About the Holiday
Black History Month was instituted by Dr. Carter G. Woodson in 1926 to celebrate the achievements and contributions of African Americans in United States History. The holiday began as a week-long observance taking place during the second week of February to commemorate the birthdays of Frederick Douglass and Abraham Lincoln. In 1976 President Gerald Ford officially established Black History Month. 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.” Online events will explore 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.
The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History
Written by Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace | Illustrated by Charly Palmer
Reverend F. D. Reese taught science at R. B. Hudson High School, but his favorite subject was freedom…. To be treated as less than equal, that just wasn’t right.” Reverend Reese led marches to register Black voters. The police called them “troublemakers” and used billy clubs to stop them from voting. If the people did make it inside the courthouse to register, they faced a test they had to pass—a test with impossible questions, such as “How many drops of water are in the Alabama River?” Reverend Reese decided he needed a “‘triumphant idea’” to change things.
It came to him that the teachers—leaders and respected in the community—should march for freedom. But a judge had made it illegal to march and even talk about voting rights. Most people were too afraid to march, so Reverend Reese looked for a “‘glorious opportunity’” to come his way. It came when he watched Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. speak on television and wrote him a letter inviting him to come to Selma to “help convince the teachers to march.”
Dr. King agreed and spoke to a crowd of 700 people at Brown Chapel. He told the group that everyone should march and “go to jail by the thousands to defend the right to vote.” Two of the people listening to Dr. King were fifteen-year-old Joyce Parrish and her mother, “Two Sweet.” When Reverend Reese asked for teachers to sign up to march, he said that if both parents in a family were teachers, only one should march so that the other could take care of the children if the first went to jail. For Two Sweet it was a difficult decision. She was a teacher and also a single parent. More than 100 teacher signed up, including “Two Sweet.”
On January 22, the day of the march, Two Sweet packed a toothbrush and a sandwich—things she’d need in jail—and hugged Joyce goodbye. That afternoon as Reverend Reese waited alone outside the school alone, he wondered if the teachers would show up. Then one-by-one the teachers emerged from the building, holding their toothbrushes aloft. Reverend Reese called Coach Huggins to the front of the line and they started walking to the courthouse. People gathered along the street to watch, and Joyce paced nervously, wondering what would happen to her mother.
As the teachers crossed into the white section of town, the dirt roads became paved and people swarmed from shops to glare at the marchers, hoping to intimidate them. When they reached the courthouse, the sheriff and his deputies stood atop the steps. Reverend Reese announced that they were there to register to vote, but the sheriff said, “‘You can’t make a plaything out of the corridors of this courthouse.’” He gave the teachers one minute to disperse or face arrest. The teachers stayed put.
When the time was up, the police grabbed their billy clubs. They pushed Coach Huggins and Reverend Reese, causing the teachers to fall backward. When they got up, the police pushed them harder. Then the school superintendent came out of the courthouse. He had the power to fire every teacher. But Reverend Reese and the teachers stood firm for the right the Constitution guaranteed. The superintendent looked out over the crowd. He knew that if he fired them all, there would be no one to teach at the schools and he would lose his job.
The teachers had won the day. They went back to Brown Chapel, where young people were singing freedom songs. The kids were proud of their teachers, and Joyce hugged her mother. That night, Dr. King preached at Brown Chapel. “He praised Reverend Reese and the teachers for making civil rights history” by being the first leaders to risk their jobs by marching. Now other shop keepers and business people were emboldened to march for the right to vote. Kids and young people marched too. These Selma marchers were arrested by the thousands. Across America people took notice. Why, they wondered, were “respectable citizens in suits and dresses, and school kids carrying books” put in jail.
The president of the United States also noticed. In the summer of 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, ensuring that no test was required to register to vote. In August, Reverend Reese, Two Sweet, and other teachers walked to the federal building and registered to vote. With their first ballot, they voted the sheriff out of office.
Following the text are an extensive Author’s Note about the Teachers’ March and its leaders, with photographs as well as an Illustrator’s Note explains how the illustrations were created. A Timeline follows the 1965 Voting Rights Movement in Selma, Alabama from 1936 to 2018. A photograph of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Coretta Scott King, and Reverend Reese leading the 1965 voting rights march from Selma to Montgomery is also included. A selected bibliography of resources used in writing the book, as well as websites where readers can learn more, close out the excellent backmatter.
Compelling and comprehensive, Sandra Neil Wallace and Rich Wallace’s story about the teachers march of 1964 is exhilarating reading. Powerful for its personal focus on Reverend Reese, Joyce, and Two Sweet and their fears, doubts, and courage, the story includes vital details that reveal inequalities of the time beyond the issue of voting rights and which will resonate with children aware of continuing inequalities, protests, gerrymandering, and other current issues in the news. Sandra and Rich Wallace build suspense through evocative descriptions to draw children in and immerse them in a reading experience that will have emotional impact.
Charly Palmer’s acrylic on board illustrations capture the motion and emotion of the teachers’ march and the events leading up to that day. All the more moving for their abstract quality, the images portray telling glances (on the first page a student looks out at the reader as Reverend Reese lectures about equal rights at the chalkboard); seminal moments, such as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. strides into Brown Chapel and Coach Huggins signs his name, promising to march; and the moments when the sheriff and his deputies confront the teachers with billy clubs raised. The reunion between a worried Joyce and her mother is poignant, and the final illustration of Reverend Reese putting his ballot into the box, reminds all readers of the successes of the past, but also that vigilance and action continues to be needed.
Superb for social studies, American history, homeschooling, and civics lessons, The Teachers March! How Selma’s Teachers Changed History is highly recommended for home bookshelves and a must for school and public library collections.
Ages 7– 10 and up
Calkins Creek, 2020 | ISBN 978-1629794525
Discover more about Sandra Neil Wallace, and her books on her website. You can also find a downloadable Educator’s Guide for The Teachers March! and other books by Sandra.
You can learn more about Rich Wallace and his books on his website.
To learn more about Charly Palmer and view a portfolio of his art, visit his website.
Watch the trailer for The Teachers March!
Black History Month Activity
Role Model Coloring Pages
Whether you’re interested in law and politics, science, sports, or the arts, you can find a role model in the people in the printable coloring pages below.
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