Wednesday, September 11, 2013

How? And Another Why?

This is an anniversary year for Birmingham Alabama, memorializing the sacrifices and struggles of the civil rights movement fifty years ago. Birmingham's role became a catalyst for change far beyond its own streets. This year city leaders are giving special honor to the heroes, those living and dead, those known and unknown, all whose contributions were significant. The city is also looking fifty years forward.

A struggle must have opposing forces, and young readers, perhaps their parents, too, might wonder how Birmingham came to a brink that caused caring people around the world to gasp in disbelief. Why are events that happened fifty years ago receiving so much attention today?

BLACK AND WHITE: The Confrontation between Reverend Fred L. Shuttlesworth and Eugene “Bull” Connor, by Larry Dane Brimner, Calkins Creek, 2011

The book jacket promises: “Black and White is the unforgettable story of Fred Shuttlesworth’s courageous stand against Bull Connor.”  That promise is met as the story leads the reader into the center of the battle for justice and equality.
Bull Connor championed the ways of the Old South, especially segregation of the races. He often resorted to violence to enforce his tenets.

Reverend Shuttlesworth’s mission was equal rights.  Although his preaching style was considered “fiery”, he practiced nonviolent direct action. 

Both text and archival photographs highlight the dramatic confrontations between the two men. The  power on both sides is intense.
Reverend Shuttlesworth emerges as the stronger of these two forces, only partly because we know how the story turns out. We have had the benefit of time and the judgment of a nation’s conscience.
More is known about Reverend Shuttlesworth. It is doubtful that much would be known about Bull Connor if he and the preacher had not tangled and wrangled and stood firm against each other. Author Brimner points out the similarities between the two men such as their humble backgrounds but notes that their greatest similarity may be their "doggedness."   

Both men have died, but author Brimner was able to visit with Reverend Shuttlesworth during his last days. For that time together he expresses gratitude to Reverend Shuttlesworth and his widow, Sephira Bailey Shuttlesworth, “for opening their hearts and sharing their time and thoughts with me so that Fred’s story could be told.”

Brimner’s research took him to dusty collections of FBI files, court records, archived newspapers, and other primary court documents as well as modern archives like the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute.  Black and White includes a bibliography, index, and an author’s note which lends itself to a “what happened next?” feeling.  Additionally, you can read an insightful interview with the author here explaining how and why he wrote this book.

A word about quality nonfiction books written for children. They will be meticulously researched and skillfully written to engage the most critical audience, your children. 

If you, the parent, read these books together or separately, the benefit is great. You may be inspired to read further and you may find yourself well prepared for a spirited discussion, too.
It takes a writer to document the events and landmark decisions that resulted and weigh which ones will best serve as an historical foundation for the reader. It takes a writer to show how slow the pace to cause some major changes but present them in such a way that the reader does not tune out. It takes a writer to motivate the reader to maintain what is good and continue working to change that which is still not. Larry Dane Brimner is a writer like that.

Why is Birmingham's role in civil rights important today? Great discussions begin with well written, well researched books.


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