawson | Illustrated by Alleanna Harris

 

When Black travelers drove the highways of the United States in the 1920s and 30s and tried to stop at restaurants or motels, they “were told: No food… No vacancy… No bathroom… for Black people.” Instead, Black American motorists had to pack their own food, sleep in their car, and bring their own toilet. “Victor Hugo Green was tired of hearing no…. When he and his wife Alma traveled from New York to Virginia to visit family, they risked getting turned away, yelled at, even hurt.”

At the time, Jim Crow laws in the same segregated Black and White Americans throughout society. Because Blacks had nowhere to stay, they often drove through the night. If Black motorists had an accident, there were no ambulances or hospitals that would help them. In northern and western “sunset towns,” Blacks were alerted to leave town before darkness fell by a siren or a White man waving them out.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

One day Victor discovered a Jewish newspaper that published a guide about places that welcomed Jewish people and sold kosher food. “In the 1930s Jewish Americans couldn’t go everywhere they wanted to either.” Reading this guide, Victor had an idea to write a book of his own for New York. As he walked his route as a mail carrier, he began to ask Black friends and neighbors where they ate, shopped, and played safely. He worked on his book at night after work and finished his ten-page guide, The Negro Motorist Green Book in 1936; he updated it in 1937.

Victor began selling his book at Black churches and social clubs. Readers asked Victor to include more states in his book, so he wrote to other mail carriers all over the country asking for information. Mail carriers responded overwhelmingly. Over the next two years, Victor and Alma worked to expand the Green Book. With the Green Book in hand, “Black travelers knew where to go and who to trust.” As the popularity of the Green Book rose, Victor collected information from readers and agents Victor hired to add to revisions of his book.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

In 1940 the United States government named the Green Book an “‘official Negro travel guide.’” Then Esso gas stations of the Standard Oil Company began selling the book. The Green Book became a best seller. The Green Book spurred new businesses as Black women opened their homes as bed and breakfasts for travelers; it also informed readers about Black accomplishments, history, colleges that accepted Black students, and more.

With two million copies sold, the Green Book “made it possible for Black families to enjoy vacations.” Through the 1950s and 1960s as the fight against segregation and the civil rights movement took hold, the Green Book continued to keep Blacks safe. Victor dreamed of the day when, as he said, “‘we as a race will have equal opportunities and privileges in the United States.’” That day came when, in 1964, segregation was ended by law and the Green Book became less necessary. The Green Book ceased publication after the 1966-67 issue, just as Victor had hoped.

An illustrated timeline takes children along a winding highway from 1892, when Victor Hugo Green was born, to 1967 when the Green Book ceased publication, quotations by Victor Green, and a selected bibliography follow the text.

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Image copyright Alleanna Harris, 2021, text copyright Keila V. Dawson. Courtesy of Beaming Books.

Keila V. Dawson’s compelling book about Victor Hugo Green’s guide for Black travelers is a powerful tool for teaching children about the history of racial inequality and segregation as well as an expanded understanding of their effects on the lives of Black Americans. While children may be familiar with separate facilities for Blacks and Whites, separate seating on transportation, and school inequality, many will be shocked by travel conditions, the idea that hospitals would not help Blacks, and sunset towns where Blacks were ordered out as the sun went down. While Dawson’s unstinting text will move readers, her storytelling also reveals the resilience of the human spirit and how one man rose above the dangers and prejudice of the time to make traveling and living in America safer for Blacks. The fact that the fight for racial equality continues today makes Dawson’s book an important resource for children to learn not only the exclusion Blacks once legally faced but to make them think about incidents of discrimination that still exist and how they might help bring about a more equitable society.

Alleanna Harris faithfully depicts the times with realistic illustrations that show children how sparsely populated the highway system was, making it even more difficult for Blacks to find welcoming businesses and services. Her image of a Black man driving past a sign that reads “Whites only after dark” as a White man leans against it pointing the way out of town should affect every reader. Children are able to follow Victor Hugo Green and Alma as Victor conceives the idea of the Green Book, and they gather information, and sell the book. They’ll also see the types of businesses mentioned in the Green Book, from gas stations to general stores to movie theaters and private homes where rooms were available for travelers. Interspersed with images of Victor and his work Harris includes illustrations of other familiar ways Blacks were discriminated against.

An important resource for teachers, parents, and other adults engaged in teaching children about American history, the history of civil rights, and the experience of Blacks in America, Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book is highly recommended for home, school, and public libraries.

Ages 4 – 8

Beaming Books, 2021 | ISBN 978-1506467917

You can find an Opening the Road Educators Guide to download on the Beaming Books website.

Discover more about Keila V. Dawson and her books on her website.

To learn more about Alleanna Harris, her books, and her art, visit her website.

celebrate-picture-books-picture-book-review-opening-the-road-cover

You can find Opening the Road: Victor Hugo Green and His Green Book at these booksellers

Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Books-a-Million

To support your local independent bookstore, order from

Bookshop | IndieBound

Picture Book Review